RevSoft Pushes ‘Lights On’ Approach to Systems Automation
February 6, 2007 Alex Woodie
Don’t ask RevSoft president John Massey about “lights out” data processing. Sure, his company’s suite of systems management tools free up time for operators and admins for other tasks or even some golf. But it’s the bells, whistles, and lights, served up through a bright GUI best viewed on a flat panel big screen, that helps people understand exactly what’s going on with their servers. That sets the RevSoft suite apart, but Massey doesn’t like the term “lights out.”
2006 was a busy year for RevSoft. The Australian software house was coming off a nasty break-up with New York-based Software Engineering of America (SEA), with whom it had partnered to distribute RevSoft’s collection of systems management tools for the iSeries.
Since then, RevSoft has released an all-new collection of systems management tools, dubbed the 2006 release, and taken steps to open its own office in Florida, to bring its software directly to customers in United States and Canada. It has also completely revamped its licensing model by enabling customers to pay monthly rental fees, thereby slipping the costs into the regular budget and avoiding the large up-front capital outlay that attracts scrutiny from the CFO.
The 2006 release, which shipped in September, was important because it marked the first time RevSoft offered automation tools that help run Windows, Unix, and Linux servers, as well as iSeries servers, which had been the company’s development target since its inception.
RevSoft introduced four products to open systems, including a job scheduler (Rev Scheduler), a message management product (Rev Message), a new file transfer product (Rev Dataflow), and a GUI management console (Rev View) that consolidates the products. The remainder of RevSoft’s products–including a backup tool (Rev Backup), a performance monitoring tool (Rev Scope), a disk-usage monitoring tool (Rev Disk), an automated attendant-security tool (Rev Guardian), and a compression tool (Rev Zip)–still only work with the OS/400 server, although files compressed with Rev Zip can be opened on other platforms.
To develop the cross-platform tools, RevSoft took what it had developed for the iSeries, primarily in RPG, CL, and some C, and basically recreated it in C++, giving it the capability to compile to other operating systems. “The thing to stress is, with the enterprise model of Rev Scheduler, everything is the same for each platform,” Massey says. “We made the iSeries the model of scheduling. We said ‘Let’s replicate it, but not retool it. Let’s rewrite it the exact same way.'”
Recreating Rev Scheduler’s functions (with the exception of some iSeries-specific concepts such as local data areas) for Windows, Linux, and Unix provides numerous benefits. For one, customers already familiar with Rev Scheduler for iSeries have no trouble picking it up for the other platforms, and training new customers to use the products across all platforms is easier than making them learn a different job scheduler for each platform.
It also makes it easier to use. With the 2006 release of the Rev Scheduler, users gain the capability to set-up, view, and manage their jobs across their iSeries, Windows, Unix, and Linux servers, from a single product. The capability to view all processing jobs on one screen–no matter what server they’re running on–is what gets customers excited, and that makes Massey exited, too.
Currently, many companies are using different scheduling tools for each platform, which makes linking the jobs more difficult, not to mention the added complexity of dealing with multiple vendors and their licensing requirements. “When people have 10 iSeries, five Windows servers, and 20 AIX servers, they want to schedule jobs for all,” he says.
RevSoft also added a feature called the High Availability Checker to Rev Scheduler, which ensures that jobs are ready to be processed on the backup box during a high availability roll over. Massey says the product performs checks at the byte level to assure, with 100 percent accuracy, that the jobs will run as scheduled on the other box. The feature has been in dire need at some iSeries HA shops, but nobody had taken the time to develop it, he says. “We’ve been trying to get it through to Lakeview or one of the other HA vendors, but we’ve been hitting a brick wall,” Massey says.
Massey doesn’t want to leave you with the impression that you can just walk away from the data center after automating jobs to the n-th degree using RevSoft software. “We don’t like to call it ‘lights out.’ We’d rather call it ‘colorful computing,'” Massey says.
That description extends to a feature recently introduced in Rev Message, whereby the software will call administrators on the telephone when certain conditions exist. The software then serves up an audible menu, delivered via a text-to-speech engine, giving the administrator the option to take certain actions, such as restarting a job. “It’s like voice mail in reverse,” says Massey, who asked his developers to build the “sales gimmick” into the software.
The combination of features–the GUI displayed on massive LCD screens, the gimmicky call-back feature in Rev Message, and the array of flashing lights and sounds–are designed to give administrators real-time feedback on the current state of their systems. “That way, if a job ends, you can fix it straightway,” Massey says.
RevSoft is also gearing up for a 2007 release of its products, which are slated to go on sale May 1. Four Hundred Stuff will provide more in-depth coverage of the upcoming releases, as well as a closer look at the HA Checker feature, in future issues of this newsletter.
RevSoft has strived to provide more flexibility, not only in its products, but in how it sells software. Nowhere is this more evident than with the new monthly rental option that RevSoft has begun offering its customers.
In many cases, the customer is simply looking for more flexibility, and to avoid getting locked into a rigid licensing agreement during a time when their business and IT processing needs are changing. “People are saying to us, ‘In two years we may not have an iSeries,'” he says. “But they have to live with it for three years” to get their money’s worth under traditional licensing schemes.
As a result, RevSoft began renting the software to customers, who pay a monthly fee for the privilege. This allows customers the flexibility to end the relationship with RevSoft without taking a big hit on licensing fees they’ve already paid. It also lets them move licenses around more easily–say, moving a license from an iSeries that’s being phased out to a less-expensive pSeries server, which Massey says he’s seen a lot of recently.
Rev Scheduler, the company’s most popular product, costs $500 per month for a P30-class machine, or $200 per month for a Windows server. Pricing for Rev Message is the same. Rev Guardian is a little less expensive, while Rev Dataflow is about 40 percent less expensive, according to Massey. The break-even point–the length of time after which it would have made more sense to purchase an unrestricted license instead of paying the monthly fee–is about 3.5 years, Massey says.
Call it a “little bags of gold” approach, as opposed to a “big bags of gold” approach. “Not only our software, but also our business, is changing as well,” Massey says.
Despite its low profile here, RevSoft has some big clients in the U.S. and throughout the world. Some of the iSeries shops using its software include Coca-Cola, Electrolux, Amway, and Bear Stearns.
Following the break-up with SEA, RevSoft decided the best way to serve the North American market was to set up shop here for itself. Currently it has a single representative, David Dana, working out of an office in Tampa, Florida. The plan calls for expanding that location to four or five employees by the end of the year–and potentially many more people, depending on how business goes.