Too often, prompt response and resolution of server messages is seen as simply an operational concern, but the implications of failure can have much deeper effects.
Whether your enterprise is small enough to get by with a single server or large enough that it needs a computer center full of them, resolving problems reported by the servers themselves can be critical. Unresolved difficulties popping up on the system console can affect business operations out of all proportion to the neutral wording of some of the messages themselves.
"Two common difficulties that come with a price tag include missed Service Level Agreements [SLAs] and business outages," observes Chuck Losinski, director of automation technology at HelpSystems. "SLAs often have fines associated, and business that does not occur can be measured in web orders or invoices not sent, hours that an interface was unavailable to end users, etc. A single missed message waiting event can back up invoicing, which in turn delays payment and shipping."
"Failing to respond in a timely manner to critical system/application events will most likely result in 1) unplanned downtime, 2) system/application outages, and 3) decreased customer service," notes Doug LaRocco, president of DDL Systems. "Today’s systems management products must be proactive and able to leverage your existing technology and talent to solve complex problems before they reach critical status. The cost to an enterprise of unplanned downtime, loss of human expertise during sick leave or vacation, and system/application or environmental failure can be devastating."
"No less important [a consequence] is a damaged reputation," Losinski adds. "Operators are professionals who strive to deliver a high standard of quality; end users expect it."
Automation vs. Human Oversight
In today's world of cloud-based network services and ever-higher levels of automation in software helping to manage systems, the classic argument about whether automated operations or human oversight is the best way to go persists. In many situations, IBM i servers and their applications can produce such a blizzard of messages that it becomes a challenge to sort out which ones need urgent attention and which are simply informational in nature. Is an algorithm or a human mind the best approach to judging message importance? The vendor representatives interviewed for this article reflect both points of view.
"There is an old school of thought that monitoring system messages manually is a better approach because staff is present," observes Tom Huntington, vice-president of technical services at HelpSystems. "Yet, time and again, an automated approach has proven to show a great ROI."
"Today’s IT staffs are mobile and are expected to take on ever-increasing roles and responsibilities—all while minimizing costs," points out DDL's LaRocco. Product features include "advanced filtering, 'built-in' two-way support, and escalation technologies to ensure that the correct 'on-duty' support personnel are notified and able to manage the event(s) in real-time. Your IT support team is no longer tied to the IBM i system console and can receive and respond securely to critical events with their mobile devices [and] your support staff simply cannot miss events that your installation considers significant."
"We have two guiding principles in this area: manage by exception and automate at the source," explains HelpSystems' Huntington. "Our message management solutions are built to monitor, filter, and escalate IBM i messages, automatically responding to common or recurring issues and notifying staff only of critical conditions. We do this natively on IBM i from a central console to simplify management and facilitate the creation of custom rules for meeting specific business needs."
"We’d like to see the role of a computer operator grow to become an automation manager," Huntington emphasizes. "For example, an organization with multiple partitions continuing to keep staff monitoring computers while using automation tools to consolidate message management into a central monitor, making their jobs easier."
Future Challenges in Server Management
Regardless of which monitoring philosophy your enterprise follows, issues surrounding server management are anything but settled, despite their somewhat pedestrian-seeming nature.
"In my opinion, cloud computing offers the most challenge to IT professionals," offers LaRocco. "The public cloud promises inexpensive and fully scalable infrastructure that doesn’t require managing. However, based on recent industry trends, many businesses are electing to build more hybrid cloud solutions. In a private or hybrid cloud, the infrastructure and the tools you choose to manage it will govern its success and ultimately the success of the business. A hybrid cloud solution will almost certainly change the underlying business processes and the methods by which problems are resolved and systems are managed."
"We want to facilitate custom rule creation because operators simply have no time to automate," counters Huntington. "Often, they’re too busy fighting fires to plan and implement the rules they really need, and a little time spent on automation can go a long way with messages on IBM i."
"Additionally, there’s a general lack of expertise, both within these tools and on IBM i, and many businesses are looking for more turnkey solutions. However, it can be a challenge to integrate these solutions with the rest of the enterprise," Losinski points out.
"Systems management in these hybrid environments again becomes a critical success factor. Many surveys indicate that a significant portion of the IT budget is consumed by maintaining existing systems. Therefore, it’s no surprise that these organizations are focused on continual improvement and IT efficiency. To this effect, systems management solutions must be simple to deploy, cost-effective, and scalable to your hybrid cloud infrastructure," LaRocco concludes.
Server Messaging-Management Solutions for IBM i
Below are software solutions offered by a variety of companies to help your enterprise monitor and respond to server and application messages. Each product is followed by a very brief summary description intended only to provide a general idea of each product's capabilities. For more complete information, please use the accompanying links to the vendor web pages for each product.
iConga is a two-way messaging system that enables capture, transmittal, and remote response to IBM i messages from any email device (e.g., email-enabled cell phones) or IBM i message queues. It also enables monitoring of multiple IBM i message queues with multiple recipient rollwait functions. It also lets users answer multiple *SYSOPR messages without dialing in to the server and uses explicit IBM i message-type subset monitoring, message logging, and user-level security.
Bytware, a division of HelpSystems
MessengerConsole helps operators manage multiple IBM i servers with features such as consolidated monitoring, notification, and compliance-reporting features.
MessengerPlus offers message management, system monitoring, notifications, and compliance reporting features to simplify operations management tasks.
CCSS, a division of Help Systems
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 systems, networks, availability, applications, queues, jobs, disk use, and other system resources via SQL to provide a real-time snapshot of system operations.
DDL Systems Consulting
ACO Enterprise is an add-on product for ACO Monitor that observes IBM i servers (and optionally network-connected Windows servers) and automatically notifies IBM/Tivoli Monitoring or IBM/Tivoli Netcool/OMNIbus systems if problems occur, providinh centralized server-message management.
ACO Monitor tracks IBM i message queues, job and output queues, libraries, objects, devices, IFS objects, and other system entities to provide message control, filtering, routing, and automatic replies. It also activates designated correction routines in response to problems.
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, a division of HelpSystems
Halcyon Suite Levels 1-4
Halcyon offers a four-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.
Network Server Suite
Network Server Suite is a network monitoring solution for enterprises using networked servers running AIX, Linux, and Windows. The product provides a dashboard view of all alerts across the enterprise, unlimited network monitoring of all SNMP devices, and automatic alerts sent via email, SMS, or mobile devices.
Robot Workload Automation Suite
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 CONSOLE (message, resource, and log monitoring), Robot NETWORK (server network monitoring), Robot SCHEDULE (job scheduling), and Robot SCHEDULE Enterprise.
IBM MQ is messaging middleware that enables message exchanges between applications, systems, services, and files. It also provides Universal Messaging and connectivity with mobile devices.
Navigator for i
IBM Navigator for i provides numerous system-management features for IBM i servers, including system and message monitoring. Available with browser or Windows console options, the product also includes an optional monitoring package that provides near realtime graphs for collected system data.
Kisco Information Systems
Kisco's iEvent Monitor lets users zero in on any message queue in the system and watch for critical events based on a minimum severity level. Qualifying messages cause iEvent Monitor to send alert messages to one or more recipients via email, text, or other means.
Applications Manager helps Linux and AIX server users manage application performance. It includes a Linux Monitoring feature that observes and reports on CPU usage, memory and disk utilization, processes, and other system-performance parameters. The product includes color-coded alarms, the ability to send email or SMS alarms, and the ability to execute scripts that can take corrective actions.
Pinnacle Business Systems
icom/400 for System i
Pinnacle's icom/400 lets operations staff monitor message queues on any number of networked IBM i servers from a central console or via telephone voice messaging. On receipt of messages, recipients can cancel jobs, execute commands, or take other actions using predefined options or customized entries.
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. It also enables definition of job-level message management rules for IBM i jobs. If a registered message ID is intercepted, the software agent can activate user-designated responses.
SoftLanding Systems, a division of UNICOM Global
AUTOMON for iConsole
AUTOMON for iConsole is a message-management solution for one or many IBM i servers. It automatically monitors message queues and sends alerts to designated recipients, provides an audit trail for all messages, groups messages that require a common action, and lets operators manage messages for networks of IBM i servers from a single console.
Software Engineering of America (SEA)
SEA's absMessage automates server resource and message monitoring at a central console that lets users observe and react to messages via user choice of green-screen, GUI, web interface, or mobile devices. In networks of multiple servers, messages can be color-coded by server and message type. The product also enables escalation of unanswered messages, conditional execution of remediation scripts, and message-filtering options.
Tango/04 Computing Group
Operations Knowledge Module for iSeries/IBM i
The Operations Knowledge Module for iSeries/IBM i works with VISUAL Message Center to provide pre-defined reports, real-time alerts, and visualization dashboards that keep operators and other users updated on the latest state of their servers.
VISUAL Control 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 for iSeries/IBM i
VISUAL Message Center watches message queues and captures error messages about jobs, devices, and system and database performance in interactive sessions for viewing to keep operations personnel aware of actual or potential problems and resolve them.