Any SimCorp Dimension® installation requires the customer to upgrade once every year, although most skip a version and as a result stay on either an odd or an even version. Even with the introduction of four releases per year, it is still anticipated that SCD clients will only do an upgrade once a year because of the cost and effort required to do so.
Have you ever considered performing an SCD upgrade yourself?
We caught up with Jonathan Lanz to learn more about his experience upgrading SimCorp Dimension. Jonathan was at SimCorp® between 2001 and 2008, then moved to a Pension administration firm to provide support for SimCorp Dimension, mainly in the technical areas, both within SCD and in its supporting platforms. It was here that Jonathan and colleagues first tried an unsupported upgrade, and continued to do so for the past 4-5 years. "Being a smaller client, we decided it would be easier, cheaper, and more controllable to give it a go ourselves" said Jonathan, "as long as you have a good back up, test your upgrade procedures enough, and dare to give it a go, then it's very doable!"
In 2018 he moved to PFA, Denmark's largest private pension company, where he holds a position as system manager. Apart from the "usual" stuff, his current main focus area is the implementation of a new batch scheduling tool (Automic), as well as data in / out of the system. From February 2019 he will be helping PFA to prepare for the upgrade to 19.04 in Q2 2019, which PFA are hoping to do with no active SimCorp involvement.
It all started 5 years ago when the timing for the upgrade did not allow for a SimCorp resource to be available, they decided to go “cold turkey”. The result was a success so they decided to continue in that way going forward.
As with any upgrade, Jonathan recommends that you prepare yourself by doing a few test rounds to get familiar with the technical aspect. Once you have ironed out all technical issues you then move on to the regular business regression testing. According to Jonathan, most issues are related to the database and can be fixed by the DBA. So the use of SimCorp was more of a safety net. Of course, some errors can be cryptic to interpret, but asking around in the firm or posting a question to SimCorp often provides an answer and allows you to continue the upgrade.
When we queried whether there was any risk of delay to an upgrade as a result of performing it yourself, Jonathan stated: “I found that the upgrade takes the same time with or without SimCorp. We did not see any delays in the upgrades I participated in”. Further to this, Jonathan added that “… in fact we found that not only did we take the same time as previous upgrades, we also saved cost at the same time with no impact on quality. We always knew that if something should go wrong during the weekend production upgrade, we could always run in the backup and contact SimCorp on Monday, but we actually never needed it”.
The first independent upgrade Jonathan did went much better and smoother than expected. They ran several test upgrades in various development/test installations and noted the results in a checklist. And then they created a Screen by Screen document guide. The actual upgrade is basically a Patch Plus, where the preparation is key.
At the same time it is important to keep close contact with the Oracle DBA to increase table space size, disable archiving, grant permissions and generally keep an eye on the Oracle side of things etc.
Once a process is established and a suitable checklist is created the actual production upgrade should be a piece of cake, but practice makes perfect !
Jonathan has done upgrades without assistance from SimCorp the past 4-5 years and each time has been different, but always successful. Only once did they have to restore and try again a couple of weeks later; they later found that the issue was in Oracle and on the second attempt it worked like a charm.
"If you leave enough time to restore a backup and give yourselves a back-up date, then it's a fairly risk-free process. There's always going to be some risk, and by running test upgrades these can be mitigated as much as possible, but some issues arise in Production that just didn't exist in the testing period which is why a DBA should be on hand".
Jonathan offers the following tips to others considering doing independent upgrades: "PLAN....THEN PLAN AGAIN....THEN TEST... TEST... DOCUMENT...TEST... RE-DOCUMENT...TEST AGAIN....TAKE A DEEP BREATH AND THEN JUST DO IT! Take a back up just before you start, of Files and Database. Remember to stop your usual batch flow process and leave yourselves plenty of time. You should get a rough idea of how long the process will take from your test upgrades and then make a GO/ NO GO decision timetable and stick to it. If it's a NO GO then use your back up and start the Batch flows again; this is why the GO/ NO GO time is so important, you need time to roll back. Don't be afraid to admit defeat, there's always next time, and SimCorp support are open Office hours".
What are your favourite places to visit?
I've been all over the globe but I've never felt more at peace with the world than in Nepal trekking to Mt Everest Base Camp. It was life changing.
What is your proudest SimCorp moment?
Teaching "Reporting" on the SimCorp Academy. There were 15-20 fresh faced SimCorp'ers hanging intently on my every word, all believing I knew what I was talking about :)
What do you love about SimCorp?
It's big, very big. And complex. But it is the best wall to wall system on the market. I think the thing I like about it the most is it's alive and it's moving, it’s growing, it's learning.
What is the most memorable book you’ve read?
I can't remember :O)
"All quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque written in the 1920's it portrays the slide from youthful jingoistic exuberance and verve into the meaninglessness and futility of war, surprisingly the "hero" is German and the end brilliant. I remember crying, not something a 14-year-old boy often does.
It's one of the few books I've read in a day, and as a young teenager, having been brought up on John Wayne and post war "How we won the war" movies, when I read it for the first time, it changed my way of looking at war forever.
If you could change anything with SimCorp what would that be?
More focus on "finishing things", there’re too many good ideas that never quite reach their potential before SimCorp's focus moves onto something else. And of course the old favourite: Documentation. It's better than it was but still a long way to go!
What do you do in your spare time?
Please explain what "spare" time is :O)
I guess I work to live. So when I'm not working, I'm living!
Favourite meal you like to cook?
I'm a man of "many talents" but cooking is not one of them. I've outsourced that to my wife, she's much better at it than me. But at a push I make a pretty good boeuf bourguignon, and of course Full English Breakfast.
Have your organization worked independently on a SimCorp upgrade? Did you experience the same benefits or did you face any challenges? Please share your experience with the user group.