In the Wheelhouse: Green-Screen Management Is Dead

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Our community deserves so much better than to languish about managing our systems via the green-screen.


I was at the COMMON User Group Fall Conference and Expo a few weeks ago, where I presented a session called "Modernizing Systems Management with IBM Navigator for i." The overall turnout for the conference was pretty good, considering it was a fall conference and Indianapolis isn't the warmest place on Earth at the tail end of October.


I had a number of purposes for this session. The first was to update perceptions of IBM i administrators. While there is a time and place for the command line, the idea of managing a modern system exclusively through a text-based interface is old school.


The second purpose was feature education. In case you didn't know, IBM Navigator for i is IBM's strategic direction for all system administration functions of IBM i. Bar none. Period. IBM i Access for Windows didn't get a version upgrade to 7.2. It will be supported for the foreseeable future, but it won't be enhanced. I did hear, however, that it will be patched if there's a major security hole or something of that effect. We need to be using the Navigator for i interface, and we need to know what features are included, where they are, and how to use them. Also, we need to understand how Navigator works in order to recognize that it's far superior to the old thick-client Navigator included in IBM i Access for Windows.


My session was in a double-wide room, and I'd estimate there were about 45-50 people in attendance. A bigger turnout than I expected to be honest, so I was stoked. The first question of the day I asked everyone was, "How many of you fine people use IBM Navigator for i as your primary administrative interface for managing your systems?"


Zero hands went in the air.


The second question: "How many of you have ever used the web-based Navigator product?"


Maybe seven or eight hands went in the air along with a few comments:


"But it's so slow!"

"It doesn't have enough features!"

"I used it four or five years ago, and it just wasn't very good."


It was apparent these folks haven't read my content on Navigator in the past. With a show of hands, only 5% were on IBM i 6.1, 80% on 7.1 (TR6 and above), and I'd say 15% on 7.2. On those releases, the software is already running, yet my fellow administrators don't know it's there. I guess they had a sub-par experience on the far slower IBM Systems Director Navigator and didn't realize that this product is not just a rehashed, updated version. Navigator for i is a fast, modern product with an agile development cycle offering you new and useful features with every HTTP Group PTF. With that being said, I'd like to give you an idea of what I spoke about.


The Three Myths

In my session, I talked about three myths about IBM i that are very important for administrators to know.


Myth #1: IBM i doesn't have a native GUI.


IBM Navigator for i is a graphical user interface. It's a web application that runs on IBM i. It's native. When I hear this claim, I'm wondering if people are lamenting over a lack of a Windows or Gnome or OSX interface.


Myth #2: You're more productive on a green-screen.


This myth is easily proven false when you're talking about end users. For administrators, it gets a little different. I believe that the Navigator vs. command line argument for administrators is equal to the RDi vs. SEU/PDM argument for developers. With RDi, there is a learning curve, just like any other tool. What I hear is that it takes two to three weeks to be as productive on RDi as you'd be in SEU. After those three weeks, your productivity increases to where a move back to SEU would be a major step down. With Navigator, I'd argue it takes only two to three days in order to match your productivity on command line. Once you get used to the tool, then it becomes second nature, like any other web application. The Fast Search capability is easier to learn than figuring out what words combine to make an IBM i command. Take memory, for example. If you're an administrator who needs to tune a memory pool, then you'd probably take the IBM i command WRKSHRPOOL and adjust as need be. For a junior administrator, the words "Work with Shared Pools" probably wouldn't come across his or her brain when wanting to adjust where memory is allocated. However, the easy Fast Search gives that junior administrator the ability to type "memory" and all the commands and functions related to memory are displayed as you type. Of course, if you're an old hat and want to tune your pools, you can also type WRKSHRPOOL into Fast Search and it will bring a very similar result set back for you. It's backward-compatible for those who understand the IBM i historical command lingo and forward-compatible to help on-board the youngsters!


Myth #3: User perception has nothing to do with administration tools.


This is partly true. You could argue that if you're giving your users a GUI, then it doesn't matter what you're using to maintain the system. Maybe so. But don't tell me it's not hypocritical. "Do as I say, not as I do" doesn't work. During World War II, Lieutenant General James Gavin was a commander of the 82nd Airborne, and he placed tremendous value on his officers being the first soldiers out of the airplane. To expect people to follow your guidance you need to lead by example. This lesson can be applied anywhere. When we want people to use new tools, we must also use the equivalent.


I spent the next 75 minutes going over the coolness of Navigator and explaining how it blows the doors off green-screen administration. The difference between often-used green-screenslike the System Operator message queueand the graphical equivalent is subtle in display, drastic in value. One neat little feature is the ability to see who replied to a job, what value they replied with, and when they replied! You won't get that on a green-screen without some sort of customized auditing.


The search fields integrated into nearly every table are tremendously valuable. Imagine having to search through the history log (QHST). You need to display it out to an outfile and then search through the spooled file. Navigator allows you to search inside QHST because it's a dynamically displayed Dojo table. But hang on a second. On the DSPLOG command, you didn't get your system date format right, so you have to fiddle about on the green-screen while the Navigator alternative gives you a date/time picker so you can't mess it up. Inside your search results, you see a job that you want to check out. So you can now open another session and copy/paste the job name into a command line after you type DSPJOB. In Navigator, all the jobs are hyperlinks! You can just click the job inside QHST and you're looking at the job details. But what's even cooler is you can drill down to all parts of the job and even turn on Job Watcher in order to collect performance statistics about it too!


If you're a POWERHA customer, then you've got so much power with the Navigator interface. The main screen of Navigator gives you immediate status indicators of how your cluster is working, allowing you to drill down to the problem areas with precision accuracy compared to the non-intuitive green-screen interface.


With regards to networking, I use a lot of IP addresses on my systems because I like using standard ports for services (443 for HTTPS, etc.). I don't expect my users to type in some odd port number inside a website URL. With that in mind, CFGTCP doesn't offer me what Navigator does: the Description field on the screen where my IP interfaces are listed. On the green-screen, I need to open up every interface in order to see what the description is. This is painful if you've got 30-plus addresses like I have.


Setting up a new network interface is also a snap. Navigator allows you to add an IP interface via a wizard. What's really cool is the way it allows you to select a hardware resource by resource name, location, or line description. If you have a number of Ethernet cards, each with a few ports, and you care about redundancy, then the ability to pick your Ethernet resources accurately is really important. I had a bit of a heckler at this point of my session who asked, "Well, what if you don't have all your cards plugged in?" Easy. Plug all your Ethernet lines in when you cable your Power Systems server. Who wants to depend on a network team if you don't have to?


I could keep going about all the feature superiorities of Navigator for i. This is the kind of article that could literally go twice as long.


We need to get the word out about Navigator and start using it ourselves. It's worth your time. Please spread the word.