Change Management and Tuning Tools Efficiently Power a Utility Company’s Data Management

UGI Utilities relies on BMC Software to smoothly merge acquired company's customer data on mainframe.

Mergers and acquisitions often come quickly and when they do, it is critical to have tools and utilities capable of scaling to meet new challenges so operations continue seamlessly, customer service standards are upheld, and costs are contained.

This was the case for UGI Utilities, a large natural gas and electric service provider in the eastern U.S.  In 2006, UGI acquired the natural gas utility assets of PG Energy from Southern Union Company.  A longtime customer of BMC, UGI found it was aligned with the right software company to provide implementation of mainframe service management solutions as well as first class support to get the job done and successfully integrate the newly acquired company's data into its environment, saving time and money.

Although integrating the new company's data into its existing infrastructure could have placed a strain on UGI's IT environment, by leveraging BMC APPTUNE for DB2, UGI has actually discovered the opposite. UGI has been able to consolidate customer data on one system and reduced the batch window for updates by 30% by retuning with APPTUNE. Reducing the amount of processing time led to an overall improvement of the system's performance and a reduction of MIPS by approximately 10%. BMC also enabled UGI to predict how long system reorganizations will take so that system administrators do not have to worry about running into peak processing times within the batch window. The BMC APPTUNE tool automatically stops jobs from running when they interfere with critical operations.

With a suite of mainframe tools that also includes BMC CHANGE MANAGER for DB2 and BMC SQL Performance for DB2, UGI has achieved considerable staff time savings and also kept a lid on IT costs through the process of merging IT operations with PG Energy, which added about 180,000 customers to the traditional UGI utility division, which had roughly 320,000 customers.

UGI needed to consolidate two data centers into one, merging primarily customer data and work order management data from the two companies' mainframes. In order to achieve the integration, UGI acquired a new System z mainframe, explains Steven Miller, manager of infrastructure services at UGI.                                                                                                                       

It helped that UGI had used BMC tools for many years. In addition to BMC CHANGE MANAGER for DB2 and BMC SQL Performance for DB2, and APPTUNE, the company also uses other BMC products, including reorganization tools, and unload and load tools.  "The only BMC  tool we don't have is Recovery Manager," Dan Fattore, UGI's supervisor of data management, who oversees a range of database management systems, running on the mainframe and open systems platform.

UGI needed to consolidate two data centers into one, merging primarily customer data and work order management data from the two companies' mainframes. In order to achieve the integration, UGI acquired a new System z mainframe, explains Steven Miller, manager of infrastructure services at UGI.

It was decided that before merging the two systems, UGI would upgrade to a new IBM System z mainframe, with a simultaneous migration of data from an IBM DB2 Version 6 database management system to DB2 Version 8. The conversion to the new mainframe needed to be done as quickly as possible to avoid any business impact.  "We picked a weekend to do that. We really needed to get all the data from DB2 version 6 on our old mainframe to DB2 Version 8." Since there is not a direct upgrade path from 6 to 8,  says Fattore, "we basically performed a new install of 8 and then migrated all the data. We utilized the BMC tools, including CHANGE MANAGER to migrate all of the objects and underlying data."  In parallel, the organization was unloading from the old mainframe and loading on the new mainframe.

"We are a 24 by 7 operation so we had limited downtime," emphasizes Miller. Without the BMC tools, Fattore points out, "We would have had all kinds of logging overhead and other performance issues to deal with. We were able to do the migrations in a day."

Though UGI was a BMC customer, it found however that some of the BMC tools it was using were not the most current. Because the company was not up to date on the latest tools, Fattore and Miller were concerned their company might have to upgrade its tools on the old mainframe, something they did not want to invest in. Instead, they found to their relief that they were able to concentrate on just installing the latest tools on the new mainframe system. "We realized additional functionality with newer releases," says Fattore.

When the mainframe replatforming and upgrade to DB2 Version 8 occurred in October 2008, PG  Energy was still running its own mainframe. The prospect of adding more data to the new mainframe system forced UGI to look closely at more difficult tuning, particularly scrutinizing long-running jobs. "Some of the products that we acquired from BMC helped us reduce our batch window initially. We had some of those problems before getting the new mainframe and acquiring a company. When we decided to consolidate our customer information systems with the other company we faced even more challenges that made us step up the tuning effort  to fit into  our current mainframe licensing cost," explains Fattore. "We utilized a lot of the BMC utilities to reduce the batch window but also some of the tuning tools to look at some of the SQL." UGI subsequently replatformed PG Energy's customer information system, running two systems on the new mainframe. The merge of customer data systems came later, occurring as a separate step.

With a BMC product, APPTUNE, the company was able to easily see the problem SQL and help developers improve those longer-running batch jobs. SQL might not appear to be poor to a developer if it takes under a second, he notes, but if it runs 125, 000 times a day and can be cut in half, CPU system resources can be saved considerably. "APPTUNE is really a good tool for that, it floats the poor SQL to the top of the list," says Fattore. APPTUNE shows which SQL is worth attacking and tuning, while BMC SQL Performance for DB2 provides hints on how to best do that tuning. By UGI's estimates the batch window would have increased by 50% with the acquisition, eating into daytime processing, and thus impacting the entire system, but instead it was able to decrease the batch window by 30% using APPTUNE.

Reflecting on the benefits of the consolidation of the customer information systems on one mainframe, Fattore says it has resulted in simplified training and a reduction in staff in the call center.  Additionally, he notes, relying on BMC tools, the company did not have to hire another experienced DB2 DBA as a back up DBA for times when its expert DB2 DBA goes on vacation. Since the BMC tools are easy to learn and use, UGI was able to cross-train its Oracle administrators who typically do not have mainframe experience, enabling them to handle the DB2 administration. "It is quite easy for our back ups through the BMC tools to pick up some of the more complex things. They can use CHANGE MANAGER to migrate data, compare it, and not really know all the technical details," says Fattore. "Our service level from a CICS transaction point of view is to have 95% of our transactions sub-second. We were able to stay within that service level."

And, because of BMC, there was not need to hire a consultant for the migration project, which, Fattore says, could have been quite costly. To BMC's credit, he says, the company helped UGI from start to finish.  "They helped us come up with the plan for the migration of the data. We utilized one of their technical reps at no cost to just help us brainstorm possible solutions.  They also helped us run some test scenarios."  More than simply a vendor, BMC has been a solid partner to UGI. "Their support on the DB2 mainframe platform is excellent."