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So Long, Mainframe

University mainframe retired after three decades of service

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April 30, 2010
Morteza Rahimi, vice president of information technology and chief technology officer at Northwestern, cuts the cord of the mainframe at a retirement party celebrating the end of an 18-year project to retire the machine.

EVANSTON, Ill. --- The retirement party was a long time coming. Members of the University community gathered as Morteza Rahimi, vice president of information technology and chief technology officer at Northwestern, had the pleasure of cutting the cable to the University mainframe. He declared it officially retired.

The cutting of the cable signified the completion of an 18-year project of moving the University's core systems, including such applications as HRIS, SES, library systems and CUFS, off of the decades-old machine and onto web-based platforms.

"When I joined Northwestern University Information Technology in 1992, the decommissioning of the mainframe computer and moving enterprise systems to a virtual environment became an important strategic goal that would require collaboration and partnership among the many system administrators across the University," said Rahimi. The result reflects the latest industry standard technology of 24/7 access, anytime, anywhere and media-rich, self-service interfaces for faculty, researchers, students and administrative staff.

The decommissioning project began in 1994 and hit its first major milestone three years later with the transition of HRIS. The next decade saw numerous systems successfully being moved off the system. The most memorable for many was the retirement of CUFS in 2008. This allowed for the launch of the new NUFinancials self-service application, signaling improved efficiency and accessibility for one of the most accessed systems on campus.

Throughout the transition of services, NUIT staff worked with system administrators to archive necessary data, particularly financial data, to comply with guidelines and to ensure that information is still accessible.

Betty Brugger, director of NUIT's Information Techonology Management Systems, has been with Northwestern for more than 30 years and has seen the mainframe-decommissioning project through to its completion.

"We are so pleased with the thoughtful planning and collaboration with the system and business administrators to systematically and effectively move all of the University applications into a web-based environment," said Brugger.

"The transition of all university systems to a modern computation environment allows the university to concentrate its resources to increase system functionality and improve user experience," Rahimi added.

The retirement celebration held by Northwestern University Information Technology brought together many members of the University community, most of whom had at one time or another worked on the mainframe computer. They shared memories about their accomplishment and applauded loudly when the cable finally was cut.

Sherry Minton and Jasmine Rangel contributed to this story.