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SyncSort UNIX Produces Statistical Reports Quickly and Efficiently for ACT

Published
  • October 01 1998, 1:00am EDT

PLATFORMS: SyncSort UNIX runs on all major UNIX platforms, including HP-UX, AIX and Sun/Solaris. It also contains a free built-in sort accelerator for Micro Focus COBOL.

BACKGROUND: ACT, Inc. (formerly American College Testing) is an independent, nonprofit educational service organization. Through the ACT Assessment program, people can get the information they need to make important educational and career decisions. During the 1996-1997 academic year, ACT's staff processed 1.8 million registrations for the ACT Assessment program and provided hundreds of thousands of statistical reports to individuals, educational institutions and government agencies.

PROBLEM SOLVED: Our programs at ACT were so successful and had grown so rapidly that we decided to move from mainframe time sharing to our own client/server environment centered around a RISC/6000 machine. To continue our work of producing statistical reports from huge amounts of data quickly and cost-effectively, we needed the same fast and efficient data manipulation functionality on UNIX that we'd gotten from SyncSort on the mainframe. Because a version of SyncSort was also available on UNIX, we were able to move this part of our processing easily and quickly from one platform to another.

PRODUCT FUNCTIONALITY: SyncSort improves the performance of very large, resource-intensive applications. It can select and group records based on user-defined criteria, insert, remove and reorder fields, convert data from one format to another and summarize/aggregate records. SyncSort has recently added report writing functionality with headers/trailers, sectioning and summing on the section, page and report levels.

STRENGTHS: SyncSort has many strengths, but these are the most important for us:

  • Speed--SyncSort manipulates mountains of data fast and efficiently. We repeatedly process files with SyncSort that have as many as 1.5 million records, and those records are as long as 1500 characters each.
  • Functionality--SyncSort selects, reformats, sorts and aggregates data for us in a single job. It can also group data, perform different customized functions on different data groups and output this data in separate files.
  • Ease of Use--SyncSort allows us to give meaningful names to fields in a record when we write SyncSort applications, making the applications very easy to understand whenever we want to reuse them.

WEAKNESSES: We had difficulty using UNIX environment variables within input/output file names in the /INSERT option, but SyncSort technical support suggested an alternative method.
PRODUCT CHARACTERISTICS: SyncSort is a fast and flexible tool. We use it for high volume statistical reporting at ACT, but its data manipulation features can also be used for data warehouse staging or speeding database loading and indexing. SyncSort is also a powerful Y2K tool.

SELECTION CRITERIA: We used SyncSort in a mainframe environment, and we required the same mainframe-strength performance on UNIX. We were pleased that a version of SyncSort was available on UNIX with the same speed and functionality and with some added features that made it even easier to use. This allowed us to port our mainframe applications to UNIX and continue to provide all of our critical statistical reports without interruption. We were able to spend our time streamlining and improving our modular processing approach rather than rewriting it to suit a set of new tools.

DELIVERABLES: SyncSort delivers data that has been selected, sorted, reformatted and/or aggregated in exactly the way we need it to customize our statistical report programs. This same functionality can also be used for data warehouse staging and preparing data for loading into an RDBMS.

VENDOR SUPPORT: SyncSort telephone support is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Support specialists are extremely knowledgeable, with special expertise in sort and data manipulation. Support via e-mail is also available.

DOCUMENTATION: Full documentation and on-line help is included. All functionality is described in detail and extensive examples are included. A book of sample applications, complete with diagrams, is part of the documentation set.

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