RevSoft Overhauls Server Operations Suite with .NET Interface
November 10, 2009 Alex Woodie
You might chalk it up to RevSoft managing director John Massey’s dislike of “lights out” computing, or his preference for “colorful computing.” Whatever the source, the new releases of the RevSoft product suite–including job scheduler, message management, and file transfer utilities for System i, Windows, and Linux servers–are more colorful than ever thanks to a new GUI console built with Microsoft .NET. The goal was to make it easier for operators to understand and respond to server activities, and it works.
RevSoft is a developer of multi-platform systems management tools that’s based in Australia. The company grew up on the AS/400, but has been branching out to other platforms the last three years, as customers demand multi-platform products. The company’s products are used by IBM Global Services to manage a large data center in Sydney, and now it’s looking to build its reputation in North America.
RevSoft is in the process of rolling out the version 10.2 releases of its products. So far, the company has updated REV SCHEDULER, the cross-platform job scheduler; REV MESSAGE, the cross-platform message management tool; and REV VIEW, which is used to network and integrate the various REV products. Due out soon is the version 10.2 release of REV DATAFLOW, a cross-platform file transfer product.
REV SCHEDULER 10.2
Many of RevSoft’s deals begin with a customer’s need to control jobs running across different platforms, which leads to REV SCHEDULER, a product that runs equally well on System i, Unix, Linux, and Windows servers.
REV SCHEDULER is unique among schedulers in that it avoids the agent-based architecture, and instead gives customers the option of installing a job scheduling engine, with an underlying database (DB2/400, MySQL, or SQL Server), on every node that it manages. Not every node needs a database driving that scheduling engine, as nodes can be linked to database running on other machines. But RevSoft recommends using a database with critical business applications, to ensure their availability.
The most obvious advantage of this architecture is it eliminates the single point of failure that exists when a single scheduling engine is controlling jobs across multiple machines. This approach also helps to conserve network bandwidth, because the various engines are communicating with each other only when there are job dependencies.
Customers appreciate the fault-tolerance this approach gives them. “If you try to explain to the guy in the warehouse why the picking system doesn’t work because the central database is not functional or a switch is bad, he doesn’t understand it,” Massey says. “He doesn’t care what’s happening in a machine at the head office 1,000 miles away.”
The company’s practical approach to IT management is also evident with the new .NET interface in version 10.2. With the new release, the company has strived to make the product easy and intuitive to use, but without dumbing down or hiding details or complexity inherent when a customer is managing 50,000 jobs per day running across dozens of servers running a mix of applications and platforms.
The .NET update was made to Enterprise Operations, the central operations panel for all RevSoft products. The Enterprise Operations panel quickly tells the operator whether a job has completed, ended in error, is being held, or in the process of running. Details about the job, such as what time it’s scheduled to run and what machine it’s on, are plainly evident. Clicking on a column allows operators to quickly segment jobs by status. The most commonly used filtering mechanisms are accessible through buttons near the top of the screen.
The overarching goal is to keep operators in tune with their servers, Massey says. “Most people are installing scheduling applications because they want better throughput, and the main thing is accuracy,” he says. “You’ve got to know how things are running. The last thing you want is one of your users telling you the job didn’t run.”
Massey tells a story about a System i customer who was running another job scheduler and was reluctant to try REV SCHEDULER. They fired the product up and ran some test data against it, and sure enough, one of the jobs ended in error under REV SCHEDULER. It turns out that the job had been ending in error for months, but the old job scheduler didn’t alert them to it. They installed RevSoft soon after.
“I don’t like that theory of lights out operations,” Massey says. “If it’s lights out, I’m in the dark, and I don’t know how everything is running. Some people say, ‘It’s OK because we don’t need to bother you.’ Usually we find out when the fertilizer hits the ventilator, and they say ‘Why didn’t we know?'”
Enterprise Operations Console
RevSoft started out in the AS/400 world, and its job scheduler was accessed via green screen (green screens are still an option for AS/400 die hards). The company’s first GUI was built in VisualBasic. The company decided to make the move to C++ and .NET with version 10.2 because of the simplicity of programming, performance enhancements, and the clarity of the interface.
.NET made it easier to implement the filtering buttons, and also allows RevSoft to use .PNG images, as opposed to .BMPs, which makes a difference in clarity, Massey says. Customers use images to visually identify particular servers, groups of servers, or even servers or entire data centers in different countries. But it’s not just images: RevSoft customers also make creative use of recorded sounds to keep them aware of server activities, failed jobs–and even to keep sleepy operators awake at night.
The capability to automatically generate PDFs was another benefit. REV SCHEDULER users like the fact that they can quickly create run sheets based on job logs or past schedules, and export that as a PDF.
“I can do a lot of things with .NET,” Massey says. “I can go back to job definitions. I can look at the all the Windows jobs, and all the different components within the job. I can double click on navigate straight to places in the jobs I want to be. It’s just real simple. “We haven’t heard anyone who says they don’t like it. Usually it’s ‘Wow.'”
The new interface is shared by the new release of REV MESSAGE to manage system-generated messages across System i, Unix, Linux, and Windows environments. REV MESSAGE is commonly deployed alongside REV SCHEDULER, as it keeps an eye on message logs of all the different platforms. It automatically filters routine and mundane messages, highlights or escalates important and critical messages, and also provides alerts to mobile phones via SMS. REV DATAFLOW will also use the new interface.
Growing Up iSeries
While System i software sales currently make up the bulk of RevSoft’s sales, that is set to change in the near future, as sales of tools to manage Linux and Windows servers is really taking off for RevSoft, according to Massey.
But that doesn’t mean the company has forgotten its roots, or how to work on the box. “I like to think we learned a lot from growing up with iSeries. We’ve learned a lot about how to actually do things,” Massey says.
For example, RevSoft borrowed the idea of a detailed job log, and applied it to Windows, Linux, and Unix, which don’t feature in-depth job logs. As Massey explains, it can be hit or miss running a job on one of these platforms and getting a response back. “It’s sort of like throwing a Frisbee. Sometimes it would come back, sometimes it wouldn’t,” Massey says. “We try to explain to customers that this is what you have on the iSeries, and their next question is, ‘What’s an iSeries'”
In the end, multi-platform coverage makes RevSoft and its offerings that much stronger. Because the tools work the same across the platform it eases the learning curve. “That’s part of our philosophy, whether green screen or Windows,” Massey says. “You learn how one product works, and can drive on any platform.”