Admin Alert: Adding Redundancy to Power i SMS Monitoring
October 19, 2011 Timothy Prickett Morgan
In an earlier column, I discussed how to use email addressing to send text message alerts to Power i administrators when a problem occurs. This week, I’ll discuss how to enhance that solution by providing redundancy for i OS text messaging, so that urgent messages can always be delivered regardless of whether or not your email system is running.
The Coverage Plan, Phase I
In my previous article, I outlined a monitoring plan for using cell phones, email, and text messages to alert administrators when critical iSeries, System i, and Power i events occur. This plan consisted of these steps when your monitoring software detects an error.
This plan allows monitoring technicians to segregate system issues by priority and set different ring tones for each type of issue. The highest level problems are handled by cell phone. Critical system and programming issues are delivered via text messages. And lower-quality issues are delivered via email.
This phase I plan has been in place at my shop for 3-plus years. And it works pretty well.
But it has one weakness.
Since the monitoring plan relies on email to deliver critical event information, the plan is worthless if the company email system isn’t available. Email can be taken down by issues with external email servers, a network card failure, a telecommunications failure, or even something like last week’s RIM Blackberry email failure.
If a critical issue notification involves lost email capability for your Power i partitions, this plan is toast. Because after all, no one can learn about email outages through an email.
This phase I plan needs redundancy where there are two paths to deliver outage information to on-call technicians. Taking up the challenge, my shop altered this plan by creating a second non-TCP/IP component for sending critical messages to technicians via direct SMS.
The good news is that the phase II plan is doable and it’s easier to implement than you think–if you have the right components.
The Coverage Plan, Phase II
The key is that our phase I coverage plan relied on TCP/IP and email for two things: 1) sending regular emails for low priority issues; and 2) delivering SMS alerts for critical issues via email. If TCP/IP or our email solution disappears, so does our entire monitoring and alert system.
We solved this issue by using a simple modem to send critical SMS messages directly to technician cell phones, adding a second path that isn’t dependent on TCP/IP or email. Direct text messaging without using email allows us to send critical text messages twice: once via the tech’s SMS email address; and once directly to their cell phones as a text message. If one delivery method is unavailable, critical messages can still get through using the other method.
Here’s how we did it and how you can setup an alternate text message delivery path for SMS messages.
The Laundry List
To implement phase II monitoring, we need the following components.
Once we assembled these basic components, it was easy to put together a Power i direct-to-cell phone messaging interface. Anyone can set up this configuration by performing the following steps.
Step #1: Set Up Your POTS Line and Power i Modem
Consult your rack configuration or contact your business partner to find an available modem on your Power i system. Read this article if you need instructions for printing a rack configuration. Make sure that your modem is compatible with the i OS 6.1 and 7.1 operating systems (no SDLC modems).
Also ensure that you have a working POTS line (i.e., it has dial tone) and plug that line into the modem port on your Power i machine.
Step #2: Get To Know TAP
TAP stands for Telocator Alphanumeric Protocol. It is also known as the IXO alphanumeric entry or the Motorola Page Entry (PET) protocols. TAP is an industry standard, ASCII-based, half-duplex protocol that is used by computer programs for submitting numeric or alphanumeric messages to pagers and cell phones.
Most wireless vendors provide TAP terminal phone numbers that computer modems can call and submit SMS text messages to for delivery to the carrier’s subscribers. When a paging terminal receives an SMS message, it broadcasts it to the designated device (in our case, a cell phone) and the text message is delivered.
There are several Web sites that publish TAP numbers for various wireless vendors. The Notepage TAP Paging Terminal Phone Numbers Web site has an extensive list of TAP numbers for many vendors operating in several countries. You can also find various TAP directories by typing “tap phone numbers” into Google or by contacting your Power i message software vendor.
Step #3: Set Up Your Power i Messaging Software to use TAP
Many, if not all, Power i messaging vendors support TAP. Once you have your modem attached to a POTS line, contact your vendor or consult your product’s user guides. Look for instructions on setting up their messaging software to transmit SMS texts directly to cell phones via a TAP terminal. In my case, I needed to perform the following steps in my messaging product.
I was surprised by how easy it was to set up a TAP modem and to send TAP messages via my messaging software. With the right information from my vendor, I was able to create a TAP messaging setup for my partition in less than an hour.
Putting it All Together for a Complete Messaging System
Once my TAP setup was complete, I had a complete phase II Power i messaging setup that included the following features for alerting technicians when a system message needs attention.
Try it. You’ll see that it’s easy to set up your own Power i monitoring system by following the instructions in this article and my previous article.