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.
"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
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.
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 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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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
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 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 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.
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.
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.