TechTip: IBM's Support Assistant Helps You Diagnose Software Problems

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If you're running WebSphere, AIX, Linux, or Windows 2008 Server on your IBM i, Support Assistant Team Server can help you troubleshoot Java and other application problems.

IBM's Support Assistant Team Server (currently in release 5.0.2.1) is a set of diagnostic tools IBM offers at no charge that helps improve productivity by investigating root causes of software problems. The latest version runs under AIX, Linux, and Windows 2008 Server and can also be installed as an Enterprise Archive (EAR) file on servers running WebSphere.

The tools available with this product help developers and troubleshooters diagnose performance problems caused by a wide variety of problems, such as inefficient code, memory overflows, port conflicts, resource contention, and other pitfalls.

Support Assistant Team Server offers six different styles of tools. Report tools non-interactively generate analysis reports of each tool's findings. Web tools and external Web tools provide an interactive browser interface to analyze diagnostic files on the IBM Support Assistant Server. Desktop tools are interactive applications that can run on desktop systems with server access. Downloadable tools download and run directly on local workstations. Eclipse tools run within an Eclipse workbench, and some desktop tools are also available as Eclipse tools.

Diagnostic tools for Java include the Classloader Analyzer, which diagnoses problems with Java classes, classloaders, and libraries from Java classloader trace files and IBM javacore files. It calculates the numbers of classloaders, classes, and loaded libraries; automatically detects classloader leaks; and provides various views of classloaders, class trees, and library trees. Another is the Health Center, which monitors the status of running Java Virtual Machines (JVMs) to find memory leaks, I/O bottlenecks, lock contentions, and unusual WebSphere Real Time events. Also available is the Garbage Collection and Memory Visualizer, which helps analyze garbage collection logs to monitor heap size and garbage collection performance, flag possible memory leaks, and correctly size the Java heap. The HeapAnalyzer checks Java heap dumps for leaks and excessive heap usage and produces a summary report identifying leak suspects and related statistics. The Interactive Diagnostic Data Explorer examines artifacts produced by JVMs, such as core files or javacores, to obtain information about problems without using resource-intensive analysis. It features syntax highlighting, support for IBM Dump Analyzer commands, and encryption of analysis files for secure storage. Memory Analyzer helps investigate system and Java heap dumps to find memory leaks, tune the memory footprint of applications, and optimize Java collections and cache usage.

WebSphere-specific diagnostics include the Portal Log Analyzer, which helps organize data in a portal's ConfigTrace log to help identify failed ConfigEngine scripts, root exceptions for the failures, and the properties used during script execution. Also available is the Profile Port Checker, which looks for possible port conflicts in WebSphere Application Server (WAS) configuration files and generates a report showing all server ports and any duplicate port settings. The Web Server Plug-in Analyzer for WebSphere Application Server runs on desktop workstations to help find improper or inefficient settings that may be causing runtime problems. It can detect problematic configurations, identifies request and response failures, and helps users graphically visualize runtime environment topologies. The WebSphere Application Server Configuration Visualizer gives users an interactive HTML display of WAS configurations, including Service Integration Buses and databases. The WebSphere Cross Component Trace Logviewer gives users a look at log file views for logs that have been augmented with Cross Component Tracer correlation log records, displayed in user choice of flat or hierarchical layouts.

Sametime users can benefit from the Serviceability Tool for Sametime, a rich client that runs on workstations and includes a configuration validator, automated support features, and the ability to monitor Sametime Community Statistics.

Linux users will find useful the Processors Time Analysis Tool for Linux, a desktop tool that checks Linux performance logs and IBM Java Thread dumps to pinpoint Java threads that are using more than their fair share of processor resources. From this data, the tool can build charts of processor usage and provides Java stack traces and native stack traces for each Java thread.

If you're using optical drives or libraries, the FileNet Optical Storage and Retrieval Cable Tool displays configurations of optical drives and libraries to help find connectivity problems.

Other benefits of IBM Support Assistant Team Server include an option for single-user desktop mode, the ability to organize diagnostic files in user-defined hierarchies, a tab for accessing generated reports, automated data analysis, encrypted communications, and the ability to restrict administrative functions to a subset of users.

If this toolset sounds useful, you can download it at no charge at the link given above, as well as access other information about its use at IBM's developerWorks forum.

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