Vision Solutions Continues HA Evolution with ORION 6.0
July 8, 2008 Alex Woodie
Vision Solutions‘ developers have learned a thing or two over the years following the acquisitions of rivals iTera and Lakeview, and that knowledge is on display with ORION 6.0, the newest release of Vision’s enterprise-strength high availability software for IBM i. Now available, ORION 6.0 introduces a new “one button” role swap feature that promises to simplify role swaps, changes to the graphical and 5250 interfaces, as well as performance enhancements that should benefit SAP ERP users.
When Vision Solutions acquired iTera and Lakeview Technology in 2006 and 2007, respectively–or more accurately, when Vision’s parent company Thoma Cressey Equity Partners (now called Thoma Cressey Bravo) acquired them and then merged them into Vision–the leaders of Vision promised to take the best of the acquired companies’ respective high availability products and share them with the others.
That cross-pollination was on display with the launch of iTera HA 5.0 in February 2007, when bi-directional library replication, which was standard on Vision’s enterprise-strength product, then called ORION Datacenter Edition, was added to the small and mid size-business (SMB) focused products like iTera.
Following Vision’s acquisition of Lakeview in June 2007, Vision executives set their eyes on adopting, in ORION and iTera, some of the best features of MIMIX, notably the “runbook” function that performs audits and generates reports on users’ high availability environments.
Now, more than a year after the Lakeview acquisition, the dust has settled, and Vision has had time to perform more cross-pollination among its products. That technology sharing will be on display throughout the rest of the year, as Vision updates each of the ORION, iTera HA, and MIMIX product lines to version 6. The first up is ORION 6.0, which went GA in late June.
The new “one button” automated role swap feature in ORION 6.0 is designed to make it much easier to execute a role swap, which is, by far, the most critical aspect of a high availability environment. According to Doug Piper, Vision’s director of product strategy, , the new feature automates the execution of various steps that need to be performed prior to, and during, a planned or unplanned role swap of an HA environment.
“You can press the one button and say go, and just like you’re watching a debugger in a program language as it executes statements by statement, here you’re watching, step by step, the process of the role swap as it’s executing,” Piper says. “You know how long each step took, you know exactly what it’s doing. It’s fully automated, including steps to verify the integrity of your environment, so you can run synch checks as part of the pre-role-swap conditions if you’re going to do it in a planned environment. If it’s unplanned, then it will just execute the steps that are required to cause the system to shift its operations from the primary system to the backup system.”
The new automated role swap feature, which can be executed from either the 5250 command line environment or the Navigator graphical interface (as shown in figures 1 and 2 below), is delivered as a template that can be run as-is, or adapted to meet the needs of the user. It’s fully customizable, and even allows users to insert their own business logic into the steps.
“We give guidance within scripts, but they [customers] can also define their own [scripts] and execution points as well if there’s something unique they have to check within their environment,” says Alan Arnold, Vision Solutions chief technology officer and executive vice president. So, for example, if a business needs to ensure that a separate program, such as a warehouse picking application, is unplugged from the main ERP system before executing a role swap, that additional step can be added into ORION.
While the new automated role swap features will save time, perhaps a greater benefit is documenting and fine tuning the process, according to Arnold. For example, perhaps the feature at first reduced role swap times from 15 minutes to two minutes, but then the procedure took 15 minutes the next time. What happened? Is it hung up on something? What’s the issue? “It allows you to actually document best practices, and continue to work on making things faster and better,” Arnold says. “They start measuring these steps, and saying, this step took two minutes, this one took one minute, this one took 30 seconds. They look at this and they say, ‘How can we make each of these steps faster, better, more efficient than the way they were previously working?'”
The automated role swap feature is based on a concept originally conceived by iTera developers for Echo2, as the product was previously known. While ORION did have an automation tool, it wasn’t easily customizable, and was more of a services offering, according to Piper. “The iTera population absolutely loves the role swap capabilities they have with iTera. We looked at the design of that process and kind of leveraged off of that and brought that into the ORION product,” he says.
Another new feature in ORION 6.0 is support for so-called “IZ” transactions in i OS. IZ transactions is a mode that i OS goes into when it detects a large number of jobs are occurring against the same database file and the same journal, according to Piper. IZ transactions mode is a common occurrence in i OS-based SAP ERP environments, he says, and can slow down the apply process on the target box in a high availability environment.
Vision made some modifications to ORION to be able to handle IZ transactions, which involve pre-allocating blocks of records. “You have to be able to handle that on the target side in order to keep the relative number records straight in the apply process, because they’ve pre-allocated blocks of record numbers to different jobs. We’ve done some nice things on the back end to optimize the handling of those things,” Piper says.
The third main enhancement in version 6 involves improvements to ORION’s green-screen and graphical interfaces. While Vision allows users to monitor and manage ORION environments from either the 5250 session or the Navigator GUI, initial setup and configuration of the system is now strictly a green-screen affair.
With version 6, Vision has introduced an “availability management dashboard” in the green-screen environment that allows users to simultaneously set up object and data replication from a single set of menu screens, instead of requiring the user to navigate two separate menu paths to set up object and data replication. “You can now do that from a common dashboard screen, instead of having to take a bunch of different menu options,” Piper says.
This is another case of Vision learning from iTera. “If you look at the nice things that iTera did, you look at their user workflow model, the kinds of work that users need to do, and what’s the logical sequence of steps, and following that through on the menu system. And so we did learn a lot from that, and looked at how can we make it a shorter path for people to get to the things they need to do most often.”
The graphical Navigator product has also been enhanced with version 6. In prior releases, Vision allowed users to configure ORION from Navigator, but now it’s strictly outfitted for monitoring and managing the high availability environment. To that end, Vision overhauled the product’s architecture to make it more responsive. “The old product was more of a polling-based architecture, so if you wanted to get something from the old Navigator, you had to interrogate the system, then wait for the status to come back up,” Piper says. “What we did now is build agents into the core of the system that are actually pushing information up into a consolidation service that’s updating the graphical interface. Now it’s getting real-time information pushed up to it, instead of the user having to initiate something.”
Navigator also gains new features such as e-mail and SMS alerts, which will enable an operator to receive notification when things are getting mucky, instead of sitting there staring at the screen waiting for things to go bad. “It makes it very easy to manage that environment, because you can be out doing whatever you want to do, get an e-mail or SMS, come back and look at screen, and it’s sitting right in front of you, so you don’t have to hunt for it to see what’s going on.”
Last but not least, Vision introduced a name change with version 6. The product is now known as ORION Solutions, instead of just ORION.