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Educational Testing Service Streamlines Application Calls and Improves PCI Compliance

ETS Harry MacCord
Harry MacCord-IT Director, ETS Brands application management-Photo by JJ Sulin


Customer: Educational Testing Service
Headquarters: Princeton, New Jersey
Business: Development and management of academic testing offerings
Challenge: Sharing data between applications and application operating environments, and ensuring PCI compliance
Solution: Using GT Software’s Ivory Service Architect to develop a web services infrastructure that eases data exchanges and eliminates credit card batch processing
Hardware: IBM zEnterprise 114
Software: GT Software’s Ivory Service Architect, IBM DB2 for z/OS and IBM MQSeries

A hammer, a wrench and a screwdriver are about all some people have in their toolbox. That same concept unfortunately appiles to many data centers. Application developers are a hardworking bunch, but they may not have the proper tools available to meet the needs of an ever-changing service delivery environment.

This is especially true now that data requests—to multiple databases—can come from everywhere, such as a customer service representative’s desk, over the internet or via a mobile device. And people expect fast responses in both directions. Credit card processing, for example, shouldn’t wait until a nightly batch job before it’s completed. This opens the door to too many security exposures.

These are some of the reasons Educational Testing Service (ETS) got a bigger toolbox—one that includes Ivory Service Architect from GT Software, which allows ETS to take advantage of simple web service calls to process data requests in a more timely fashion. Credit card information, for example, is no longer left in batch-job limbo. Instead, those requests are quickly sent to processors as web services for immediate approvals, with a transaction ID as the only trail left behind.

“I have a background in the financial industry, so when we got together with our internal security team and began going over all of our systems, we said, ‘Wow. We’re really not in compliance with PCI,’ ” recalls Harry MacCord, IT director, ETS brands application management. “We were storing all of this information, waiting for batch processing. This was a huge vulnerability we needed to address. Ivory Service Architect essentially did that for us.”

A Disconnect

Based in Princeton, New Jersey, nonprofit ETS specializes in the development, administration and scoring of a variety of educational tests, including the Test of English as a Foreign Language, the Test of English for International Communication, the Graduate Record Examination and the Praxis Series assessments, which measure teacher candidates’ knowledge and skills and are used for the licensing and certification processes. Testing takes place at over 9,000 locations in more than 180 countries, with over 50 million tests processed every year. The organization also produces a comprehensive list of associated study materials.

“We bring in subject matter experts in different fields to help create the tests,” MacCord explains. “So, if the subject is going to be social studies, we’ll have teachers across the country develop test items. Statisticians validate those items, making sure they’re not culturally biased. The tests are then administered—as paper or electronically in multiple formats—and scored, and results are sent to the clients.”

ETS’ mainframe—an IBM zEnterprise* 114—is its core operating environment, processing database and application requests from both clients and test-takers using applications running on other distributed platforms. Of course, processing these requests can be done in many ways, including FTP and via tools such as IBM MQSeries*, but they can be problematic when it comes to real-time application-to-database requests. FTP, for example, only supports batch processing, and MQSeries is designed for near-time processing, which results in performance lags.

Nearly four years ago, prior to MacCord coming on board, ETS tried to get around these limitations by employing a web services architecture, but the solution didn’t support the organization’s 50-50 mix of IBM CICS* and CA IDMS, depending on application requirements.

Jim Utsler, IBM Systems Magazine senior writer, has been covering the technology field for more than a decade. Jim can be reached at

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