The City of Farmington, New Mexico, is tucked into the northwest corner of the state, where it serves as the commercial center for the Four Corners region. The local population has grown dramatically over the last decade, recently passing the 50,000 mark, but that's a mere fraction of the crowd that shows up on weekends and holidays, when the influx of tourists can swell the population to 250,000, creating gridlock and straining the city's fire and police protection capacities. Critical services have to keep up as the population swells, and Bytware's MessengerPlus plays a pivotal role in keeping Farmington humming.
Maintaining the computer services vital to the booming community is the responsibility of Rick Weinstein, 46, who has been in his post of Information Services Administrator for a decade. Over that time, his staff has shrunk from six to two, so efficient monitoring of essential functions is job one. "My whole job, basically," says Weinstein, "is making sure the system is working and the network is running when it needs to be."
The lifeblood of Weinstein's operations is an IBM iSeries that Weinstein praises as "the best business computer in the world." The iSeries handles all of Farmington's financial transactions, stores all police reports and public safety records, operates as the backup for the 911 call center at the county seat in Aztec, and processes all billing information for the 44,000 customers of the city-owned power utility. In all, over 700 users depend on the iSeries. "It's an extremely crucial machine," Weinstein summarizes, "and MessengerPlus has been crucial in keeping it up and running." Even though backup systems are in place, any interruption in service could have catastrophic consequences. That's why Weinstein relies on Bytware's MessengerPlus to inform him of problems before they can disrupt the system.
MessengerPlus is an automatic monitoring and notification system that pages Weinstein the moment it detects a critical event. Most problems are fixed before the user community is even aware of them. "As Bytware says in one of their ads, 'Do you want to know when the fuse is lit or when the bomb goes off?' " says Weinstein. "MessengerPlus always tells me when the fuse is lit, such as when a job is hung or when the system is close to maxing out. I can't tell you how many times it's saved my cookies, so to speak. I cannot envision running this system without it. We run 24/7 with a total of three people; I've got to have a way of knowing what's going on with the system all the time, and this does it."
Weinstein cites the example of a software glitch that caused a runaway job to fill up a critical disk drive. "While we had other protections in place, if MessengerPlus hadn't noticed that the drive was reaching its capacity, this one job could have shut the system down." MessengerPlus was installed on the iSeries in 1998, and in the six years since, Weinstein has never had a problem with MessengerPlus and never had to reboot the iSeries. "Both products are incredibly stable," admires Weinstein. "My job as a systems administrator is to plan for the worst and hope for the best," he adds. "I'm kind of paranoid by nature, and MessengerPlus lets me rest a little bit, knowing that I have a way of knowing what's going on with the system, of anticipating problems and letting me be proactive."
Before MessengerPlus was installed, problems could go unchecked. "Backup jobs would get hung, and you'd arrive in the morning to a rude awakening," notes Weinstein. "One time, the main communication line between our iSeries here and the one in Aztec that serves the 911 call center went down, so police couldn't access their reports." Now, when MessengerPlus detects a problem, Weinstein is automatically paged. "If I'm not on site, 99% of the time I can use a secure Internet line from my home and fix the problem."
Even potentially major glitches can be identified and cured before the user community can be impacted. "One night, I got a page at 2:00 a.m.—these things never happen at 10:00 a.m., when you're awake—because an IBM disc drive was damaged. I was able to do the diagnostics from home, call IBM, and within an hour the drive was replaced and the system kept running. Undetected, the system could have abnormally terminated and shut down. Instead, the users never knew."
On another occasion, MessengerPlus signaled Weinstein when a backup process didn't complete. "Because I saw the message, I was able to come in a couple of hours earlier and start an abbreviated backup and was able to go ahead and protect the previous day's work, unbeknownst to any users, but I would not have known that if I hadn't had MessengerPlus."
Weinstein has tailored MessengerPlus to signal him about a variety of system functions. "We have a utility-billing job that runs every night, processing bills for our electric customers; MessengerPlus lets me know if that job doesn't complete for any reason. I can tell it to search my history log, and if we don't get a completion, it lets me know that. I can set it up dynamically to check our journals and let me know what's happened and what hasn't. It also allows me to ping each of my servers to let me know they're running and every interface is working. And it lets me know if we've had a power failure. I could go on ad infinitum over all the ways it helps me protect the system."
Weinstein is just as enthusiastic about Bytware's support staff as he is about its software. "The Bytware people are a very effective support team. Anytime I've had any questions, they've always been right there. The documentation is great, but that doesn't always solve the problem. There are some things you just don't get unless you talk to somebody. I consider the people to be as important as the product itself; the product works fantastically, and Bytware's product support is excellent."
Asked if he would recommend MessengerPlus to other communities that depend on reliable service from their iSeries systems, Weinstein replies, "Unequivocally. I've never had a problem. That speaks volumes about the quality, I think. It makes a small staff much more effective and efficient, because essentially it's like having another person there 24/7. I couldn't envision running my system without it."
About Bytware: Bytware pioneered automated monitoring and notification in the late 1980s with its Messenger product and revolutionized iSeries security at the start of the new millennium with StandGuard, followed by the release of StandGuard Anti-Virus (powered by McAfee) and, most recently, the Windows-style file protection utility StandGuard Recycle Bin. Bytware is committed to providing its customers with new, innovative, and cost-effective means to managing system events and security, and devotes 100% of its development and marketing resources to this end. Bytware is an Advanced Business Partner with IBM.
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