22 March 2006

Another market to develop ...

Two guys who live locally to me spent their formative years working with Cullinane-type databases in ICL environments and know entirely too much about how they work. Those databases (IDMS and IDMS/X) are still used in parts of the public sector and in one or two financial institutions although the hardware they are running on is many decades old. Whether that is the appropriate hardware for a mission critical database for a Council or a Building Society, I couldn't say. It doesn't sound sensible, given that the cadre of people who know how to deal with those databases and that hardware is declining steadily.

The point of the story is that there are a number of organisations who offer tools to help users migrate these databases into more modern environments - the trouble is that they don't work very efficiently or effectively. They aren't quick and they can introduce garbage into the data as well. The ex ICL guys however, knew something about the structure of the ICL database that the other organisations didn't know. They knew how to quickly access any record with its entire structure and link it with any parent and any child - they could transfer the data into an Oracle environment and show that all the parent and child relationships still held - and they could do it very fast. They could also port over the enormous bank of report programs and utilities developed for the database over the years and make it work seamlessly in the new environment.

Are they rich? I'm afraid not. Any organisation which is still running Cullinane-style technology today would be classed as conservative on anyone's scoring system. That type of organisation is naturally risk-averse and takes time to make up its mind to make this kind of switch - they rely on their existing internal cadre of ICL or IBM operators to recommend whether the migration is a good idea. Is it a good idea? Obviously, they would save a bundle on licence fees for the hardware and the database and they already have all the Oracle licences they will ever need so the migration would save them huge amounts of cash. An additional benefit is that they wouldn't be held to ransom by their mainframe operators, but that would be like turkeys voting for Christmas. The mainframe operators know the score - this idea gets kicked into touch as quickly as they can sensibly do so.

The next step is probably to buy a share of some of these Building Societies and go along to the AGM and ask the Chairman "Is it true that your XXXX database still runs on hardware which is YY years old?". No, just daydreaming.

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