focus topic: Automate This!

Automated operations can push the AS/400 to new heights in availability while streamlining repetitive and resource-intensive operations with minimal or no impact on end users. IBM and its business partners have established the AS/400 as the ideal environment for automating key operations from job scheduling and data processing to message management and event notification.

As mainframe customers relinquished their legacy systems for the powerful midrange system, they sought to automate the same operations that the mainframe did. Consequently, applications emerged to perform the traditional backup and recovery, file conversion, and job scheduling as well as more recent systems management capabilities.

IBM beefed up OS/400’s ability to support automated operations in the last two releases with a new graphical user interface and management central, which automates systems management across multiple AS/400s. In addition, the operating system incorporates a rudimentary job scheduling tool, an alert facility for event management and notification, and a seamless link to IBM’s Advanced Job Scheduler.

What IBM doesn’t provide directly, it offers via application programming interfaces with third party systems, and complementary solutions from business partners and subsidiaries like Tivoli. Big Blue believes that even though the technology is rather mature, automated operations can still present vendors with a competitive edge.

“Automation and management will be more and more a differentiating factor across different servers,” said Earl Emerick, IBM AS/400 Systems Management Technology Manager based in Rochester, NY. “I think the AS/400 has a very good set which to enter into that whole series. Systems management and automation will be more a deciding factor than it has been in the past five years.”

Customer Experiences

Large customers, especially, are singing praises as they witness the successful automation of key business processes without having to lift a finger to intervene or to even keep the system rolling. For example, Menlo Logistics converted millions of files in six weeks and sustained less than two hours of downtime thanks to Peterborough, N.H.-based SoftLanding System’s TurnOver Change Management and TurnOver PDQ installed on their AS/400 network.

“Before PDQ, file reorganizations were painful. You had to schedule downtime for the entire organization to be able to put through a conversion for a very large file,” says Richard Atwater, Menlo's systems administrator based at the company’s data processing center in Portland, Oregon.

Menlo provides data processing services for companies worldwide and is responsible for maintaining tens of millions of records. Consequently, a full-scale conversion represents a colossal effort; requiring a substantial amount of planning and preparation before the process can begin. Menlo deployed PDQ to help plan and facilitate the conversion. No downtime was required to start the replication if the file was already

journalled, and if not it took only a few seconds of exclusive access to the file to start journalling. All other planning and conversion efforts could run simultaneously in the background without interfering with end users. The process replicated the files being converted and enabled users to access the copies in foreground. End users could even update the files being converted as long as they didn’t rename or restructure them.

“We have been converting files and running the backups at the same time. It seems to run wonderfully,” Atwater says.

The system notifies the administrator when it finishes the conversions. End users must close the files so the system can archive them. However, end users do not need to log off immediately. Rather the administrator can schedule the downtime at his convenience.

“You can do the file conversion or reorganization whenever you like, and when you are ready to have a couple of minutes of downtime, you do the archiving and close out the process,” Atwater says. “As long as you have enough resources, the end user doesn’t notice anything is happening at all.”

Menlo’s recent file conversion took 180 hours to complete, but company only chalked up 1½ hours of downtime. “Without PDQ, virtually all of it would have been downtime for somebody,” says Atwater. “One large file took 36 hours to copy. But with PDQ we did it whenever we wanted. If we had to convert it without PDQ, it would have been very painful.”

TurnOver PDQ and TurnOver Change Management represent two of SoftLanding’s solutions designed for the AS/400. The software manufacturer specializes in systems management and automated operations products such as help desk, project, software change and configuration management as well as data file change software.

TurnOver is not the only software solution that helps Menlo keep its operation running smoothly. The company also deploys Byteware’s MessengerPlus to monitor system events and generate pages when they reach the user-defined criteria. Help/Systems’ Robot Scheduler automates on the company’s AS/400 systems. Menlo relies on five AS/400 systems to run several data processing and management systems at the Portland site and also deploys UNIX and Windows NT servers throughout their global enterprise. It maintains its headquarters in Redwood Shores, CA and offices throughout North America, Europe and Australia. Menlo support sites spanning multiple time zones, making system availability even more crucial.

“Availability is an issue,” Atwater says. “When it is five in the evening here, it’s five in the morning in Sydney Australia. We basically have people working around the clock. They expect it [the necessary system or application] to be there.”

Turnover PDQ helped another company maximize availability by converting 226 million records and simultaneously updating the index entries in a few weeks, with only four hours of weekend downtime. The company originally expected the project to involve 80 hours of downtime, according to SoftLanding Marketing Director Amy Lantz.

Automating and Managing AS/400 Messages

FC Johnson Wax IS Consultant Scott Bisciglia agrees that automating operations on the AS/400 reduces downtime, improves response time, and minimizes the entry of human error. The consumer products’ manufacturer relies on Help/Systems Robot product line to automate messages and manage their six AS/400 systems.

“The AS/400 system generates so many messages,” Bisciglia says Robot helps manage and route all messages to the clients responsible for them and not the operations group. This basically puts us in a “lights out” operations with no operators watching the console.”

Help/Systems, Inc. of Minnesota devotes its entire product line to automating and managing the AS/400 with its Robot product line, which also includes Robot/SCHEDULE, Robot/AUTOTUNE, Robot/CLIENT, Robot/NETWORK, Robot/REPORTS, Robot/REPLAY, Robot/UPS, and Robot/SAVE.

“Automating message traffic is a key element,” says Tom Huntington, vice president of technical services at Helps/Systems. “The top 15% of messages are important. The system filters out messages and highlights important messages. For the most part, they all come at the same severity level. The majority of messages that come are information level messages. The messages look like the have the same severity level, but they don’t look different until they are opened.”

Before deploying Robot/CONSOLE, Robot/ALERT, and Robot/CPA five years ago, the Wisconsin-based Johnson Wax adhered to a traditional approach. The operations department did everything themselves. They manually updated and managed the system and an operator monitored the systems from a console 24 hours a day, seven days a week. But the IS department grew discontent with the old way of doing business and looked to Help/Systems for assistance.

“We just wanted to automate the whole thing,” Bisciglia says. “By using their products and automating manual intervention, you eliminate downtime and improve response time. Once it’s set up, it kind of runs itself.”

Manual monitoring is one task that travel retailer DFS Group Limited decided it could not afford so it implemented Byteware MessengerConsole and MessengerPlus to automate its AS/400 systems in its San Francisco headquarters and eight remote offices. DFS deploys the software to automatically monitor system performance and the operations for errors and notify administrators when user-defined thresholds are reached

“With today’s lean and mean operations, we can’t afford to have people assigned to do console monitoring around the clock,” says James Huey, DFS global operations manager. “We put in checkpoints to send an alert if end-of-day batch jobs are not completed by 2 a.m., and that still allows us time to fix a problem before the start of the next business day.”

Byteware of Grass Valley, CA specializes in message monitoring and notification and markets several products that support these objectives including MessengerPlus for 24-by-monitoring, Messenger Console for centralized systems management, MessengerNT for monitoring Windows NT servers from the AS/400, and MessengerOne for monitoring small MIS shops.

“Monitoring and paging has become essential for information system managers, who want to know when a local or remote batch job stops due to an error, who have staffing limitations and need to run unattended operations in confidence, and who want to reduce the time they spend troubleshooting, ”says Byteware President Michael Grant.

The AS/400 and Automated Operations: A Perfect Match


“What we’re learning today is that all computers, if deemed mission-critical, need some sort of automation or systems management tools because of the greater reliability and availability they deliver,” Huntington says.

Overall system availability ranks very high for the AS/400. The system experiences an average of five or six hours of unplanned downtime per year, according to a Steven Finnes, IBM Industry Segment Manger for Telecommunications based in Rochester, NY. Automating key operations can minimize even scheduled downtime. IBM focuses its automated development efforts primarily on job scheduling as it represents one of the most popular automation capabilities and an inherent strength in the AS/400

The OS/400 provides a job scheduling capability that schedules jobs by date and time and is best suited for small and mid-sized operations. However, larger customers prefer the more sophisticated Advanced Job Scheduler, which they can purchase and plug directly into the operating system, according to Susan Strel, IBM Advanced Job Scheduler Product Owner, based in Rochester, NY.

The Advanced Job Scheduler incorporates security into each job that distinguishes the personnel authorized to access each particular job. For example, operators can only access jobs that correspond to their specific responsibilities. It also supports remote job scheduling and an alternate schedule that substitutes another job if one fails instead of halting operations until the faulty one is repaired. The software can also schedule jobs on a calendar basis so it automatically runs certain jobs the same time each month or year, such as back ups. An event option automates reactions to designated occurrences such as initiating corrective action or instructing the paging software to notify an operator.