CNF Transportation Inc.

The E-mail Challenge

Every company would love to have a quick, reliable, simple-to-administer e-mail system that includes both internal mail exchange and external (Internet) communication. Oh, and while they're at it, it would be nice if the systems group could actually save the company time and money. These components were on the wish list penned by CNF Transportation Inc. While their e-mail system was reliable, it made great demands on the Global System Support staff, and the mail took a circuitous route, which slowed down delivery. Additionally, it didn't allow easy access to external e-mail accounts. There are several possible solutions to each of these challenges. But the overriding directive is a universal goal: it must be cost effective.

Environmental overview

Not only were the requirements stringent, but CNF Transportation faced these challenges in a complex environment. It is a $5 billion global transportation company composed of three primary units: Con-Way Transportation Services (CTS), Emery Worldwide, and Menlo Logistics. CTS provides regional and inter-regional trucking services, full truckload highway and train shipping, and domestic container drayage throughout the U.S. as well as international services for Canada and Mexico. Emery provides expedited and deferred airfreight and ocean delivery services in the U.S. and to more than 200 other countries. Menlo Logistics is a full-service contract logistics provider, using advanced management information systems to engineer and manage logistics operations. CNF also makes trailers (Road Systems) and operates a wholesale truck parts sales business (VantageParts).

In this heterogeneous environment three mail systems exist on three separate platforms and are interdependent. All three companies maintain installations of All-in-One from DEC (Digital Equipment) on their VAX system, Microsoft Exchange on the PC network, and EMS from Irvine, Calif.- based CASI (Computer Applications Services, Inc.) on the mainframe. The Global System Support group supports All-in-One and EMS for all three companies and the Exchange environment for Menlo Logistics and a portion of CTS. Emery manages their own Exchange administration. In addition, Global System Support personnel support Exchange for the CNF corporate office in California and the administrative offices in Portland. CNF Transportation maintains approximately 9,000 EMS accounts, close to 6,500 Exchange accounts, and nearly 4,000 All-in-One accounts.

EMS is used in the field locations (freight terminals and service centers) where people don't have access to PCs, or where the cost to provide everyone with a PC would be prohibitive. EMS is a mainframe-based mail system, so personnel can access EMS with the devices that already exist in their locations. Into this mix was thrown the need to exchange e-mail with external accounts, such as customers.

The tool used at CNF until very recently to facilitate inter-system mail exchange was SoftSwitch, from Lotus Development. This client software was installed in each mail environment and routed messages as appropriate.

Early systems

Prior to the implementation of EMS and SoftSwitch in 1991, the only electronic communication option available to personnel in terminal locations was the ADMN online function. This system required users to type a message directed to a printer at a remote location. The message that printed on that printer would then be hand-delivered to the recipient. A mandate by the VP of MIS to identify and implement a mainframe-based e-mail solution resulted in the rollout of EMS. SoftSwitch was required to provide mail connectivity between the mainframe solution (EMS) and the other corporate mail solutions (X.400 and All-In-One).

SoftSwitch provides inter-system mail capabilities through the use of client software running in each mail environment. In the CNF implementation, SoftSwitch provided mail connectivity between the EMS (mainframe mail), X.400 (external mail), and All-In-One and Exchange (office automation) environments. The activity of the SoftSwitch clients is coordinated by a centralized piece of software referred to as SoftSwitch Central. The SoftSwitch Central software receives incoming messages from each of the mail clients, identifies recipient destinations using a centralized database of mail client information, and routes messages back out to the appropriate mail client for delivery to the target mail system (EMS, X.400, All-in-One, or Exchange).

The way the original e-mail system was developed, the mail took a very complicated route before it was delivered. The average time for a message to get from Exchange to EMS, or vice versa, was approximately 20 minutes. E-mail from All-in-One to EMS took a different route, but usually took 5 to 10 minutes to be delivered. Since the mail took such a complicated route, if there were problems, delivery was sometimes delayed for several hours. In addition, many EMS users in field locations also need to communicate with their customers via e-mail, and in order to do this systems personnel had to add an entry in SoftSwitch for the customer, which was very time consuming and prone to human error. In addition, if there was a typo introduced when adding an entry, a mail failure would result, and all the tables in the SoftSwitch database had to be checked to find the error.

The solution

To address these limitations CNF Transportation installed the MailServer/390 gateway, also from CASI. MailServer/390 is an SMTP mail gateway and POP3 mail server for IBM 390 compatible mainframe computers. The gateway handles the mail going to and from EMS from the other CNF mail systems. In this case, incoming Internet mail is routed through Exchange servers. The mail comes into Exchange and either finds a match with an Exchange account or finds a custom recipient entry in Exchange for one of the other mail systems. Mail destined for EMS is routed through the gateway into EMS. Mail coming out of EMS is sent through the gateway to the Exchange server if it is for someone in the company, or to the firewall if it is going to the Internet.

MailServer/390 installations use the gateway in many different manners. Mail from Internet sources is routed through MailServer/390 to whichever mail system the recipient happens to be using on the mainframe or the PC. MailServer/390 doesn't differentiate; it routes it to whichever mail system is designated for that particular person. The site may have many different mail systems in use, and MailServer/390 talks with them all.

With the new MailServer/390 gateway, messages between Exchange and EMS arrive in seconds. And now EMS users can send and receive Internet mail from anyone without any prior set up. Not only does this increase efficiency because of quicker action and enhanced communication with external sites, but this facilitates greater customer service.

Search for a solution

The research for a solution to their e-mail needs was relatively simple; CNF heard the SMTP gateway from CASI was going to be released and requested a test of the system in order to simplify their mail environment. They installed it in a test system for several months to conduct extensive tests on the product to ensure it was compatible with their installation and had no problems. They recently upgraded their production system and made it available to the entire installed base of e-mail users.

System modifications

Once the decision was made to utilize the gateway, work was required to get EMS, Exchange, and All-in-One ready for the change. Because EMS account names were set up using the format of firstname lastname, and the company standard for Internet addresses is lastname firstname, a nickname was added to every account so that the Internet addresses would be correct on their outgoing mail. They also modified all the EMS entries for All-in-One and Exchange accounts, by removing the DGN and DEN number that was required by SoftSwitch, and replacing it with an Internet address. But once all the work was completed, regular account maintenance work required of the Global System Support group was greatly reduced.

Other modifications to the mail system, especially with regard to EMS, were made when the gateway was made available. Prior to the installation of the gateway, when an attachment was received in an EMS note, it was viewed as garbage because EMS on its own doesn't include the ability to read attachments. Now attachments are received as attached binary files, which can be forwarded to an e-mail account that can read these attachments.

CNF can also now set limits on the size of documents that are accepted in EMS. EMS will accept a file within the limitations and will disregard the rest. This increases the reliability of the EMS system. There's an additional benefit to the gateway: MailServer/390 has allowed CNF Transportation to remove SoftSwitch and save money and maintenance overhead. The cost of the MailServer/390 gateway was nearly equal to what CNF was paying each year for SoftSwitch maintenance, so this will save a significant amount of money over the next few years. Maintenance of the e-mail system and the addition of new users will require much less work because the need to add everyone to the SoftSwitch database has been eliminated.

Conclusion

User acceptance of the system has been almost instantaneous and extremely positive. EMS users are excited that they can now communicate with external contacts via Internet mail. Prior to installation of the gateway, many resorted to using their personal e-mail systems for external communication. The user community is also impressed with the speed with which they now receive their mail. On the systems side, the reduced overhead from the elimination of SoftSwitch and the more simplified mail environment that will require less maintenance are a welcomed relief. They can now focus on support of the extensive e-mail user base.

Return to MailServer/390


Copyright 1998, Trax Softworks, Inc. All rights reserved.
Updated September 17, 1998