Free Tool from Nastel Identifies MQ Performance Problems
September 25, 2012 Alex Woodie
Nastel Technologies recently announced MQSonar, a free tool designed to detect possible performance problems in IBM MQ environments. Nastel is giving away MQSonar with the hopes that it will entice users to step up to its full IBM MQ monitoring and management product, Autopilot, which is used by some of the biggest financial services and healthcare firms with MQ running across mainframe, IBM i, and distributed platforms.
MQSonar works by sending “pings” out across a WebSphere MQ environment and measuring how long it takes to come back. Just as real SONAR in the open ocean can help determine the size, shape, and make of other vessels, MQSonar give an administrator lots of information about the state of a MQ environment.
It’s particularly useful for setting baselines and troubleshooting performance issues in large, complex MQ installations with thousands of queues and queue managers, and swaths of MQ dependencies, says Charley Rich, vice president of product management and marketing for Nastel.
“You issue a ping for a destination, and it traverses the entire route, and then comes back and brings you a set of timing information for each hop along the way,” Rich tells IT Jungle. “It’s very quick, and gives me performance data that I can compare against alternate destinations. I might find a discrepancy that shows me they’re configured differently, or there’s a bottleneck.”
The freemium approach represents an interesting change of business model for Nastel. The New York software company was founded in 1994 by David Mavashev, who architected and managed the implementation of the first commercial transactional messaging product at NYNEX. That transactional messaging product was the basis for what would become MQ Series, the gold standard for high-volume messaging.
Today, the privately held company has more than 200 customers using its flagship product, Autopilot, which oversees more than one billion transactions a day for the largest financial services and healthcare companies in the country. For these companies, Autopilot is the go-to product for monitoring and managing MQ running across IBM i, mainframe, Unix, Linux, OpenVMS, Tandem, and other hosts. As you might expect with mission-critical applications of these types, Autopilot is a long way from free.
Rich relates the Autopilot story of one of its biggest customers, Citicorp, which paid $3.5 million for the Nastel software and related services to install Autopilot at 110 locations around the world. “We feel we had a very big win at Citicorp when they replaced the IBM solutions they were using to monitor and manage MQ on their mainframes,” Rich says. “The reason Citicorp made that decision was they said they spent too much time managing the management product, and they went to Nastel for automation, and its ability to not be people intensive.”
Anybody who has managed a large host environment knows that the logs can be impossible to monitor manually. There are a range of mainframe management products from IBM (OMEGAMON) and third-party providers like ASG Software Solutions, BMC Software, and CA Technologies, that aim to automate the monitoring and management of MQ. So what separates Autopilot from the rest? According to Rich, it’s the analytics that are built into the product.
“The key differentiator is the analytics,” he says. “The company built the complex event processing (CEP) engine into the core platform. It looks for patterns that predict that there’s going to be a failure. This early warning and predictive pattern recognition is one of the hallmarks of the product, and why large firms on Wall Street and also in healthcare, with large claims processing applications, are using this to find problems early.”
The CEP engine is the key for delivering “set-and-forget-it” levels of assurance for Autopilot customers with large volumes of transactions to process and large volumes of MQ events to sort through, Rich says. “The only time you get involved with it is when there’s a real problem, not a spurious alert,” he says.
Rich related the stories of two other Autopilot users: Dell Computer, and Best Buy. Dell uses the software to manage its MQ system used in its manufacturing business. At one point a very large order–as represented in MQ–was lost in the system. “They couldn’t find it,” Rich says “They have tens of thousands of queues and thousands of queue managers. They asked ‘How can we find this?’ … We could find it instantly.”
Best Buy uses Autopilot to manage an MQ application that governs the prices of products. “They had a big problem with pricing information coming from the headquarters to stores,” Rich says. “They want to have the same price [in their stores] as their central store monitoring system, running on the proprietary Retek system that’s now part of Oracle.
“If you went to the store to buy a Blu-ray player, it would say $300 at the aisle, but really it’s on sale for $200, or the brochure would say $200 and the aisle it would say $250,” Rich continues. “They were bleeding dollars because of this. Their whole infrastructure is MQ and they used Autopilot to monitor the transactions and ensure that everybody has consistent pricing.”
Not every company is a big MQ user, and some have adopted other messaging infrastructures, such as those from TIBCO. Nastel has visibility into these environments (it “manages the management products” as it were), and also enterprise service buses (ESBs). Autopilot can also monitor the DB2, CICS, Java, and .NET transactions, providing its early warning system for users of non-MQ environments.