By leveraging IBM DB2 Universal Database 8.2 features such as autonomic computing and Microsoft Corp. .Net application support, Richland School District Two has been able to provide real-time Web access to mission-critical information residing on legacy systems.
“Were a heavily technology-based district, and as far as school districts go, were seen as a technology leader in South Carolina,” said Travis Cotton, application developer at Richland School District Two, based in Columbia. “DB2 really allows us to bring our AS/400 into our increasingly Web-centric environment.”
IBM released DB2 8.2 in September. The upgrade delivers new features, most prominently autonomic database self-management and self-healing capabilities designed to simplify data management and business process tasks.
Richland School District Two encompasses 25 schools and serves more than 20,000 students and 2,500 staff members. The school district relies on an IBM eServer iSeries (AS/400) for most of its back-end computing needs.
The AS/400 holds a treasure-trove of mission-critical information, including teacher certification records. To stay qualified to teach students certain subjects, a teacher must be certified by the state of South Carolina by taking courses or attending seminars. Every time a teacher takes a course, he or she is required to submit paperwork to a local school representative, who then forwards the forms to Richland School District Twos administrative offices in Columbia.
District employees then verify the forms and key the information into the South Carolina Department of Education Web site. The entire process can take more than two weeks.
A year ago, Cotton said, the school districts human resources department asked him for a way to make teacher certification more efficient. Because giving teachers access to the AS/400 would require purchasing hundreds of client licenses, Cotton instead began looking for new and more cost-effective ways to get at the data.
Cotton decided a Web application deployment would be the easiest and most efficient way to serve data to all users. Because all the data resided on an AS/400 and was already in DB2 format, he decided to beta test DB2 8.2.
Cotton writes programs using Microsofts .Net languages, so he also had to take compatibility into consideration—DB2 offers plug-ins to Microsofts Visual Studio and .Net frameworks. The database features SQL enhancements that allow stored procedures to be written using .Net languages such as Visual Basic and C++. Cotton said DB2 allowed him to build the application using Visual Studio.
Initially, Cotton did pilot testing to ensure everything would connect. He then built a recertification application prototype that, when launched, would enable the school district to provide teachers, administrators and other users with real-time Web access to information residing on the AS/400. Cotton hopes to take the application live this summer.
Via a portal, Cotton will provide teachers a way to access certification information or to determine their recertification status. The DB2 libraries will allow users to query information from the AS/400 as XML and match it up to certification records. That process currently takes two weeks or more to complete, but teachers will be able to get the results in real time when the recertification application is launched, Cotton said.
Administrators will also be able to see the impact of ongoing teacher training courses and degree programs as soon as the information becomes available, he said.
Eventually, Cotton said he hopes to have an end-to-end system that will let state Department of Education personnel use Web services to request certification information from the AS/400. This will enable him to eliminate the final keying of information into the education departments site.
“I love the ability to write Web services and access data,” Cotton said. “The application represents a significant savings in man-hours by providing on-demand information to teachers while eliminating time-consuming requests to human resources for that information.”
While Cotton chose DB2 mainly because of his installed IBM hardware and DB2s integration with the Microsoft development environments, he said he also likes new features such as the IBM Learning Optimizer.
The Learning Optimizer, which takes advantage of DB2s autonomic muscle, helps the database learn from its past actions to speed command execution and optimize the quickest route to requested business information.
New navigation tools in DB2, such as the iSeries Navigator, also enable administrators to find information on the AS/400 faster, allowing the district to accelerate application development cycles, Cotton said.
Cotton said he will begin using DB2 to provide the school districts finance department with access to data residing on the AS/400 in July. By providing Web-based access to financial data residing on the AS/400, the district will be able to make information such as budgets available to the public via XML.
“By enabling us to give client access to the AS/400, DB2 has really helped us to keep leveraging our AS/400 as a useful piece of equipment,” Cotton said. “We now have ample opportunity to pull legacy data and work with the system at will. DB2 has helped us bring the AS/400 back into the mainstream of things.”
Senior Writer Anne Chen can be reached at [email protected].