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Volume 11, Number 26 -- August 16, 2011

CCSS Gives Pointers on Lights Out IBM i Automation

Published: August 16, 2011

by Alex Woodie

The ongoing economic malaise affecting North America and Europe has put unprecedented pressures on IT staffs to do more with less. Without the luxury of multiple IT operators on hand to baby sit critical servers, IT managers have had to get smart about how to accomplish required tasks. Now, IBM i systems management specialist CCSS is sharing some of the tricks it's picked up in a recent best practices guide focused on "lights out" automation.

In "Lights Out IBM i Automation--Back to Black," CCSS explores some of the common occurrences that prevent IBM i shops from turning off the lights. A critical job that doesn't start or end on time could have all kinds of devastating impacts on the day's work, including users who can't log on and reports that don't get produced.

Full system saves are another common task that can suck up the time of IT operators when their company hasn't implemented system automation. With so many other tasks requiring attention, the save performed at month's end could require hiring additional staff. Or it could be pushed out, potentially jeopardizing a company's audit.

Systems monitoring and management software can help alleviate both these situations. In the case of the job that didn't run, real-time monitoring and notification would alert the administrators to the problem. With the proper management tools in place, even full-system saves can be run without a human in attendance.

CCSS makes its living selling such systems management tools for the IBM i platform, and it's positioning its software as a big part of the solution for enabling "lights out" operation and cutting dependence on humans to accomplish common tasks. But CCSS recognizes that software isn't a panacea, and every implementation is different.

For example, not every critical task in a company exists solely inside the computer. In its guide, CCSS explains that an important triggering event could be when the folks in the warehouse end their workday. This is why it's important to have well-defined communication paths, and then scope out the lines of dependence, wherever they might lie. Once those tasks are done, managers should create an appropriate hierarchy of escalation to handle problems.

"Part of the lights out challenge is to look beyond the systems environment and identify areas of vulnerability," says CCSS CEO Ray Wright in a press release. "It may be that a specific job must be started by a manager from the finance team, warehouse staff or some other division. But if there is a delay that coincides with a shift change, or perhaps even an external delay then these problems, which in themselves are relatively small, [it] can set in motion a chain of delays which quickly add up to a serious situation."

Add to this an out-of-hours element where on-call staff are needed to help resolve the problem, or even an unnoticed problem that prevents users from working, and it can quickly become a very, very expensive issue. Avoiding that type of needless expense is absolutely essential for IT Managers today.

Even if full lights out computing is not a realistic goal, most IBM i shops can achieve some level of "lights dimmed" computing. There is a whole spectrum of benefits that companies can get by offloading to software some of the tasks that operators used to do.

With corporate demands for ever greater efficiency from all workers--and IBM i skills becoming harder to find--becoming well-versed in the powers of automation may be one of the smartest ways that IBM i pros can boost their careers.

To download the four-page guide to lights out computing, go to CCSS' website at www.ccssltd.com/resources/documents.php.


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