After more than 10 years of dedication, Borough Programmer & Analyst Rhonda Zak retires today. It's only fitting then that a tribute she wrote on the retirement of the former server Alea is shared. Zak was instrumental in complex, behind-the-scenes efforts like these that keep Borough business going.
By Rhonda Zak
One of the Matanuska-Susitna Borough’s longest working support members retired in July of this year. There were no long speeches on all the achievements or a huge party for celebrating an illustrious career at the Borough. No, it was just a small informal gathering of the Information Technology staff, a cake, and the unplugging of the Department’s oldest member – the IBM AS/400 mainframe computer fondly known as ‘Alea, the Goddess of Wisdom and Knowledge’.
Alea served the Borough as an IBM mainframe from 1979, with a hardware ‘facelift’ in the 1980s to its AS/400 version. Nearly every human employee of the Borough, including some school district staff had to interface with Alea. The Information Technology department had three programmers on staff to create and maintain the software used by the Borough for all the daily data support requirements. These included financial records keeping and accounting, assessments property control maintenance, tax billing, cash receipting, platting actions, planning actions, public works permitting actions, clerk’s calendaring and actions, and public information request processing. Today, those same positions support those applications on a more modern platform and environment.
In 2004, the Borough IT department started upgrading systems in order to stay ahead of technology. The load was lightened on Alea when the financial application was moved to a SQL server platform starting in 2005. By November of 2010, there were no more actively running applications on the AS/400. All had been moved to SQL server based applications. This move has allowed technology to blossom at the Borough. Information sharing has also made great strides.
Today, the application used for Assessment’s property maintenance and Collection’s tax billing and payment receipting has the ability to store multimedia such as notes, documents and photographs. These different forms of media can be used by other departments of the Borough for planning and identifying properties accurately. The application also allows all departments to better share information and see the ‘full picture’ of the growth and progress of the Borough. Other departments such as Planning and Platting and Public Works also use the application for issuing permits and monitoring compliance of Borough ordinances and code.
Other incentives for moving away from the AS/400 were disaster and recovery. The mainframe was very dependent on human interface to turn it off and bring it back to an operational state, sometimes taking over an hour. If one of the AS/400’s hard drives went down, replacement could take a day with a shut down and restart. The new systems are ‘hot swappable’, meaning the staff doesn’t even know when the drive is being changed. Data backups are continually done during working hours where they were once done only at night. Loss of data due to drive failure has gone from up to a week on Alea to fifteen minutes or less on the new infrastructure.
And somewhere in the universe an IBM AS/400, named Alea by a loving staff of dedicated employees, smiles.
Photos: Unplugging Alea with CIO Shannon Post, left, and Programmer/Analyst Rhonda Zak, right.