CertainTeed Builds Core Business on AS/400

For CertainTeed, there is a general standard for determining which of their business applications run on which platform. If it’s mission-critical, it runs on AS/400.

CertainTeed, a 96-year-old building materials manufacturer located in Valley Forge, Pa., has been using AS/400 “pretty much since the beginning”, with the first system being deployed in 1990, according to Mark Caplan, manager of LAN services and computer operations center for CertainTeed.

CertainTeed, a subsidiary of Saint Gobain, the world’s largest building materials company, is a $2 billion manufacturer of ceiling systems, siding, insulation, roofing materials, ventilation systems and other building products. It employs 7,000 people in 45 manufacturing facilities throughout North America.

Currently, the company uses nine AS/400 servers, alongside both Unix and NT boxes. The number represents a drastic drop from previous years, due to the fact that recent administrative centralization in CertainTeed’s home office, which included a centralized data center, led the company to consolidate many servers into just a few larger ones. However, Caplan says, the company is still committed to continuing and even expanding its decade-long use of AS/400.

CertainTeed is testing out AS/400 e-commerce capability, notably IBM's Net.Commerce. For example, customers can now access the AS/400 to request literature and brochures.
CertainTeed is testing out some AS/400 e-commerce capability, in conjunction with IBM’s Net.Commerce. For example, using Net.Commerce, customers can now access the AS/400 to request literature and brochures online.

However, aside from that new application, the primary use of AS/400 at CertainTeed centers on ERP. The company uses Chicago-based System Software Associates’ BPCS ERP solution for its core business operations. In addition to ERP, CertainTeed uses AS/400 to run data warehousing, which the company also views as a core business application. CertainTeed’s data warehouse accesses all of the company’s systems, but is housed on the AS/400. According to Caplan, there are three determining factors in why CertainTeed views AS/400 as the appropriate platform for mission-critical applications: reliability, flexibility, and especially, ease of use.

“The AS/400 generally supports – is designed to support – mission-critical applications, and since these applications really are that mission-critical backbone, it was decided it would be a good idea to run those on the 400,” he says.

AS/400 has essentially been worry-free for CertainTeed, according to Caplan. Like many other users, he says, the reliability and performance of the system have been important benefits for running their core applications. However, even one issue that many IT managers cite as being particularly problematic with AS/400 – personnel – Caplan says, has essentially been absent from his experience of working in CertainTeed’s AS/400 shop.

“We have not had any trouble hiring or maintaining high-quality employees,” Caplan says. “We’ve had a really good experience where that’s concerned.”

Caplan said he finds AS/400 technology keeps pace fairly well with advances in terms of performance issues, and argued IBM’s commitment to platform improvements is clear.

“It’s an enterprise-performance machine. IBM keeps up with the latest processor technology, as long as you keep up with the upgrades,” he says.

Where Caplan does have complaints with using the platform, it is based on concerns not about a lack of ISVs, but a lack of support for IBM’s own software. In fact, he says, although CertainTeed relies on it for many aspects of their business, he believes IBM might be too focused on mission-critical technology and not enough on emerging solutions for AS/400.

“I think they keep up with the technology, but where they tend to fall short is they don’t do enough to provide support for the operating system,” Caplan says. “If there’s a new product, they’ll come up with a version with support for NT and Unix before it supports AS/400. If you want to be leading, or bleeding-edge, you almost have to be on NT or Unix.”

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