Mobilcom-Debitel Migrates Mission-Critical Business Processes to Centralized SOA with JBoss Enterprise Application Platform

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November 11, 2011

Customer: mobilcom-debitel GmbH

“Thanks to JBoss Enterprise Application Platform, we have been able to break down our complex Java application into small, easy-to-handle applications.” Jochen Ohl, development system architect at mobilcom-debitel.

Industry: Telecomm
Geography: EMEA
Country: Germany


Business Challenge:

To migrate more than 12 million customer data records following mobilcom’s merger with debitel while avoiding user downtime

Solution:

JBoss Enterprise Application Platform, approximately 50 systems interact via the SOA platform ZAP (Zentrale Applikations-Plattform)

Hardware:

Four Sun SPARC Enterprise T5120s, each with 32GB RAM and Ultra Sparc T2 processors

Benefits:

Increased flexibility of 25 smaller business applications; enhanced performance; eliminated complexity

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Background:

Headquartered in Büdelsdorf in northern Germany, mobilcom-debitel GmbH is a mobile communications service provider and subsidiary of freenet AG. The company does not have its own network and instead sells services from mobile network operators such as Telekom, Vodafone, E-Plus and O2 in Germany under its own name. The network operator contracts with the aforementioned companies to form the foundation of its operational business. On the basis of these contracts, mobilcom-debitel purchases mobile services from the network operators in advance and markets them to its end customers.

Business Challenge:

Mobilcom-debitel places great importance on efficient, customised IT solutions. Its current IT infrastructure evolved from the MobilCom BillingSystem (MCBS), which was written in Java by mobilcom developers in 1996. Because Java EE was still around at that time, the application created was a monolithic system.

Over the years, the system had been repeatedly upgraded, thereby allowing all of the company’s business applications, such as customer relationship management (CRM), point-of-sale (POS), and product inventory to be gradually extended. The result was a large and cumbersome Java application where a number of functions and datasets existed redundantly due to several separate teams working on its development.

Given the rapid growth of the company following the takeover of its competitor debitel (which had more than 12 million customers at the time, while mobilcom had around 6 million), the company’s IT management soon realised that the existing IT architecture was unable to support the increased data volume. More than 10 billion data records had to be managed by the newly merged organization.

“We faced the challenge of replacing our complex system with a more flexible platform, encompassing applications developed in-house and merging the databases from the separate organisations,” said Jochen Ohl, development system architect at mobilcom-debitel. The migration project, codenamed “Rainbow” due to the different colours of the company logos, was crucial to the commercial success of the new company, mobilcom-debitel. Project Rainbow is measured by the number of users and is one of the largest migrations ever undertaken throughout Europe.

Solution:

Mobilcom’s technology experts had been using the JBoss Community version since 2004 and were already familiar with the platform’s advanced capabilities. The first Enterprise JavaBeans (EJB) components had been in operation since 2004 and had satisfactory results. After comparing the cost and performance of competitive platforms, mobilcom selected JBoss Enterprise Application Platform due to the technology’s enhanced features and cost efficiency.

“Adopting an SOA required developers to think differently, and we in turn defined services that solved individual problems. Each problem, for example, how to manage the name and address data, would be solved only once, regardless of whether the data referred to customers or suppliers,” said Ohl. “The redundancy necessary to ensure the high availability of applications would be mapped solely in the hardware and no longer in lines of code.”

Using this approach, more than 20 services were developed over time in the form of EJB components, which have been brought together in a central application platform called ZAP (Zentrale Applications-Platform). With very few exceptions, all mobilcom’s business processes are run by ZAP SOA services, from billing and customer support, basic ERP functions, and workforce management to complete workflows.

Initially, the SOA platform was based on a JBoss Community project; however during the Project Rainbow migration, a switch was made to JBoss Enterprise Application Platform 5.1.

“Red Hat Consulting provided extremely critical support during the migration from the JBoss Community version to JBoss Enterprise Application Platform. They helped us handle the transition without any downtime within the shortest possible timeframe, which was extremely impressive,” said Ohl.

The transition occurred very smoothly, moving from the JBoss Community version to JBoss Enterprise Application Platform. “JBoss Enterprise Application Platform and the ZAP SOA platform have provided us with an easy-to-manage environment,” commented Ohl.

Following the acquisition of debitel, it soon became clear that mobilcom’s platform was the more flexible and powerful system. The decision was made to transfer all existing data for the 12 million debitel customers to the mobilcom systems. In addition to setting up the SOA platform, this led to a second, much larger IT project in the company.

“Already during the migration, the SOA approach paid off. More than 3,000 change requests were accumulated during the Project Rainbow for the billing and CRM systems alone. If we still had been utilizing the previous system, we would never have been able to successfully handle these requests in an acceptable standard within a reasonable timeframe,” stated Ohl.

Prior to the migration, a Red Hat specialist from Red Hat Consulting Services had been based on-site for one year to support the developers regarding any JBoss-related issues and later set up a JBoss Operations Network server to monitor the JBoss cluster.

Benefits:

The seamless migration to the SOA platform and subsequent easy-to-manage transfer of debitel customer data ensured mobilcom-debitel avoided any downtime during the project.

By replacing the monolithic Java application, mobilcom-debitel’s IT department was free to select the back-end system. The ZAP SOA Platform ensures a uniform, easy-to-use user interface regardless of where the data users’ needs comes from. Mobilcom-debitel now has a powerful, resilient, and above all, clearly structured IT environment.

The SOA platform is also flexible and can be adapted to meet changing requirements on an ongoing basis. “Because the acquisition resulted in a new company, various processes will have to be implemented in the future. Thanks to the flexible infrastructure, we can implement new software requirements easily, without having to re-examine the complete IT landscape,” said Ohl.

When various business units introduce new requests, the company’s developers only have to focus on services that are relevant to the process in question. To further reduce the interdependencies of services, interfaces that have been traditionally file-based will be replaced in the future. In the future mobilcom-debitel intends to further expand its JBoss deployment to achieve the ultimate goal: for all of the services to be able to communicate directly with one another via messaging. “Thanks to JBoss Enterprise Application Platform, we have been able to break down our complex Java application into small, easy-to-handle applications. This platform itself is extremely stable and therefore provides a reliable basis for practically all our business processes,” said Ohl.

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