CCSS Addresses MQSeries Monitoring Pain on i OS
July 8, 2008 Alex Woodie
Monitoring and managing MQSeries running on the IBM i OS (formerly OS/400) server can be a painful experience. Paul Ratchford, a product manager with i OS systems management software specialist CCSS, has yet to see a third-party MQ Series monitoring tool that runs well on IBM i systems. This is why CCSS’ customers requested the company write an MQSeries solution that doesn’t kill the i server’s performance, which the company did and released this month with QSystem Monitor version 12 release 9.
MQSeries (officially known as WebSphereMQ since 2002, but still referred to by its original IBM name by most) is a robust network communication platform used to send messages from one application to another, regardless of operating system. The hallmark of MQSeries–that messages are guaranteed to be delivered, once and only once–means that it’s frequently used by large enterprises requiring the most reliable form of inter-application communication for their stock trading, e-commerce, healthcare, and banking applications.
MQSeries is an “extremely powerful” piece of software that, properly configured, just runs, according to Ratchford. “From a programmer’s point of view, it’s beautiful because he just puts a message out into a queue and doesn’t have to worry about whether a program at the other end is functioning or not,” he says. “Lots of very large companies with large numbers of implementations of machines on different platforms . . . pretty much all of them run MQSeries in one guise or another.”
MQ User Error
While MQSeries is about as enterprise-strength as you can get (like the i OS server), it’s susceptible to common problems, primarily the result of poor implementation (like the i OS server). For example, users commonly run into problems with MQSeries when they have a poorly written trigger program on the receiving machine. Network communication problems and deleted listeners have also been known to cause MQSeries to go haywire. “It’s OK, until users start getting involved,” Ratchford says. “When MQ goes wrong, it really does go wrong and it has a huge impact on your business.”
Hence, the need to keep an eye on MQSeries, which most people do using systems management tools. Two of the most popular tools used to monitor and manage MQSeries environments are IBM’s Candle and Hewlett-Packard‘s SiteScope. These products don’t run natively on the IBM i OS server, but they can include i OS-based MQSeries implementation in their monitoring and management.
Unfortunately, some i OS shops have not had much luck getting these tools to monitor their MQSeries implementations. “Enterprise-type products tend to run quite well in the Unix- and Windows-based environments, but when you put them out on the iSeries, with its architecture, it tends to have an adverse affect on performance. I think that was quite diplomatic,” Ratchford said.
The problem has to do with how the large enterprise toolmakers develop software for the i OS. The method leads to frequent use of network communication, which has a deleterious affect on the i OS servers. “We had two very large customers come to us and say, ‘Please help us monitor MQSeries on the iSeries. We can’t find anything out there that does it effectively and doesn’t crucify the machines,” said Ratchford (being a little less diplomatic but a little more frank).
That was three months ago. CCSS, which is based in England and has U.S. offices in North Carolina, set out to develop a native i OS MQ Series monitoring solution, which it delivered with QSystem Monitor Version 12 Release 9.
QSystem Monitor traditionally has focused on monitoring and controlling various aspects of the i OS server itself, such as processor utilization, I/O, interactive CPW, disk arm movement, and nearly 140 other operational aspects of this unique machine. With the addition of MQSeries monitoring, the company is delving into application-level monitoring for the first time.
QSystem Monitor features a graphical PC-based front-end, which will come in very handy for monitoring MQSeries operations. With many MQSeries shops running thousands of message queues, monitoring them manually from a green screen is just not feasible. The graphical front-end enables customers to customize their view of message queues, including viewing only those queues that have a problem.
QSystem Monitor targets four main areas of MQSeries, including MQ Queue Managers, MQ Listeners, MQ Channels, and MQ Queues. Within the MQ Queue area, the tool offers four additional monitors, including the Application Status, Age of Oldest Message, Average Queue Time, and Queue Depth. Other monitors include Queue Depth Maximum, Queue Depth/Trigger, Open Count-Input, and Open Count-Output.
CCSS’ graphical front-end enables users to view these monitors in a graphical format, or display them in a textual basis on the screen. Most users will choose to use QSystem Monitor’s filters to reduce the screen clutter, and only display those monitors that are exceeding thresholds, such as too many messages waiting in a queue. Color-coding of each monitor helps users quickly see if anything is going wrong. Users can also receive notification of problems via e-mail, text message, and SMS.
QSystem Monitor 12.9 also introduces two other monitors: the Uncommitted Message Count and the Dead Letter Queue, which is where undeliverable messages end up. “Each of the four beta test sites we’re using picked up on the Dead Letter Queue and said ‘This is a queue that we want to monitor the depth of, and we’ll put a threshold of zero on it.’ So as soon as an entry goes onto the Dead Letter Queue, they know about it straightaway.”
CCSS makes all of the information accessible from a single screen, and enables users to drill up and down to see the various monitors. By comparison, operators trying to gauge the state of their MQSeries implementations using IBM’s native green-screen interfaces will have to navigate through nearly 20 screens to get the same information.
Speed is of the utmost importance in an enterprise data center setting, where management by exception is the rule. “As an operations manager, I want to know when something’s going wrong, or more importantly when something’s about to go wrong,” Ratchford says. “I don’t to sit and be told something’s working all the time. I’m not interested in that. I’m more interested in things going wrong.”
QSystem Monitor version 12 release 9 will be available later this month. For more information, visit www.ccssltd.com.