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Technology Focus: Automated Operations Products Are Continuing to Thrive

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Automated operations software products enhance their utility, particularly in multiplatform environments.

 

It's been a truism in the general culture that the point of automation is to make life simpler and easier. When we look around us and see home thermostats and DVRs we can set with our smart phones, ATMs that dispense cash without help from a teller, and cars that can parallel park themselves, that idea seems self-evident.

 

A bit ironically, though, one could argue that automating IBM i operations has actually gotten more complicated over the past few years. After all, many enterprises have expanded from using one or a couple of i servers to using multiple servers, often on multiple platforms, to handle their business functions. Many enterprises have gone from doing business only during office hours to 24x7 operations. Where it was common for businesses to operate locally or regionally, it's now expected for enterprises of nearly any size to operate nationally or internationally.

 

All of that requires business-systems oversight, and accomplishing that is not getting any easier. No one knows that better than vendors of automated operations products for the IBM i.

Automation Nation

"Traditionally, automated operations products were implemented and used by administrators and operators to automate routine tasks, perhaps daily checklists that had to be performed so that other more interesting work could be carried out," remembers Donnie MacColl, technical services director for Halcyon Software. Today, that's all changed: "…the need to be open all hours, the massive increase in purchasing anything over the Internet, the advent of mobile computing, [and] the availability of everything at all times means that the demand on business application availability is key."

 

"Developments in technology over the past 10 years have spurred expectations for instant information with email, text messaging, and instant messaging," notes DRV Technologies CEO/president Richard Voss. The business climate, which has forced businesses to respond to economic pressures with leaner staffs and fewer resources, is causing "a disconnect between monitoring for information and acting on that information."

 

"There are still many systems running out there in the world manually or with deficient tools," warns Chuck Losinski, director of automation technology at Help/Systems LLC. "Data centers have fewer people to manage their systems and a higher workload. There is no such thing as downtime anymore. It has become very costly to make a mistake"—especially if your enterprise still relies on manual controls.

Ratcheting It up a Notch

 Accordingly, there's a need for even more automation of system operations.

 

"The most common motivation for looking at automated monitoring is the need for an extra set of eyes to look for system messages," points out Christopher Burns, DRV's vice president of sales and marketing, a point echoed by all the vendors contacted for this article. "The messaging system of the IBM i works great if you have someone looking for those messages, but with leaner resources that's a luxury many organizations just don't have anymore," he elaborates. "If an IT staff has experienced cutbacks and doesn't have 24x7 coverage, an automated monitor can take over the second or third shifts so first shift doesn't come in to find the nightly backup hasn't been completed. Automated routines don't call in sick, take vacation, or make mistakes."

 

"Being able to look for a message not appearing is also something that lends itself particularly well to the IBM i," emphasizes MacColl, citing the example of backups completing on multiple systems with operations personnel needing to see exceptions to that norm highlighted.

 

Asked to identify automated operations features that require special emphasis on the i, the vendors pointed to several key ones.

 

"Auditing and reporting is a big one," offers Losinski. "Being able to demonstrate how a message was answered or when backups occurred and if they were successful or not. And how restores were done . . . COBIT, ISO, and ITIL want you to prove you can demonstrate this," (referring to the Control Objectives for Information and Related Technologies, International Organization for Standardization, and Information Technology Infrastructure Library standards).

 

"Automated system monitoring and notification allows for proactive system management," adds Burns. "By replacing a human monitor with automated monitoring and filtering for messages by message ID, type, and severity, electronic notification simply executes to alert someone of issues before they can become problems."

 

"One other IBM i area in particular is the job scheduling requirements," MacColl nominates. "To have to run certain jobs and processes at predefined critical times with possibly multiple dependencies and on more than one platform is a requirement that has special emphasis to the IBM i environment."

 

"Ensuring that subsystems are available or, sometimes more importantly, unavailable," was another function MacColl pointed out. "You may want to ensure there are not any interactive sessions or users signing on to use certain areas of the system when, for example, a backup is taking place."

Automation's Future on the i

As important as all these aspects might be, all the vendors see even more features becoming available in operations automation products in months and years ahead. When asked what the most common requests are for new features in their products, the vendors mentioned several.

 

"Multiplatform scheduling enhancements such as integrating Microsoft SQL Server jobs into IBM i job streams and better reporting of what is happening on those other platforms," cites Losinski. "Enhancements around monitoring system performance is another area we are working on. Another common request is for support of various high-availability technologies like clustering and iASP." He also noted easier product deployment, live partition mobility, and the ability to import jobs from scheduling tools. "More and more, we're seeing interest in additional features for scheduling and monitoring performance on both IBM i and p since they are now merged on Power."

 

"Automat[ing] report conversion and distribution and system monitoring," Burns offers. "IT departments don't have the resources to massage reports into the formats users want and distribute them, or spend valuable time watching for a system message that requires attention."

 

"Most common requests are now for more complex scenarios, such as looking for something very specific to a particular organization. This means automated operations products must be easily customizable without the need to use a scripting language," MacColl reports. He cites the example of a certain file needing to have a certain number of entries at specific times of day and the need to activate specific responses if that requirement is or isn't met.

 

Although all vendors mentioned it, MacColl in particular emphasizes the need to monitor and automate business processes rather than simply the hardware systems they run on. He also highlighted that single human beings can't meet the requirement in some shops to perform automation of the same server processes on AIX, Linux, and Windows systems as well as the i. "How can somebody become a subject-matter expert in all operating systems and applications? They cannot."

 

Below is a summary of the automated operations products currently available for IBM i systems. Please consult the links provided with each product for a complete picture of the features and benefits each has to offer.

 

As always when looking for products or services, be sure to check the MC Press Online Buyer's Guide.

Automated Operations Products for IBM i

 

BCD International

Catapult

Catapult automates report and document distribution tasks by providing a means of moving IBM i spooled files, or PC files, to one or more users.

 

CCSS

QMessage Monitor

QRemote Control

QSystem Monitor

QMessage Monitor automatically filters, answers, and escalates messages about system and performance problems. It also sends alert messages via audio, visual, email, and mobile phone prompts.

 

QRemote Control enables remote management of single or multiple IBM i systems from mobile devices. It also monitors system performance and message queues and sends appropriate alerts.

 

QSystem Monitor is a graphical performance-monitoring tool that keeps watch on applications, queues, jobs, disk use, and other system resources to provide a real-time snapshot of system operations.

 

DDL Systems Consulting

ACO Client

ACO Enterprise System Interface

ACO Pager

ACO Client lets users monitor system messages and manage system events from any device equipped with a Web browser.

 

ACO Enterprise System Interface works with IBM's Tivoli product line to automate system messaging and response tasks 24 hours a day.

 

ACO Pager monitors all system message queues and sends appropriate alerts to authorized personnel and can take preprogrammed palliative actions.

 

DRV Technologies

MessageFlex

MessageFlex monitors queues for system and program messages and notifies operations personnel groups or individuals via email, text, or Instant Messaging if it finds them.

 

Halcyon Software

Halcyon Suite Levels 1-4

Halcyon offers a three-tiered suite of operations automation and management tools for IBM i. Level 1 handles messages from systems and applications, Level 2 controls systems operations tasks, Level 3 adds performance management, and Level 4 adds advanced job scheduling controls.

 

Help/Systems

Robot Workload Automation Suite

Skybot Scheduler

The Robot Workload Automation Suite, which includes an optional browser interface, is a collection of products that can be purchased together or separately to automate many IBM i functions. The suite includes Robot/ALERT (system message notification), Robot/AUTOTUNE (ongoing performance tuner), Robot/CPA (usage accounting and optional chargeback system), Robot/CONSOLE (message, resource, and log monitoring), Robot/LPAR (partition management), Robot/NETWORK (server network monitoring), Robot/REPORTS (report distribution and archiving), Robot/SAVE (backup and recovery), Robot/SCHEDULE (job scheduling), Robot/SPACE (disk space and usage monitoring), Robot/TRANSFORM (output spooled files as IFS or PDF files), Robot/TRAPPER (monitors SNMP event messages from devices), and Robot/UPS (power monitoring).

 

Skybot Scheduler helps operations staff schedule system jobs across multiple Linux, UNIX, and Windows servers, including IBM i partitions and servers running those operating systems.

 

K.S.T. Software

DiskMaster

TaskMaster

DiskMaster collects and analyzes seven types of disk-space data to help system managers organize and control disk performance and storage growth.

 

TaskMaster is an automatic job scheduler that lets users build calendars, schedule multiple independent system jobs, and monitor their progress.

 

MB Software and Consulting

Workload Performance Series

Workload Performance Series is a family of applications that monitors and analyzes application processing environments on IBM i servers to help operations personnel find and correct processing bottlenecks.

 

Midrange Performance Group

Performance Navigator

Performance Navigator runs on a Windows PC and analyzes system performance data compiled over any time period to troubleshoot performance problems. "What If" functions support capacity planning for future system or other equipment acquisitions.

 

Pinnacle Business Systems

iCom400 for System i

Pinnacle's iCom400 lets operations staff monitor message queues on any number of networked IBM i servers from a central console or via telephone voice messaging. A related product, UPS400 for System i, monitors uninterruptible power systems for servers and either notifies staff of problems or conducts a controlled shutdown in the event of failure.

 

Software and Management Associates

OpCon

OpCon is a multiplatform IT operations automation solution that supports i5/OS and AIX on the IBM i. It offers cross-platform system monitoring and event automation, file monitoring, conditional processing, enterprise job scheduling, and third-party software interfaces.

 

Tango/04 Computing Group

VISUAL Control Center

VISUAL Message Center

VISUAL Control Center monitors server and end-user activity on up to 999 IBM i systems running nearly any OS (i5/OS, AIX, Linux, UNIX, Windows) from a PC console to improve availability, performance, and continuity.

 

VISUAL Message Center watches message queues and captures error messages about jobs, devices, and system and database performance to keep operations personnel aware of actual or potential problems and resolve them.

 

UC4 Software

UC4 Automation Platform

The UC4 Automation Platform is a family of automation products that works with a wide range of server operating systems, including IBM i, to provide service-level controls, automated-operations utilities, a rules-based decision analyzer, a systems mapping algorithm, a process-bottleneck examiner, a process-flow graphical visualizer, and an automation system for mobile apps.

 

Vision Solutions

Reorganise While Active

Reorganise While active lets users reorganize business file storage on disk to improve access times and system performance. The utility runs without requiring system downtime and lets normal activity and production continue concurrently.

John Ghrist

John Ghrist has been a journalist, programmer, and systems manager in the computer industry since 1982. He has covered the market for IBM i servers and their predecessor platforms for more than a quarter century and has attended more than 25 COMMON conferences. A former editor-in-chief with Defense Computing and a senior editor with SystemiNEWS, John has written and edited hundreds of articles and blogs for more than a dozen print and electronic publications. He is currently CEO of John Ghrist Agency, a marketing communications firm for technology companies. You can reach him at ghrist@comcast.net.

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    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.