LiveTime Service Desk Now Supports i5/OS
February 19, 2008 Alex Woodie
Developing enterprise-strength service desk software is not an easy task. Just ask Microsoft, which recently delayed the roll-out of System Center Service Manager to 2010, a two-year setback. Luckily, there is an established alternative for System i shops looking for ITIL-certified software to help them run their IT service desks: LiveTime Software, which recently received verification from IBM that its J2EE-based software is good to go on the i5/OS server.
In information technology, it’s a fact of life that things break. Even in the System i world, where hardware is designed to go months, or even years, without a fatal error, there is simply no way to avoid problems 100 percent of time. And, of course, don’t overlook the power of software. You can always count on bugs, configuration errors, and other hiccups on the software side of things to keep your life interesting as an IT manager. As the recent worldwide Blackberry outage shows, even the most innocent “software upgrade” can quickly turn into your worst IT nightmare.
But instead of sticking your head in the sand and hoping the problem genie will skip over you, as a good IT manager, you’ll do your best to make sure your department is well positioned to quickly respond to problems reported by your customers and your internal users. This is the domain of help desk management software and its big brother, service desk management software.
If you work at a small company, you can probably handle the bulk of your users’ and customers’ problems with e-mail and a spreadsheet. But when you start getting into the 500- to 600-customer range, you will need some type of help desk or service desk software to track the problems and their eventual resolution, according to Darren Williams, the CEO of LiveTime Software, which is based in Newport Beach, California.
“When you’re managing extreme volumes of tickets, you can’t just do that on an ad hoc basis without all these processes around it. Your customers are going to fall through the cracks,” Williams says. “It’s the same sort of approach when it comes to accounting standards and audit control. You need to provide the appropriate checks and balances to make sure you are delivering customer support in a timely and cost efficient manner.”
LiveTime Service Manager
LiveTime designs its software to automate as much of the customer support experience as possible, and to do so according to the accepted industry standard, called IT Infrastructure Library, or ITIL. The company sells three products, including a limited-use Express offering that only runs on Windows, a somewhat more advanced offering called Help Desk that costs about $1,500 per technician license, and its flagship offering, called Service Manager, which costs about $3,500 to $4,000 per technician license.
Service Manager addresses the five main ITIL processes as LiveTime sees them. These are incident management, problem management, change management, configuration management, and service level management. With these five processes in place, service desks will have the tools needed to respond to just about any type of user problem, ranging from “Where is the on button?” and “My e-mail doesn’t work” to “I can’t access the ERP system” and “Who is responsible for the decision to move the mainframes from Buenos Aires to Philadelphia?”
At the heart of Service Manager is a configuration and management database, or CMDB. The CMDB is where organizations list all their hardware and software and how it’s configured. Any interactions that customer service representatives and technicians have with the incident, problem, or change management components of LiveTime are logged in the CMDB, making it a dynamic reflection of the organization’s IT posture.
Eventually, as organizations become more sophisticated in the use of the tool and ITIL, CMDB is used to define business services and the infrastructure components that support them. In this way, the CMDB helps keep track of why changes are made (such as to fix problems or address customer requests for new functionality), and whether any of those changes may have had unintended consequences down the road. And if problems arise, the CMDB is instrumental in returning the hardware or software to a known good state.
As a fully Web-based product, LiveTime relies heavily on the graphical interface. All workflows and business process relationships are created using visual editors, and a generous use of Web 2.0-style tools, such as live chat, forums, surveys, and dashboards, gives it a modern look.
This modern look gives LiveTime a leg up compared to other service desk offerings, Williams claims. “Most of the other players are still in the client-server mentality. It’s a really big difference,” he says. “If you try to use one of our applications, you pretty much have an hour’s training, whereas you need about two to three months of training to even utilize some of the other apps.”
Support for i5/OS
In 2007, LiveTime was approached by IBM about supporting the Service Desk and Help Desk offerings on i5/OS, according to Williams. “One of their bigger customers said, ‘Guys we need a proper service management product for our machines. You make great hardware, and you have the complete stack, but we buy these machines for software ultimately, and do you have any good service management products?'” he says. “They said, ‘No, we don’t, but we know about this company LiveTime that produces good stuff, that technically could do it, but it’s not ported specifically to our systems.'”
Thus began the process of supporting LiveTime on i5/OS. Of course, i5/OS is a fully Java compliant operating system. It has (according to IBM), one of the fastest Java Virtual Machines (JVMs) on the market and scores of applications written in Java 2, Enterprise Edition (J2EE). Supporting another standards-based J2EE app should be a snap, right?
Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. While users of the OS/400 and i5/OS servers have been promised that Java will enable them to “write once and run anywhere,” that’s simply not the reality.
According to Williams, changes had to be made to the LiveTime software to enable i5/OS compatibility in several departments, including security, LDAP integration, and license management. The changes were small, and took LiveTime about two to three weeks once they were provided an IBM system to work on.
“Although it’s a fully J2EE stack, there are . . . all these little technical things that have to be validated and quality assured,” said the Australian native. “Most of it was just learning how the hell i5 is different form all the other systems, and it is. But once we understood it, it was pretty much no time at all.”
The first implementation of LiveTime is currently taking place at Saint-Gobain Containers, the Muncie, Indiana, company that manufactures glass bottles. The company has committed to testing LiveTime running on one of its System i servers, and if the test goes well, it will roll out the software to additional locations.
Williams is bullish on the System i server and its potential to increase sales in the future. “Since we got on it, we’re really proactive on it, and we’re starting to actually market into that area. We’re starting up some marketing with IBM in the next few months,” he says.
“We’ve been very impressed about the operating system itself,” Williams continues. “It is so complete from an operating system perspective, in that it actually has the complete stack already installed. It has, obviously, the JVM, but more importantly, it has the back-end highly scalable database infrastructure, and we were pretty amazed at how valuable that was to us, because there was nothing to install from our perspective. We just went into WebSphere, deployed our application, and all the infrastructure and plumbing was in place. But not only was it just there, it was optimized and it just was blistering fast. And that was only on the version 5.3. The version 6.0 is even faster by about two-fold.”
LiveTime is currently certified for i5/OS. As the company gets more installations under its belt, it will seek ServerProven status, which gives the product more credibility among resellers. Currently, the company is working on achieving compliance with AIX and System p. It already has received IBM’s SOA certification.