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Barclays banks on Swiftmigrate for smooth data centre migration, Emulation retains value from legacy infrastructure investment, preserves business-critical applications and saves costs


The Challenge:

Many large enterprises rely on OpenVMS applications running on VAX, or Alpha server hardware to process business-critical transactions. This older hardware takes up more space in the data centre, consumes more power and requires more cooling. As VAX and Alpha servers reach end of life, replacement parts become scarcer and organisations incur increased support costs.

Most organisations that have moved off old VAX and Alpha hardware have been faced with a lengthy and expensive migration to the HP Itanium high-end server platform; or Oracle’s SPARC/Solaris systems.

Following a company acquisition, Barclays Corporate found itself managing a VAX and Alpha migration programme for its Sales Finance team and Asset Finance team. Since VAX is no longer supported and Alpha servers will cease to be supported from 2014, the bank had an urgent requirement to migrate vital transaction processing systems to standard server hardware. The systems were still fit for purpose, but the cost of rewriting applications was estimated to be significantly higher than porting to the new Open VMS platform, Itanium.

By 2011 Barclays Corporate Sales Finance team had completed its three year plan to move Open VMS onto HP Itanium and the bank had begun preparing for the migration of the Asset Finance team’s machines. This first migration had cost the bank more than £1million GBP in hardware and support costs.

Dave Robertson, Solutions Architect at Barclays Bank, was hired in 2010 to oversee the second Open VMS migration for the Asset Finance team, with the added challenge of moving Alpha servers from the non-strategic datacentre in Basingstoke to Barclays’ datacentre in Gloucester.

The second migration faced a number of fresh challenges, including insufficient storage and the requirement to port five times as many Asset Finance applications to the new system.

Robertson began reviewing alternative strategies that would enable a smooth migration, while reducing hardware and support costs and assuring the longevity of the business-critical platform and applications.

The Solution:

Owing to the added complication of moving to the Gloucester datacentre, as well as upgrading the server hardware, Dave Robertson had looked into the possibility of using an emulated system to ensure that vital legacy applications and historical transactions could be preserved on the ageing hardware. He contacted SwiftMigrate, an international company specialising in the migration of VAX and Alpha, to arrange a proof of concept.

SwiftMigrate is the largest global provider of VAX and Alpha virtualisation products which enable large enterprises to keep business-critical legacy applications running on current hardware platforms.

Banks are under pressure to process more transactions and automated trades in shorter timeframes. Ageing hardware can reduce the speed of operation but VAX and Alpha applications are essential to the business continuity of many organisations. The SwiftMigrate service allows organisations to continue running valuable VMS and Tru64 applications on standard PC server hardware.

A standard PC server running emulation software can outperform the original VAX and Alpha hardware by up to ten times, significantly improving process and cycle times.

SwiftMigrate reviewed the Barclays Corporate Asset Finance specification and advised on a proof of concept using Swift-Migrate, a high performance Alpha emulator that runs on standard PC servers. If the hardware hosting this application is HP based, the system is fully supported by HP and it will also run on any Intel, Linux or Windows host.

Meeting the project specification:

Barclays Corporate had stipulated that the SwiftMigrate proof of concept must stay within budget; be completed within six months and provide the same level of functionality as Open VMS running on VAX.

SwiftMigrate also had to ensure that the emulated system could port all of the Asset Finance applications to the bank’s strategic infrastructure in Barclays Corporate data centre in Gloucester.

Using Swift-Migrate meant it was possible to transfer the Open VMS operating system, data and applications running in the Basingstoke data centre and simply restore them onto the new platform. A virtual Alpha environment was created on a standard Windows-based host system, without requiring any changes to the original applications, procedures or handling.

Working alongside members of the SwiftMigrate team, Robertson set up two Oracle x86 servers and spun up a copy of the live data from Barclays Corporate Asset Finance team. Within a week, Robertson and SwiftMigrate had migrated the production system to the x86 servers, demonstrating that emulation was a viable alternative to moving the ageing and fragile server hardware to the data centre in Gloucester.

Praising the success of the emulation trial, Robertson said, “The speed at which SwiftMigrate proved the concept was outstanding.”

The Results:

Following the successful proof of concept, SwiftMigrate worked onsite with Dave Robertson to undertake the emulation project. Within six months the team had emulated the Asset Finance machines and integrated them with the bank’s strategic infrastructure, enabling the same level of transaction processing power as the Open VMS system, without requiring further investment in HP Itanium hardware, or support costs for the legacy VAX and Alpha servers.

“SwiftMigrate has not only saved Barclays over a million pounds, the project was also completed within six months,” enthuses Robertson.

Increased Storage and Longevity:

SwiftMigrate used IBM storage area network (SAN) XIX for all storage, which offered 64GB storage on the main server, allowing everything to be run in memory. Very little disk IO was observed in VMS or, except of course when copying large data sets.

While the team had intended to use SSD, the XICV SAN provided more than enough storage for operational transactions and back up recovery. Use of the XICV SAN allowed SwiftMigrate to set up a SAN drive for each VMS disk in the production system, providing much more flexibility in configuration.

Now Barclays Asset Finance team has a high-end transaction processing environment, running from the Gloucester datacentre, with unlimited capacity to store historic data and no end of life date on the platform. Crucially, the bank was able to use the emulation solution to preserve historic applications, enabling it to recoup the investment in its legacy IT systems.

“What could have been another three year project was reduced to a matter of a few months,” attests Robertson. “SwiftMigrate has given us a solution that has eternalised the application.

We have achieved one hundred per cent of the initial objectives.”

Additional benefits:

In addition to saving Barclays over £1million in server hardware and support costs that would have been incurred for the second migration project, Dave Robertson cites the benefit of gaining complete control over the design of the machines used for the emulation and a significant reduction in on-going maintenance costs. Additional memory and processing power were added and Robertson was able to integrate the x86 servers with the corporate SAN, which forms part of the bank’s strategic infrastructure.

The virtualised VAX and Alpha environments allow Barclays to continue benefitting from its initial IT investment without the cost and complexity of maintaining older hardware. It also allows the system to take full advantage of Barclays’ standard server infrastructure.

Key results:

  • Barclays Asset Finance team did not have to replace its legacy platform
  • Using theSwift-Migrate solution saved the bank well over a million pounds in hardware and support costs *
  • Alpha server support costs saved
  • Enabled the preservation of crucial historic applications, protecting the bank’s original IT investment
  • Swift-Migrate systems were ported to the bank’s strategic IT infrastructure
  • Improved storage effectively provided unlimited capacity to store historic data
  • Ongoing maintenance costs have been significantly reduced
  • Project yielded return on investment within two years


[* Cost savings are based on the maintenance cost for Alpha servers and storage, which is approximately ten times that of the new Intel host machine. Hardware cost savings over a five year period are estimated at £400,000 GBP. Physically lifting and shifting old server hardware would have cost £500,000 GBP. Using Swift-Migrate has saved Barclays Corporate at least £1 million GBP over five years.]


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