Volume 11, Number 18 -- May 17, 2011

SMA Comes Out of the Blue with IT Automation Tools

Published: May 17, 2011

by Alex Woodie

"We're the best company you never heard of," began Will Pulley, the director of customer relations for Software and Management Associates (SMA) at a press conference during the COMMON show earlier this month. Whether the Texas company makes the best IBM i job scheduler and message automation tools is debatable, but there's little question SMA has some work to do if it wants to appear on the radar screens of North American IBM i shops.

The appearance at COMMON was a good first start for SMA, which has roots in the IBM mainframe world, as well as NASA, which SMA did work for decades ago, according to Pulley. While most of SMA's 300+ customers (such as the IRS) are mainframe shops, about 40 of SMA's customers (including Carnival Cruise Lines) use its software to automate processes on IBM i servers, said George Loose, the company's technical product manager for IBM i.

Labeling SMA's flagship product a job scheduler does not do the product justice. While scheduling batch jobs across multiple platforms is its core responsibility, OpCon/X5 does a whole lot more, SMA officials say, including: monitoring message and spool file queues; initiating and executing file transfers; executing commands through replay scripting; monitoring resources and forecasting; and automated report scanning and data capture.

SMA's customers rely on OpCon to automate a range of tasks in their data centers. For example, First National Bank of Edinburg, Texas, uses OpCon to automate the transfer of transactions between its IBM i-based core banking system and third-party products running on other platforms. The bank, which uses software from Jack Henry & Associates, previously executed the transfers manually, and spent many human hours every day verifying the transactions were posted correctly.

One process that FNB developed with OpCon enables totals from the IBM i-based system to be automatically verified against batch emails processed on a Windows computer. If there's a discrepancy in the totals, OpCon automatically sends out an alert. "OpCon/xps has mitigated the risk of human error by reducing manual intervention while speeding up daily processing with accuracy," the bank's IT manager, who was only identified as "Mr. Johnson," states in a SMA case study.

OpCon/X5 runs on a Windows server and stores its rules and dependencies in a SQL Server database. The software reaches out to other platforms via agents, called local schedule activity monitors (LSAMs) that install on the outboard server. The company offers LSAMs for a number of platforms, including IBM i, Windows, Unix, Linux, z/OS, MVS, Open VMS, OS2200, MCP, and Unisys platforms. Its LSAM for IBM i is written in RPG.

SMA is particularly proud of the scripting capabilities that OpCon offers, particularly on the IBM i platform. SMA's Loose compares the scripting language to a 4GL. The scripting functionality is accessed through screen prompts, and enables operators to automate operations using if/else conditions, branching logic, and calls to user-defined external programs, the company says. Scripts can also emulate humans, and drive programs automatically, as if a human was sitting behind the keyboard.

SMA had several announcements to make at COMMON. For starters, the company changed the name of its flagship product from OpCon/xps to OpCon/X5. It also introduced a new Java-based management console, called its Enterprise Manager, which replaces its old Visual Basic-based interface. Enterprise Manager offers a modern interface that includes features users expect, such as support for plug-ins, the capability to undock panels, and basically a bigger helping of all manners of graphics. Enhancements were also made in the history and audit modules, and a new notification manager module replaces the old event notification service.

SMA also updated its LSAM agent for the IBM i platform. The new LSAM offers more fine-grained monitoring of IBM i messages, including the capability to capture, store, and share any data element from the message text. Users also have more flexibility in sculpting OpCon's reactions to any message events, as the product supports automated message response using more variables with job names, user IDs, message ranges, data and time windows, date and time limits, and event thresholds.

The company, which is based in the Kingwood area of Houston, also distributed a white paper, entitled "OpCon LSAM for IBM i." The 21-page paper provides a fairly technical overview of the capabilities of the product, and its interaction with the IBM i OS.

For more information on SMA, visit the company's website at www.smausa.com.

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