MnSCU has grown to be the largest single provider of higher education in the state of Minnesota.

Minnesota State Colleges & Universities customer story
Uniface case Education
With 31 institutions, spread over 54 campuses, they serve about 250,000 students, in addition to offering customized training programs to 153,200 people from Minnesota businesses each year.
Challenge
Integration of a mix of proven legacy technologies with newer ones.
Result
With Uniface MnSCU has a dependable solution that lets them confidently move to new technologies, while still integrating with their legacy systems and scaling to meet the number of users to deliver reliable performance.

Customer overview.

In a world where a new type of technology, device or app is hyped daily, it is sometimes hard to imagine that the reality for most enterprises is that they have a history that needs to be balanced with the latest IT trends. In this landscape, organizations who have been in business for more than a few years by nature have a very complex IT landscape. For example, there could be databases containing millions of records, or hardware platforms that have been in operation for years that are closely integrated with business processes and applications, making them technically challenging and costly to replace. An additional consideration in this picture is that in-house knowledge around legacy systems is about to retire, combined with younger professionals who have a completely different outlook on IT altogether.

At that time we had a huge investment in green screen terminals and it was key that Uniface could work seamlessly with them.”

Dave Willford, Application Development Manager, MnSCU

For Minnesota State Colleges and Universities (MnSCU), integrating a mix of proven legacy technologies with newer ones was the challenge.


Why Uniface?

In the early ‘90’s MnSCU implemented DEC (Digital Equipment Company) VMS servers which were at that time deploying the DEC RDB database. When Uniface was brought on board there was a requirement that the tool would support multiple technologies—from MAC to green screen as well as the up and coming Microsoft platform. Uniface fulfilled that requirement and from there was initially used to build user-interfaces and for batch job processing.
COBOL applications were built for doing most of the complex processing. For example, processing an ingenious algorithm programmed to determine once a student registers if he, or she already exists in the database, and financial functionality that determines the amount of money students owe. Uniface has been the basis for the staff administrative applications and they are customized to be used by back office campus staff located throughout the various locations.

They started off with VAX machines eventually migrating to Alpha and then later to Itanium based platforms in 2011. Also included in the life-cycle of the apps were the operating system changes from VMS to OpenVMS and changing the database to Oracle. The Uniface applications have kept up-to-date with all the technology changes over the years.

"With the lack of technology lock-in with Uniface, the process was quite simple.”
Dave Willford, Application Development Manager, MnSCU

Since that time, MnSCU’s application portfolio has grown to be very extensive and consists of:

  • Student services: Admissions, registration, curriculum/course, financial aid, grading, etc.
  • Finance: Accounting, payable, receivable, purchasing, etc.
  • Human Resources: Employee, time reporting, tuition waiver, etc.

Today the applications in production are built with a combination of technologies with the backbone being run on the OpenVMS operating system.


Uniface applications in action.

Uniface applications at MnSCU are integrated at every tier of the application deployment, and leverage several integration techniques, including web services and more technical integration techniques. The application integrates to COBOL components, to execute functionality such as batch reports, or the enrollment check algorithm. Some of the COBOL components are around 25 years old and still in use. There is also integration to other applications written in Java with the integration carried out using RESTful web services to pass data and execute business logic.

MnSCU has also paid attention to the importance of application user experience, with integration to external applications on the end user clients, for example MS Office. For this they utilize the integration capabilities of Windows.

The integration isn’t just limited to the deployed application: The development, maintenance and deployment of the Uniface applications is also managed with integration to OpenVMS capabilities and functionality. Here the integration is carried out by communication using the Digital Command Language (DCL).


Key benefits of Uniface.

The IT infrastructure supporting the educational system (staff and students) is an involved mix of COBOL, Java web apps running on Unix and Uniface applications running on an OpenVMS operating system, integrated with an Oracle database and deployed as a combination of both C/S and web applications. MnSCU’s Uniface application is made up of over 2,000 components, accessing 1,400 tables—ranging from a few rows to millions of rows. On average there are about 1,500 concurrent users accessing the Uniface client/ server business application during business hours with hundreds of transactions per minute.

"Our biggest concern was, of course, if everything would still work once we migrated to Oracle, and it did. We let Uniface connect to the database and do the effort, that worked out really well for us.”

Dave Willford, Application Development Manager, MnSCU

Making this run seamlessly is no small feat, but with Uniface MnSCU has a dependable solution that lets them confidently move to new technologies, while still integrating with their legacy systems and scaling to meet the number of users to deliver reliable performance.

Uniface’s technology independence has enabled MnSCU to remain current and keep their mission-critical applications running reliably for staff and students. One example of a major technology change was moving from the RDB database to Oracle just a few years ago.

Today MnSCU continues to run OpenVMS, with most of the client/ server deployment clients on Windows 7 and they are looking into Windows 8. Additionally, a modernization project has delivered functionality that originated on green screen character mode into a browser as a web application with a modern user experience.

Thanks to Uniface every technology in between has worked, with little effort. “We were able to integrate the COBOL that was built in the late 1990’s using RESTful web services,” explains Dave. “In the future, working with new Uniface techniques such as structs to manage data will become more important for us.