applied solutions: ICOM/400: Next Best Thing to Being There

The learning curve can be fast and steep for AS/400 managers who are starting unattended operations-- especially if the jobs are mission-critical or the application serves Web users. As more sites run 24 x 7 operations with longer periods unattended, operations managers are finding that ICOM/400, a system monitoring and messaging tool from MBA, Inc., Tulsa, Okla., (www.mbainc.com) is helping smooth out the occasional bumps on the information highway.

AS/400 Lone Ranger

Keith Woodworth, AS/400 systems administrator in the Harris County, Texas, Criminal Courts of Law is responsible for 11 AS/400s in 9 locations scattered across hundreds of square miles of the Lone Star State. “Our eight remote systems all run unattended,” says Woodworth. “I’m the only administrator and there are no operators at any of the other sites.”

The AS/400s in Harris County Criminal Courts system run applications that track criminal and civil actions from start to finish. The information is critical, and so is up time. With no budget for computer operators at remote sites, Woodworth relies on clerical help plus the expert monitoring of ICOM/400. “I can’t log on to check each system every day, but I do try to touch every machine once a week,” Woodworth says. He counts on ICOM/400 to monitor daily back-ups and system operations. When the software detects a problem it pages Woodworth on his cell phone and he can sign-on and fix it.

With ICOM/400 on the job, and with the help of some simple menu driven tools he wrote for the clerical personnel who change tapes, Woodworth says there are sites he has not had to visit for 3 to 4 months.

Three Operators Run 61 Systems

In some data centers so much is happening that operators cannot track every machine all the time. This is the problem facing Lee Seelig, manager of support at Baylor Health Care System, Dallas, Texas. He runs a 24 x 7 shop of four AS/400s, a mainframe, 25 RS/6000s and 31 other minicomputers using only 3 operators each shift. “Everything happens at midnight, it seems,” says Seelig. His operators wear pagers while on duty because he wants them to manage operations by exception.

The AS/400 provides clinical support to nursing stations at 5 hospitals, and it runs an automated back up on third shift, which takes the users off-line. “We can’t put the users off for too long. The hour and a half backup must start within a twenty-minute window so the stations are back on line by 3:00 a.m.,” says Seelig. Every minute the system is down is critical. With such a large center, problems on the AS/400 would not be caught immediately because it is in the back of the room.

ICOM/400 monitors the system and pages and e-mails the operators on the floor within 10 minutes if the backup process is not running properly. Seelig also gets a page at home. “I usually call the operators and ask them about the problem because sometimes they get distracted with other things,” he says. Since he has had the monitoring software running he has had no problems.

Seelig relies heavily on the MBA software, so he has written a script to make sure ICOM/400 is always running on the AS/400. The script checks five times in 24 hours to confirm the monitoring and messaging application is doing its job. If not, the script starts it.

“I’m 100% pleased with ICOM/400,” says Seelig, “I checked out three messaging systems and this was best for me.” As time goes on he keeps finding new uses for the application. He used to automatically change his journaling tapes four times a day. Now he has ICOM/400 page the operator to change the tape when the system has journaled 250 megs of data. This avoids losing data when there is a heavy transaction load, he says.

Downloaded It, Tried It, and Liked It

At the National Marketing Center for ADT Security Services, Inc., in Jacksonville, Fla., Ed Jaroll has been running a nightly unattended backup since 1996. His center supports telemarketing operations across the United States and before he installed ICOM/400, if the backup failed, it was run during the next day’s prime shift. This slowed down response across the network of 1,000 users.

Jaroll discovered ICOM/400 at the MBA Web Site, downloaded it for the free trial and has been using it ever since. “During the night, if the backup hangs, ICOM/400 pages people at home. They just log on from home and fix the problem,” says Jaroll. Three different people rotate the pager duty each week so the workload is easy, and ADT’s telemarketers no longer face slow response times when they come to work.

An Evolving Product

Bruce Reynolds is director of product development at MBA. “We continue to add to ICOM/400 capabilities,” he says, “and we’re focusing on supporting AS/400s involved with Web applications.” The software package includes a host of management features such as configuration status monitoring, remote connectivity via Internet or Intranet, job status, message queues, network file arrival, and more. Right now communication applications can use ICOM/400 to monitor an Ethernet line, for example, to ensure its up and can bring it up if necessary. It can also check that a Web server is running and can poll an ISP to be sure the service is on line.

AS/400 unattended operations are becoming more common than ever before. Operations managers are finding that without the safety net of monitoring and messaging software like ICOM/400, they are inviting Murphy’s Law into their data centers. Something is bound to happen sooner or later; but having the system fix itself and/or page the duty operator can make a big difference—maybe even the difference between life and death.

Bob Diefenbacher is an IT consultant and freelance writer with over 30 years experience in the industry. In addition to 18 years at IBM, he was a market and product development executive at several high-tech firms, and started and ran his own graphic communications business. He can be reached via email at denbrook@bellatlantic.net.