System i Automation from RevSoft is ‘FAB’ulous
March 16, 2010 Alex Woodie
Keeping data in synch across Windows and System i applications used to be a largely manual chore for First American Bank (FAB), a mid-sized community bank located in Elk Grove Village, Illinois. However, after installing RevSoft‘s suite of systems management tools–including job scheduler, file transfer, and message management software–errors have been reduced, and operators can administer on an exception basis.
First American Bank is a privately held bank with more than $2.5 billion in assets. The bank provides a range of personal and community banking services through nearly 50 locations in and around Chicago–a number that will soon increase as a result of the January takeover of the failed Town Community Bank & Trust, a deal brokered by the FDIC.
Like many mid-sized companies today, FAB relies on a mix of computer platforms to run its business applications. At the center of FAB’s data center is Silverlake, the i/OS core banking application developed by Jack Henry & Associates, which runs on a pair of System i Model 810 servers–one for production and one for emergency backup, linked via IBM’s DataMirror high availability software.
Surrounding the System i servers’ core are a legion of Microsoft Windows servers that are used primarily for reporting purposes, according to Brian Mann, the bank’s computer operations manager. These servers run on blade hardware, access network-based storage from NetApp, and connect to the System i servers via IBM‘s integrated xSeries technology.
From i to Windows
While IBM and NetApp provide the underlying plumbing that connect the Windows and System i servers, getting the data to flow in an orderly fashion provided its own set of challenges for Mann and his team in the IT department. To move data, FAB used the popular WS_FTP Pro package and a bevy of custom-written scripts. Batch jobs were coordinated across the two environments using an older Windows-based job scheduler.
In theory, the FTP scripts and Windows job scheduler provided a degree of automation for FAB. However, the two utilities were not integrated, and their use required close oversight by operators and a lot of manual intervention. File transfer and scheduling errors were happening more than they should, and Mann’s IT staff was spending too much time just putting out fires and keeping things afloat.
“We had to make sure that the FTP sessions ran before the scheduled job on the ‘400 would run,” Mann said. “You’re hoping the files are there already. They needed to be, which sometimes was a problem.”
While getting data in place in time for batch jobs could be a challenge, holiday scheduling provided its own set of problems for FAB.
“Holidays were brutal,” Mann said. “If there was a holiday, we would have to manually go in and change the schedule. If next Monday was a holiday, we’d have to wait for this Monday to be finished, and then we’d set the next time to run on that Monday’s schedule to be two weeks from then.”
Rev-ing It Up
In 2008, Mann set out to find an integrated suite of systems management tools that could provide a higher degree of automation for FAB’s back office operations. Mann looked at a couple of i/OS packages, but eventually settled on RevSoft’s suite of tools. With similar functionality between the two products under consideration, a more flexible monthly subscription tipped the scales in favor of the Australian company’s product.
It has been about a year and a half since FAB adopted four of RevSoft’s products, including Rev Scheduler, Rev Message, Rev Dataflow, and Rev Guardian, and Mann doesn’t have any regrets.
The integration between the job scheduling, the file transfer, and the message management has made the computer operator job at FAB easier. Now, the dozen or so jobs that run daily at the close of business are tightly linked through Rev Scheduler, which makes sure the Windows reports don’t run until Silverlake generates a specific message. Similarly, holiday schedules only have to be set up once per year, instead of a week before every holiday.
The RevSoft products also come in handy for event-based processing. Thanks to Rev Dataflow’s support for database triggers, file transfers can be automatically initiated based on processes that occur within the DB2/400 or SQL Server databases. “It’s immensely cut down on errors with the jobs running between Windows and the ‘400,” Mann says. “That to me is the biggest savings, other than holidays are a lot easier to get through now.”
Mann finds the RevSoft GUI management console, which was recently re-written in Microsoft .NET, to be intuitive and easy to use–especially when it comes to monitoring i/OS and Windows server messages through the Rev Message module. “We keep Rev Message up all the time,” Mann says. “We’re looking to see if jobs ran. Anything out of the ordinary comes up white, yellow, or red. It’s a lot easier to follow using that.”
Mann also likes the capability to output the job schedule as a PDF, which makes it easy to share a log of the bank’s IT activities. The capability to drill down into the job schedule also makes it easy to explore underlying dependencies. “I really haven’t used the product to its full potential, but we’re using it more and more all the time,” he says.
RevSoft’s use of sounds and e-mail also impressed Mann. As soon as jobs are completed on the Windows or i/OS servers, Rev Scheduler sends a confirmation e-mail to Mann and his staff. “I don’t have to be standing over the operators, saying ‘Did you run this?’ It makes a big difference,” he says. Soon, he’ll be able to use his Blackberry to respond to messages, via Rev Message.
The use of sounds in the RevSoft console keeps Mann’s IT staff on their toes. “If there’s a message that needs to be answered, it alerts them with the sound of breaking glass,” Mann says. “That’s enough to get their attention. Another noise sounds like a pinball machine going off when there’s a lot of stuff going on, transfers etc. It’s enough to keep them awake–especially at night.”
Overall, Mann has no regrets about going with RevSoft. While the company is based in Australia, he’s had no trouble getting in contact with the vendor during the few times he’s had a question. FAB’s back office operations are running smoother, errors are down, and his staff is using its time more effectively.