focus topic: Streamlining Network Management

In many ways, HB Group Insurance Management Ltd. exemplifies IBM’s traditional AS/400 customer as it praises the platform for keeping core business applications running smoothly amid changing customer and technical demands. The Ontario-based insurance company deploys AS/400 systems to process mission-critical data, perform Year 2000 conversion and facilitate Internet communication.

“It’s the main hub where all our important information resides,” says Art Burchill, manager of systems architecture at HB Group. “We have a lot of expertise in this system. It’s never going to let us down. There’s no urge for us to go off and explore other platforms.”

Initially, OS/400 provided sufficient network management capabilities, but he realizes that the company’s dramatic growth requires more sophisticated and comprehensive management capabilities to keep critical systems and applications running efficiently.

HB Group quadrupled its number of insurance premiums processed during the past three years as a new CTI (computer-telephony integration) application pushed “business through the roof,” Burchill says. Consequently, so did customer demands as the carrier fields more than 35,000-customer service calls every week. The company more than tripled its employee base since 1993 to support growing demands. HB Group now retains 650 employees up from 170 employees five years ago and expects to employ 1,200 by the year 2002. Supporting external and internal customers represents the IT department’s greatest challenges.

“We’ve been running without too many layers of management because of our growth. My challenge is that we’ve grown so much, how can I effectively manage the technology out there,” Burchill says. “We need to set up a help desk and a network management area to make sure we are delivering the information with the performance we need to keep going. We need a real end-to-end picture [of the network]. We need to measure everything accurately and have functional reporting. ”

Traditionally, IBM furnished its midrange and mainframe customers with management solutions via its SystemView and NetView product lines, enabling them to maintain a “True Blue” environment. However, IBM decided not to develop all the systems and network management technology their customers need and instead passed the mission to its subsidiary, Tivoli Systems Inc. and third party vendors.

IBM New AS/400 Systems Management Direction

IBM formalized this philosophy with its recently announced AS/400 Systems Management Direction and Systems Management Partner Group. IBM devised the new strategy to streamline network management decisions for customers, like HB Group, who need better tools for managing the AS/400 in heterogeneous as well as homogeneous environments. The strategy encompasses the full range of AS/400 customers from the very small to the very large and defines the systems management alternatives for each group, according to Sandy Haydon, project manager in IBM’s Systems Management Partner Group.

Overall IBM will add more management functions to the OS/400 operating system to support AS/400-centric customers and small and medium customers while encouraging others to explore solutions under Tivoli Enterprise. Customers who need systems management capabilities outside the scope of the IBM and Tivoli product lines will be referred to another software vendor registered under IBM Systems Management Partner Group. The group currently consists of six vendors but will be expanded within the next several months. Specifically, the strategy comprises three pillars, which define the solutions and how they will be developed.

For example, the first pillar entails integrating management capabilities with the OS/400 operating system. OS/400 delivers basic network management to AS/400 customers and introduced the Management Console as a common Windows-like GUI with V4R3, which integrates with Operations Navigator. OS/400 currently provides security, database and alert management, electronic customer support, problem administration, an SNMP manager and agent, auto-configured devices and a performance monitor database. IBM plans to continue adding management capabilities to Management Central.

Tivoli Beefs up AS/400 Management Solutions

AS/400 customers requiring more advanced systems management capabilities should consider the second pillar, which is integrating with Tivoli’s system management framework, Tivoli Enterprise and deploying its systems, network, database and applications management solutions. Tivoli Enterprise provides an open architecture with cross platform support. Released in September, the newly enhanced solution comprises three tiers including Endpoint Manager, Gateways and Endpoints running the Tivoli Management Agent (TMA). The solution streamlines network management by reducing installation time as the system automatically discovers end nodes to manage without requiring users to implement managed node software on each node.

Developed on the Unix platform, Tivoli Enterprise originally catered to TCP/IP networks, making it difficult to integrate AS/400 systems into the framework. However, Tivoli recently jumped on the AS/400 bandwagon by introducing management services targeted at the AS/400, according to Gregory Rice, Tivoli director of market management based in Austin, Texas.

“In September, we introduced a comprehensive range of management services for the AS/400,” Rice says. “We’re finding a lot of our customers have some number of AS/400s in their environment. They want to get these systems into their mainstream environment.”

Tivoli ported a set of core management applications and the Tivoli Management Agent to the AS/400, enabling it to be managed “like any other box” under the Tivoli Enterprise. The solution automatically installs and updates the system by distributing software to the AS/400 and taking inventory of the associated hardware and software. The vendor also added support for OS/390 systems. Tivoli previously pledged its commitment to the AS/400 with the February introduction of the message event adapter and the alert event adapter.

“When customers buy Tivoli, they are using it as a foundation,” Rice explains. “Every platform is a little bit different and our specialty has been in allowing administrators not to be slowed down by the complexities of those differences. We just take another source of complexity and eliminate it. All the customer has to do is add more servers to the environment. You no longer have to have a separate and unique management system for AS/400s.”

Tivoli’s new management agent tackles one of primary obstacles plaguing large management frameworks since their origin -- long implementation time. By automatically distributing the software and management capabilities, the agent eliminates the need to install managed node software. “People are taking weeks [to implement the system] whereas before it was taking years,” he says.

Third-Party Vendors Fill Management Gap

Despite its robust management suite, Tivoli Enterprise can not provide all management capabilities to all AS/400 customers nor can OS/400. IBM launched its Systems Management Partner initiative to fill customer needs by joining with third-party vendors to provide specific solutions. This strategy represents the third pillar of IBM’s AS/400 Systems Management Direction.

“As we looked across what we can provide and what Tivoli can provide, we still saw opportunity for homogenous customers and those needing more complex functions that what we can deliver in the operating system. We looked at other software vendors,” Haydon says. “We’ve identified vendors that provide solutions in areas we are not. We will make their solutions available to our customers.”

Currently, six vendors comprise IBM’s Systems Management Partner Group: ACI Worldwide (Omaha, Neb.), Bytware Inc. (Grass Valley, Calif.), Candle Corp. (Santa Monica, Calif.), MBA Inc. (Tulsa, Okla.), and New Dimension Software (Irvine, Calif.) and PentaSafe Inc. (Houston).

Candle, for example, offers products that complement IBM’s AS/400 management solution set. IBM has bundled Candle’s new CandleLight for OS/400 and the other five products in a CD sampler, enabling potential customers to try the solutions for 30 days.

CandleLight for OS/400 monitors the AS/400’s network performance and availability on an AS/400 and can handle more than 400 attributes. However, it can view only one node or subsystem at a time and is therefore best suited for small environments. Candle believes sampling this product will encourage users to purchase its similar but more scalable product, Candle Command Center. Command Center monitors the availability and performance of multimode networks and specifically caters to AS/400 systems.

"Our role in the management space is around availability and performance, not performance and configuration," says Dave Stevens, Candle’s VP of Distributed Applications Management Business Unit.

Candle Command Center and CandleLight therefore do not directly compete with IBM’s AS/400 systems management solutions although they can compete on a lower level with Tivoli’s Enterprise Solution. Stevens therefore does not believe its products directly compete with IBM or Tivoli’s systems management solutions, although he acknowledges that they can compete on a lower level.

Both IBM and Tivoli managers state that giving customers freedom to choose their management applications and supporting their decisions with appropriate integration capabilities best serves their customers. IBM will work with companies that offer complementary solutions under the Partner initiative although they may compete with them in another area. However, IBM will not jointly market a product that directly competes with one of its systems management solutions.

"Point solutions are quick to return their value. Customers, literally within hours, can generate reports they couldn’t do before," Stevens says.

Tom Huntington VP of Help/Systems, based in Minnetonka, Minn., agrees that its Robot line of network management products could work well with IBM AS/400 management products and even complement Tivoli Enterprise. Robot targets specific functions such as automation and application management as opposed to offering a whole suite.

"We are kind of the best of breed product for the AS/400," Huntington says. "But we do have customers that want us to work with other products. We have an interface in Robot that says here’s a message from the AS/400 and sends it over to Tivoli, Sun, or Unix. The person running the Tivoli product can get it and respond."

IBM is aggressively seeking new partners for the AS/400 Systems Management Partners Group and plans to expand it from North America to worldwide. The vendor will then require partners support each geographical area to accommodate language and cultural differences, according to Haydon.

"The bottom line is we want to give customers the choice. This is the whole reason we developed our open strategy," Rice says. "Tivoli has a very broad sense but there are going to communicate with the partners that have what we don’t. We do partnerships with competitors because we don’t want to force customization."