AS/400 Delivers for FedEx Ground

Speedy application development brought FedEx to the AS/400. Being able to deliver custom applications to customers quickly keeps them there.

FedEx Ground (Pittsburgh) began using the platform that is now AS/400 even before it began using the name FedEx.

“It actually started when it was RPS, before it was even affiliated with FedEx,” says Denny McAvoy, group manager, midrange systems support, for FedEx Ground. “Right when everything was getting off the ground, back in 1985, RPS decided to install three System 38s to run its business processes.”

Today, FedEx uses AS/400 to run such essential business processes as package tracing, electronic packaged data interchange (a form of EDI) and electronic COD.
Since its founding in 1985 as RPS, FedEx Ground, a subsidiary of the $18 billion Memphis, Tenn.-based FedEx Corp., has risen to become North America’s second largest ground carrier for business-to-business small package delivery. Today, the company that ranked #3 on our MIDRANGE Systems 50 delivers about 1.5 million packages per day and employs 35,000 staffers and independent contractors.

From three System 38s in 1985, FedEx Ground’s infrastructure has grown to include more than 20 AS/400 servers. Many of the company’s applications run on other server platforms – financials, for example, are run on a DEC VAX system and are currently being migrated to Unix. A number of other applications, both back-office and front-office, reside on platforms other than the 400. However, McAvoy says, FedEx Ground’s commitment to AS/400 remains unchanged.

“Over 95 percent of our production is still run on an AS/400 and 70 percent of our new development is done on AS/400,” McAvoy says. “The bulk of the operational and packaged applications are on AS/400. The lion’s share, as far as business processes go, are still run on AS/400.”

Today, the company uses AS/400 to run such essential business processes as package tracing, electronic packaged data interchange (a form of EDI) and electronic COD. According to McAvoy, early in the development process for RPS, management selected the AS/400 architecture for one specific reason.

“The reason why our AS/400s were brought in here from day one, and the reason it still is running the lion’s share of our applications is speed of application deployment,” McAvoy says. “They looked at what it was gonna take to get this business up and running, and they decided, if we’re gonna do this the way we’re gonna do this, we need computers, period. And we’re gonna need programmers who can get things moving quickly and get our applications out as soon as possible. And IBM brought in the System 38. If I understand it right, they had about six months to get the business up and running, and they did it.”

This speed of development is critical to what FedEx Ground aims to offer to its customers, McAvoy says. Despite its size, FedEx Ground puts a lot of emphasis on innovation and personalized service. AS/400, says McAvoy, allows the company to combine those two objectives.

“Anybody can deliver a package. If you’ve got a truck you can pick it up and deliver it,” he said. “But the added value that we provide is services that directly target a customer’s needs for specific solutions, in terms of delivery and supply chain and so on. If it’s worth the effort and the customer is willing to work with us, because of the deployment time, we can have those services up and running in no time.”

FedEx Ground’s high ranking in the MIDRANGE Systems 50 is due in large part to its progressive approach to new technology on AS/400, including ventures into the areas of business intelligence, Java, LPAR and wireless. However, McAvoy contends some of his company’s efforts to stay on the cutting-edge of technology have been hampered by what he characterized as IBM’s slow adoption of new technology and unwillingness to devote resources to promoting AS/400.

“I’m never satisfied with it, with that effort on their part,” McAvoy says. “I think IBM has been a little slow to promote the value of the AS/400. I know what it can do and they know what it can do. And I think they’ve haven’t done much to really market it.”

For instance, McAvoy says, FedEx Ground is interested in implementing a Storage Area Network (SAN), and is pursuing a couple of strategies for doing so. For now, the company is using a Shark server for the project. McAvoy says he would like to work with the AS/400 server, but is hesitant about the future of SAN of AS/400.

“We’ve had a couple of ports opened up for testing on AS/400. We’re doing our own benchmark testing right now. But IBM is a little bit gray on its planning for Fibre Channel, so we’re not comfortable yet with moving that way,” he says. “They’re talking about it, but talk’s cheap – I wanna see delivery on this stuff”

FedEx Ground has yet to move to the new 8XX series. McAvoy says transaction volume has not yet exceeded capacity with their existing servers, and that the company is waiting for price/performance information on the new server line. However, he said since his division tries to keep up with the newest products, he can foresee upgrading down the line.

“We typically try to stay at the edge of that – but just not bleeding,” he says.

MIDRANGE Systems 50 Graphs:

  • By Rank
  • By Region
  • Top Distributors
  • Top Manufacturers
  • Largest by Revenue
  • Smallest by Revenue
  • Best of the Rest

    Other Profiles:

  • AmeriSource Health Corp.
  • CertainTeed
  • Apria Healthcare Group
  • Back to Overview

    Related Information:

  • FedEx Ground (new window)
  • Must Read Articles