As Time Goes By: UC4 Helps Air Products Deal with the Here-and-Now of Job Scheduling
In 1940, when Pennsylvania-based Air Products and Chemicals Inc. opened for business, it had a single product line – producing and selling industrial gases, primarily oxygen – with a first-year sales total of $8,300. When Senior IT Specialist Terry Terfinko joined Air Products 28 years ago, his data center had unit record equipment, sorters, collators and one IBM mainframe. That was then … and this is now.
Air Products and Chemicals Inc. has become a major international supplier of a broad range of industrial gases and related equipment and services, and selected chemicals with annual sales of $5 billion and 17,000 employees around the globe. With the corporate headquarters located near Allentown, Pa., Air Products’ operations extend into more than 30 countries and export to 100 others.
The complexity of its operations has transformed the data center into an intricate installation of multiple platforms supporting a multitude of operations. Such complexity prompted the company to seek a method to expand upon the success it had realized with mainframe-based automation and job scheduling and implement a solution that successfully encompassed all platforms.
"We long-implemented the tools and procedures to effectively manage the mainframe-only environment," says Terfinko. "Application interdependency demanded that we apply those same disciplines to the distributed environment."
Seeking a solution, Air Products implemented UC4 (from Software Engineering of America; Franklin Square, N.Y.), a tool providing cross-platform scheduling for virtually any platform, including those most prevalent at the company: Windows NT, UNIX, MVS and Tandem. "UC4 enables us to get a handle on the diverse, multiplatform tasks and effectively manage our complex environment."
Continued Growth Leads to Complexity
In recent years, Air Products has significantly expanded in the Asia-Pacific region and now has affiliate or wholly-owned operations in Korea, Japan, the People’s Republic of China, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Taiwan, Singapore and Australia. Air Products is one of the world’s largest industrial gas producers, supplying a broad range of industrial gases – chiefly oxygen, nitrogen, argon, hydrogen and helium and related equipment for their production, distribution and use – to 100,000 customers worldwide. These gases are used in most industries, including food and metal processing, semiconductor manufacturing, medicine, aerospace and chemical production.
Its $1.5 billion chemical business includes polymers, polyurethane intermediates and additives, amines, and specialty and epoxy additives used in applications, such as adhesives, coatings, polyurethane foams, textiles, herbicides, pesticides, water treatment chemicals, reinforced composites and inks. Air Products and Chemicals Inc. was founded in 1940 in Detroit on the strength of a simple, but then revolutionary idea: the "onsite" concept of piping the gas directly from the generator to the point of use that proved sound and technically solvable.
As for Terfinko, the task of overseeing Air Product’s computer operations has become more and more complicated. That one IBM mainframe has mushroomed into a complex, multiplatform environment, consisting of more than 400 servers, running on MVS, Tandem, UNIX and NT.
"Over the years the mainframe hardware became very reliable, and we implemented standards which made that environment manageable," Terfinko explains. "Then in the ’90s, client/server came and turned our stable environment upside down. It has taken us years to harness distributed computing and turn it into a reliable and manageable environment."
As the company took advantage of new technologies to support new business requirements, it took less than five years for that stable, centralized environment to change from mainframe-centric to one with a multitude of diverse operating system platforms.
As a result, more than 50 percent of batch jobs – formerly relegated solely to the mainframe environment – were residing on UNIX and NT. Terfinko knew his current job scheduling solution wasn’t long for his world.
"We had developed our own in-house solution for cross-platform job scheduling. It interfaced with JobTrac and was mainframe-based," he says. "We started to experience problems as the growth of NT and UNIX jobs continued, and also being mainframe-based, we were unable to schedule to any platform if the mainframe was down for maintenance. It was hard to explain to a UNIX user why a mainframe outage caused their UNIX jobs not to run."
In 1997, the hunt was on for a multiplatform job scheduler that could support the varied and complicated functionality requirements of the company. For example, with applications distributed throughout any number of different platforms, a number of tasks required the capture of specific Sybase data from a UNIX platform so that it could be moved into the DB2 databases residing in the mainframe environment.
In other cases, distributed processing for specific applications saw calculations performed on different machines, but carrying the cumulative requirement of centralized reporting: Processing and results from disparate locations contained a number of dependencies that required cross-platform task management.
Additionally, such a large, diverse environment needed a centralized method for managing an expanding number of utility jobs and database backups.
Sold on Unique Product Architecture
With its nearly exhaustive list of requirements in hand, Air Products eventually selected UC4, a cross-platform scheduling tool for NT, UNIX, MVS, VMS, BS2000 and SAP R/3. The architecture of UC4 provides centered workload management running on either NT or UNIX, with scheduling agents to manage the tasks on virtually any other platform.
According to Terfinko, UC4 was unique, in that it offered true platform independence and "immediately allowed us to begin addressing our scheduling requirements for MVS, Tandem, UNIX and NT." He also notes that the platform independence of the product provides true centralization and automation for job scheduling. UC4’s architecture ensures portability and supports existing, and even future, operating systems and technology.
Terfinko found plenty of schedulers that ran on UNIX and NT, but few that ran multiplatform. "A lot of vendors took parts of the schedulers they already had, cobbled them together and emphasized a single point of control, but behind the scenes there was a complex mix of software. SEA’s architecture was built from the ground up."
Cost and pricing also proved to be an issue. "As we were getting closer to what we wanted, it became apparent that cost was important to us. Software costs in a distributed environment are based on price by CPU, each NT and UNIX server paid a fee based on the size of a server. Pricing by CPU power can easily get out of hand as servers grow in size and numbers. We have over 400 servers," he says. "We didn’t want a solution in which we couldn’t contain costs. So, when we looked at other competitors, our concerns were that the calendars weren’t robust enough and pricing didn’t meet our needs."
Analyzing Schedules for Improvement
Constantly seeking steps for improvement, Terfinko opted to avoid a mere one-for-one transition of old schedules into new. Prior to UC4, Air Products had a one-schedule-fits-all approach. Jobs were based solely on the date and time they ran with no categorization. "It got to the point that schedules were so large, we needed to be able to separate critical from non-critical."
Instead, the company analyzed existing batch schedules, which contained more than 100,000 lines of scheduling rules, so that the company could fine-tune multiplatform processing. "We wanted to re-engineer the way we ran scheduling. UC4 has a job plan architecture that allowed us to break schedules down according to business groups. It also facilitated monitoring critical paths in our schedules," he says.
Within UC4, each job is considered to be an object, and object-specific register cards contain the Job Attributes and the JCL. Attributes serve to define parameters necessary to perform a job. These parameters contain information regarding User ID, account number, priority, control of reports/SYSOUT, and allocation of a task to a group. The register card content defines the variables, as well as JCL.
In addition to the software, the company purchased a pair of Compaq Proliant 7000 servers for the UC4 software and Microsoft’s SQL 7 database. The reason was simple: with a need for 24x7 availability, dual servers provide key failover protection. UC4 ensures that all jobs are automated and saved companywide on all computer systems. The execution of jobs can be planned for a 24-hour working day.
Terfinko’s implementation strategy is to use a phased approach by platform: He began with UNIX, NT and MVS, then moved to Tandem. "Our goal was to manage the risk by phasing in complexity, to start with isolated schedules and then integrate cross-platform schedules. We decided to integrate UC4 with existing monitoring and problem management systems that utilize HP-ITO for monitoring and Remedy-ARS for problem management. We also plan to implement several checks and balances to ensure we get the same results as we migrate."
For the most part, the implementation of UC4 has been a smooth one. However, the conversion proved challenging. "When you have decades of scheduling rules built into a product, it is a delicate process to migrate to another tool. You just can’t run it through a converter and expect accurate results. We are still in early stages of implementation, but at this point we are confident in our choice."
Some additional features of UC4 include: GUI conforming to Windows 95 higher (point-and-click, drag-and-drop); full functionality through the Web; remote access capability; Y2K-compliant; multiple time zones and languages; and restart/re-run functionality.
Air Products is currently running 73,000 batch jobs per month. When implementation nears completion, Terfinko expects that they will be running UC4 on 132 NT and UNIX servers. "But that will continue to grow as new client/server systems are deployed over the years."
About the Author: Karen Riccio is a freelance writer. She can be reached at (570) 588-4653, or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.