Social theorists looking to neatly pigeon-hole our era have already branded the tail-end of the Twentieth Century as the age of technology; the age of communication; of information. However, scratch the surface, even a little, and you’ll find the age of expectation. We’ve evolved from need and want—now we simply expect.
Big-eyed cows, potatoes and tremendous wealth- the picturesque island of Jersey is home to them all. As one of the world’s leading off-shore banks, The Royal Bank of Scotland International has total assets and liabilities in excess of €7.2bn. Their customers certainly expect. To deliver the services that meet with those expectations, the Bank places its trust in the effective systems management of five AS/400s.
As the Infrastructure Services Manager, Steve Goodwin is responsible for IT operations, technology helpdesk and network support. Steve explains that maintaining a stable platform with optimum systems availability is vital to the Bank’s operations: “If, for instance, a production system was down for an extended period of time it would cost the Bank millions, conceivably.”
Like so many AS/400 environments, operators were typically coping with a number of problems. With such a high volume of messages breaking across five screens, their set-up lacked the degree of visibility and control of messages they required; operators were left with the demanding role of “fire fighting”. Reacting to messages in this way, the team were left vulnerable to potential situations where messages could be missed; what’s more, the demands on their resources meant they had precious little time to implement and learn any alternative system of message management.
To resolve these problems, Steve got in touch with CCSS (Europe) Ltd, developers of automated systems management software specifically for AS/400s. Working closely in partnership, they were able to install QSystem Monitor and QMessage Monitor, and roll them out across their network. Within hours, they had implemented a new approach that gave them the control they needed. Steve says, “It was a big factor for us that the products would be something we could install and use easily. It wasn’t complicated. In fact, the products have proved to be quite intuitive to use.” Tailoring the products to their specific requirements, a PC front end was easily accommodated rather than Green Screen.
Pro-Active System Management
The products provide centralized control which has had an enormous impact on their operations; Steve says of them, “It has given us very powerful tools to manage all our networked machines.” QMessage Monitor filters 90-95% of all messages, enabling them to achieve management by exception. Paul Ratchford, Product Manager for CCSS explains the importance of this state: “It’s a waste of your time to be told every second when something is going right – you only need to know when something is about to go wrong – that’s the difference management by exception brings to a networked AS/400 system.”
The benefits of this environment are wide ranging. Operators’ time can be used far more productively – by only viewing the exception conditions and priority messages, they can manage the network pro-actively. RBSI has twelve branches with printers that require monitoring and management; previously a time-consuming activity for the operations team but having since automated the task. QMessage Monitor ensures their recovery on a daily basis. One of the biggest benefits riding on the back of all their automated events is consistency. Visual and audio alerts ensure they remain informed of any serious threats to the system and user-defined thresholds can be monitored providing them with the capabilities and control to prevent these situations from occurring at all. Paul explains, “As messages break literally one at a time on a central console, problems can be cured at source. This changes the role of operators for the better as they can spend their time more effectively by providing solutions rather than clearing out messages. One operator remarked to me, “I don’t know how we ever managed before we obtained the products.” The difference to them really is that great.
Steve recounts a recent incident that involved rolling out the migration of a new banking package to other off shore sites. In the migration process, multiple journal receiver entries were generated and threatened to overflow the ASP. Off site at the time, Steve was paged immediately through QMessage Monitor; “I was able to phone the operations people immediately, even before they phoned me…as far as I’m concerned the products paid for themselves then and there…it would have caused us huge problems if we had lost the system. We could have lost anything up to a week but because we were notified early, we were able to rectify the situation on the spot.” APPC (Advanced Peer to Peer Communications) makes Direct Access Paging a reality; and the reality is fast becoming an essential element of effective systems management. Technology it seems, is catching up with itself as mobile phone alerts take the application to their next logical conclusion.
RBSI uses QSystem Monitor to keep a close eye on system ASPs as well as a number of other ASPs where disk units have been split. The product also allows them to monitor output queues where spool files reside, again this is something they don’t have to keep a constant check on as they are alerted as soon as certain thresholds are breached. In a case such as this, a user bar on the monitor will shoot up, turn red and a message will be sent to alert operators via QMessage Monitor. According to their own Service Level Agreements, if left unanswered or unactioned, a pager message will then be sent. Similarly, even processing lets them know when something hasn’t happened that was supposed to happen – the implications of which can be equally problematic. This being the case, it would affect the end of day processing which would not complete and subsequently hold up the system for users the following day. Unless an operator is checking these events, system performance and availability are at risk. QMessage Monitor negates the need for this habitual chore.
Unsurprisingly, security is of the utmost importance within the Bank and this extends to the IT department. Authority lists are in use by the security operations person who looks for conditions such as password breaches and profiles being disabled. Analysis of historical trends can help to easily identify recurring problems or patterns that conflict with security protocol. With a number of packages on the machine, giving operators a restricted view prevents third parties from seeing, and possibly responding incorrectly, to messages that have no relevance to them. For example, in-house developers are restricted to messages from the development machine, thus the chances of unnecessary mistakes being made have been totally eliminated.
Messages and Paging a Must
So can we expect the rise and rise of messaging and paging technologies to continue? Steve Goodwin thinks so: “It’s an area that is going to have to develop as we become more and more reliant on resilient, stable systems and the availability of machines 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. If a problem occurs you have to be notified about it – the only way to do that and get away from the expense and limitations of 24 hour operations is through messaging and paging – there has to be a definite place for it.” Products such as QMessage Monitor and QSystem Monitor certainly have a place in their Enterprise Management Systems. Their interface to frameworks such as Tivoli and HP OpenView brings the AS/400 into the multi-platform arena, supported by an ever increasing number of large companies seeking a global view on systems management.
The benefits that come with automation, messaging and monitoring software mark the point of departure away from 24 hour operations. The lights aren’t out but they are being dimmed – in this era, we’d expect nothing less.
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