ALE First IBM ClusterProven Partner

ALE Systems (Richmond, Va.) moved ahead of other IBM business partners in taking full advantage of new clustering technology incorporated in AS/400 V4R4, becoming the first software provider to receive the branding logo “ClusterProven for AS/400.”

ALE president and CEO Wes Lucas says the company’s decision to pursue the designation was based on changing business needs among its customers, who are increasingly demanding solutions that provide higher reliability.

“Many of our customers are across multiple time zones, and that makes backing up their systems very difficult,” he says. “More and more are moving to have Web sites, which makes downtime a serious problem.”

The designation ClusterProven means IBM has recognized ALE’s AS/400-based Mortgage Loan Production System (MLPS) and Delinquent Loan Collection System (DLCS) products as being able to operate successfully on multiple AS/400s in a clustered environment. Clustering technology is designed to bring customers’ systems as close as possible to continuous availability by providing automatic application switchover among multiple servers acting as a single entity. If one server fails, others in the cluster keep the applications and data available until the primary server is brought back online.

For clustering to be effective, however, it requires more than compatible hardware. Achieving the ClusterProven branding for ALE’s financial software resulted from three-way collaboration among ALE, IBM and VisionSolutions. IBM technology monitors what is dubbed the “heartbeat,” maintaining the link among the multiple servers to determine which ones are and are not functioning properly. IBM’s component also maintains IP addresses of all the attached terminals to move them over to the backup should a failure occur. At the same time, VisionSolution’s product performs data mirroring for the application and ALE monitors what is termed the “application state.”

“When the application fails, you have to know where you were in that application when the system failed-over,” says Wes Lucas, ALE president and CEO. This means that the user can be brought back to precisely the same place in which he or she was working when the system went down. Ideally, the result will be a switchover to the backup server, which is transparent to the user, according to Steve Finnes, technology manager for IBM’s enterprise server group.

“The entire thing is an automated process. You just basically stand there and let it do its thing,” says Finnes, who demonstrated the technology at IBM PartnerWorld 2000 conference. “It’s almost boring—you just basically hang around and wait for the things to come back to you.”

Currently, the switchover process is completed in three to five minutes. Both Lucas and Finnes say the companies are working to decrease total downtime to less than one minute. Such reduced switchover time will ultimately be beneficial not only to overcome sudden unexpected failures, but also to minimize disruptions in the work day due to planned downtime for system upgrades, etc.

“You’re not waiting for some disaster to make use of this technology, you’re using it every day,” Lucas said.

Lucas says earning the designation required some effort and commitment on ALE’s part, but was by no means an overwhelming task.

“It was actually easier to do than I thought it would be,” he says. “The things that were harder to do IBM really provided for you—the APIs are really well written. … It’s a medium-complex process. It’s not earth-shattering, it won’t take you years to do.”

Although clustering can be an expensive solution, in that it requires the purchase and maintenance of multiple servers, Finnes says IBM and its ClusterProven partners are counting on the idea that continuous availability will become absolutely necessity as more companies bring their businesses to the Web. As a result, more ISVs will be encouraged to pursue to designation ALE has received.

“It’s going to become, I believe, a competitive differentiator for the ISV that’s got it. It’s going to be a requirement,” Finnes says. “You’re going to see a lot of competitive pressure within industry sectors.”

Lucas agreed that interest will grow rapidly as businesses become familiar with the potential advantages continuous availability offers.

“This is going to be something that the little guy will have to have to compete in their market,” he says. “This is not something that’s coming, it’s something that’s here.”

Related Editorial:

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  • AS/400 Cluster: Not Just for Failover Anymore
  • Lakeview Technology’s on the FastPath to AS/400 Clustering
  • Big Blue Validates Lakeview Technology's MIMIX Clusters for the AS/400

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