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OS/400 Edition
Volume 3, Number 10 -- March 11, 2003

iTera Overhauls Echo2 to Take Advantage of OS/400 Clustering

by Alex Woodie

This week at COMMON, iTera is introducing Echo2 V3R1, a new version of its OS/400 high availability middleware. With Echo2 V3R1, iTera has redesigned the application around IBM's OS/400 clustering technology. By rebuilding Echo2 for clustering, many of the replication, monitoring, and failover tasks that were previously manual processes with older versions of Echo2 can now be performed automatically, with little to no oversight required from operators. Cluster-enabling Echo2 also has repercussions for iTera's relationship with IBM.

Since iTera introduced Echo2 to the iSeries market in January 2002, the Salt Lake City company has touted the product's technological basis in IBM's remote journaling data transport method as a key differentiator in the high availability marketplace. While remote journaling is making inroads as a low-cost alternative to the proprietary journal scrape methods used by the established high availability business partners (HABPs), it was becoming increasingly obvious to iTera officials that IBM wanted more. Specifically, in order to obtain the much-sought-after value added enhancement from IBM, which gives steep discounts to customers of independent software vendors who have it, IBM was requiring its HABPs to build support into their products for another advanced technology that IBM has integrated into iSeries system software: clustering. That's when iTera started down the clustering road.

Clustering, in its present form, was introduced with OS/400 V4R4, and was greatly improved with OS/400 V5R1. The group of technologies and capabilities included under the general heading of OS/400 Cluster Resource Services (CRS) allows AS/400 and iSeries servers to do some pretty advanced things in terms of data, application, and device resiliency. Basically, CRS provides a standard framework for maintaining real-time "heartbeat monitoring" and messaging between the two or more nodes that make up a cluster. While IBM has provided the "plumbing" for allowing three, four, or more iSeries to share workloads, clustering implementations require additional middleware, such as Echo2 or those offered by other high availability software providers, to manage and replicate the data and objects.

Initially, iTera was reluctant about clustering. "At first we thought it was a waste of our lives," Dan NeVille, president and cofounder of iTera, said in a November 2002 interview for a Guild Companies article, "IBM's Insistence on Clustering Baffles Some HA Providers." NeVille isn't the only person in the industry to have expressed skepticism about clustering. Some of these individuals, who are very experienced in high availability implementations, say that clustering is a very advanced technology but is complicated to implement and is overkill for the average OS/400 shop at the present time.

However, as iTera developers learned more about OS/400 clustering, they became increasingly convinced that it was good technology that could help its customers. "As we got into it, we got excited about it," NeVille said. Since then, the growing confidence that NeVille and his team of developers, headed by lead developer Dale Porter, had in clustering gave them the courage to scrap much of the design work that went into earlier versions of Echo2 and almost completely redesign it for clustering.

While other vendors modify their programs for clustering, iTera took a clean-slate approach to the technology, Porter said. "As we went through and looked at IBM's clustering, we learned what we'd need to do to implement [clustering] 100 percent," he said. "Not a total rewrite--some features and functions stayed. But we restructured Echo2 to leverage every aspect of clustering that IBM had set up."

Echo2 V3R1's clustering capabilities provide several advantages to OS/400 shops, NeVille says. "First of all, it greatly automates most of the product. The whole purpose behind clustering is for users and operators to not have to run the product. It runs itself. If something goes out of synch, it re-synchs itself. Rollovers become automatic. . . . Switchovers, that before would take 5 minutes, now take 30 seconds."

To implement application-level clustering, the user's application must be modified by the software vendor to use OS/400 clustering's APIs and exit points. While the number of applications that have been modified in this way is growing, the total number of applications that bear IBM's ClusterProven logo is still very small. "It will take many years to get clustering to be the norm," NeVille said. "But aspects of clustering, such as the automation, will benefit" all Echo V3R1 users.

Not all Echo2 users must implement clustering to use the new product for high availability, NeVille said. Users who don't want to deal with clustering can still use Echo2 V3R1 to replicate their key data and objects to a backup OS/400 box. Then, if they want, they can turn clustering on later, he said.

Echo2 V3R1 also features improved support for certain types of objects and data. For V3R1, iTera has introduced real-time replication of Integrated File System (IFS) objects, user profiles, and spool files. Previous releases did not support real-time replication of these types of objects. The company also has improved the way that it replicates data areas and data queues, by using journaling instead of exit points, Porter says.

Echo2 V3R1 is practically an entirely new product, and companies that are considering moving to Echo2 V3R1 from previous versions of the software should be prepared for a wholesale conversion, as opposed to a simple upgrade, company officials said. To keep downtime to a minimum, with the conversion, iTera is offering use of its Convert While Active software tool to existing customers that implement Echo2 V3R1.

Like other HABPs, iTera will begin helping software vendors cluster-enable their applications and gain the ClusterProven certification from IBM. The company already has a strategic partnership with ERP software vendor MAPICS, which is expected to be the first company to cluster-enable its application with help from iTera. Company officials expect to get the value added enhancement for Echo2 from IBM by the end of the month.

iTera says it hasn't raised the price of Echo2 with this release. Licenses for the software are tier-based and range from $13,000 at the P05 level to $68,000 at the P50 level. There is only one version of the software that supports clustering and standard data replication. For more information, go to

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