Guru: Introduction to the Administration Runtime Expert
June 1, 2020 Dawn May
Business-critical applications must be up and running reliably without failure. When something unexpected occurs, you must identify the cause and correct it quickly. Whether you’re a developer launching a new application, enhancing an existing application, or maintaining a legacy application, or an administrator managing the infrastructure, we all want to find ways to make our jobs easier, and unexpected surprises are not fun. I expect the relentless push to do more with less is only going to intensify while the tolerance for failure keeps dropping. Yet identifying points of failure can be tricky as complexities scale.
IBM i offers a free product that helps ascertain application and infrastructure health. The IBM Administration Runtime Expert for i (ARE) can be used to define attributes of a healthy environment and use those defined attributes to validate that the environment is as expected. The results are in a report that identifies whether the attributes are as expected, or if there are differences from the expected settings. For certain changed attributes, ARE can also correct the problem.
Consider the following examples on how ARE can be useful:
- You want to ensure a test environment is exactly the same as production for software installed and object levels.
- An application failure occurred, and you need to identify what changed to cause the problem.
- You have multiple partitions and you need to ensure the partitions are consistent in their configurations.
- You want to ensure user profiles are consistent across all partitions.
- You upgraded all your partitions to 7.4 and you want to verify that you have the same PTFs installed on all of them.
To get started with ARE, you first need to install the product. Information on prerequisites, installation details, starting the ARE web server, and connecting to the console, are documented in the Getting Started Guide.
ARE is delivered in two parts:
- The graphical user interface. This is the web console that is used to define the attributes you want to validate, set up verifications, and review the reports. This is delivered with the 5733-ARE licensed program product (LPP). This product is available for no additional charge from the entitled systems support (ESS) site. You only need to install the product on the partitions where you will launch the console.
You want to have the latest PTF groups installed, particularly the HTTP Server Group (DG1), since enhancements and fixes to ARE are shipped in this group
- The ARE core. This is the underlying runtime engine that allows you to run the verification on any system and return the results. The ARE core is included with the base operating system. This allows you to verify systems even if they do not have the 5733-ARE LPP installed.
Once you have the ARE product installed, sign on to the web console at http://SystemName:12401/are. When you first log in, you are presented with the deployment template editor. You use this interface to create and edit your deployment templates, which are a collection of attributes you want to validate. You can manage your templates anytime with options to edit, copy, delete, export, etc.
Creating a basic template is very easy. An ARE template consists of one or more plugins. ARE, as shipped by IBM, comes with several categories of plugins loaded with attributes that are very easy to select in the template editor. Simply select the desired plugin and the attributes that you want to verify.
Examples of some of the attributes available with the IBM-supplied plugins include:
- File and directory attributes such as existence, size, creation dates, security attributes, etc., for both files in the IFS and objects in libraries.
- System attributes, such as system values, environment variables, TCP/IP configuration, PTF levels, products installed, and more.
- User IDs and their attributes.
In addition to the predefined attributes, ARE also provides support for an SQL verifier. You can specify a SELECT statement along with expected results per column. Think about the flexibility this gives with all the wonderful IBM i Services now available! There is also a Scripts and Commands plugin that allows you to run CL commands or shell scripts. ARE also has what is called a Resource Collector. The Resource Collector allows you to automatically collect additional information as part of the verification. This may be useful if you want to collect diagnostic data for additional review. You can also create your own plugins to verify attributes beyond those provided by the product. The flexibility and extendibility make ARE a very powerful tool.
As you are defining your templates, there is an easy way to test the attributes you have specified and review the results. If the verification isn’t working as you expected, you can easily update the rules to correct any problems.
Once you have the template defined, you need to build the template, which is beyond the scope of this article.
After completing the creation of your template, launch the ARE console where you can define the desired verifications. You can add systems, set up groups of systems, and perform verifications. You can manually launch the verification, run the verification with QShell, or schedule ARE to run the verification on an ongoing basis. Note that the IBMARE web application server must be active for scheduled verifications to run. You can verify just the system where the template is built, or you can compare another IBM i partition, or even a group of partitions.
The results of the verification are in a report. The console provides a web interface to view the summary report and shows the status of each plug-in with a simple “red – yellow – green” icon so you can quickly determine the success or failure for each plugin. You can also get a detailed text report as well as a report in XML format. When setting up a verification you also have the ability to enable email notifications if warnings or errors are found.
Future articles will explore examples on how to use ARE in greater detail.
IBM provides documentation on all of the features of ARE on the IBM Administration Runtime Expert for i product web page.
When you are reading the documentation, you may become a bit confused about the name. When ARE was initially introduced, it was called the Application Runtime Expert, and much of the documentation was written some time ago. However, Application seemed to imply that ARE was only useful for application developers, which is certainly not the case. While it is very useful for validating application environments across systems, it is just as useful for validating system configuration and environmental information. IBM changed ARE to Administration Runtime Expert in 2016, as well as making it available for no additional charge.