The Ultimate Set Of Tools
December 14, 2020 Rob McNelly
Those of a certain age will certainly remember the moment in Fast Times At Ridgemont High when Jeff Spicoli got himself into a bind after he wrecked his friend’s car. Luckily, Spicoli’s dad was a TV repairman, and he had an ultimate set of tools. Spicoli knew that with those tools, he could fix it. That level of confidence is intoxicating, although in this case it was possibly misplaced.
I have a friend that lives around the corner from me that actually does have the ultimate set of tools, and knows how to use them. For example, he recently rebuilt his Jeep from the frame up. The other day my son, a high school senior, reported to me that there was a sound coming from one of the front wheels of his car. I took it for a drive and the metal on metal grinding sounded expensive. My friend offered to take a look, quickly diagnosed the problem, went with us to the auto parts store and back to his garage where he replaced the worn-out brake pads that were squealing. When you combine tools with experience, people can accomplish a great deal.
You have to take care of the tools that you have, part of what made my friend so effective was that he kept his tools clean, he kept his garage organized, he put his tools away when he was done using them, he knew where his tools were, he practiced with them over time, and he knew how to use them. Although our tools may be digital in nature, the same principles apply.
There’s a relevant story from Steven Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People:
The lumberjack was trying to cut down a tree with and was swearing and cursing as he labored in vain.
“What’s the problem?” The man asked.
“My saw’s blunt and won’t cut the tree properly.” The lumberjack responded.
“Why don’t you just sharpen it?”
“Because then I would have to stop sawing.” Said the lumberjack.
“But if you sharpened your saw, you could cut more efficiently and effectively than before.”
“But I don’t have time to stop!” The lumberjack retorted, getting more frustrated.
The man shook his head and kept on walking, leaving the lumberjack to his pointless frustration.
As an IT consultant, ongoing education and training is the equivalent of sharpening my saw and keeping my tools organized. Over the years I’ve always made time to attend conferences. These days I take part in as many free online education sessions as I can. I try to listen to them when they’re live, but if I have a conflict when the session takes place, I download the slides and watch the session replays when I get time. Invariably, I’ll learn something new.
In our world, you may think you know it all – or at least you believe you know everything you need to know to do your job. But of course technology doesn’t stop: The systems and solutions we work with are always being updated. Then there’s the more mundane reality that sometimes you’ll pick up a tip for doing a particular task, and it might be months or years before you get a chance to put what you learned into practice. And guess what? You’ve forgotten. I certainly forget things I’ve learned on occasion. The point is relearning is also a part of learning. Reminders never hurt.
There are a number of excellent educational resources out there. But if you’re looking for a single resource that provides current technical information for Power Systems users, check into the Power VUG Technical Webinar Series:
“Power VUG (Power Virtual User Group) is a monthly technical webinar series for IBM Power Systems. The webinars are informal and have a focus on how-to, how-it-works, best practice, and hints and tips. Many include live demonstrations. They are relevant to AIX/IBM i/Linux on Power Systems. The series is aimed at a technical audience – operators, systems administrators, and technical specialists – those using/planning to use IBM’s Power Servers. It is open to Clients/Business Partners/IBMers.”
They’ve done more than 100 sessions since 2011, covering topics like VIOS, IBM i suspend/resume and Live Partition Mobility, performance, monitoring, configuration best practices, IBM i mobile access, and Ansible on IBM i, to name just a few. Power VUG webinars aren’t simply people reading off of slide decks. Many sessions include live demos, and most have Q&A sessions. There’s nothing like actually watching the tools in action to get a good feel for how they work.
As an example, I’ll highlight a session presented by Tim Rowe, Business Architect of Application Development for IBM i on November 11. I encourage you to download Rowe’s slide deck and watch the replay:
Slide 2 is a roadmap of the information Rowe covers: IBM i Access Client Solutions (ACS) v 188.8.131.52, IBM Navigator for i Performance Data Investigator, the Digital Certificate Manager GUI, IBM i services powered by SQL, Administration Runtime Expert, Nagios, and open source plugins. There’s a lot here.
The session begins by defining access management. Who is accessing the system? There are tools and access for everyday users, while those who manage the system have a different, more powerful set of tools. A DBA will require yet another set of tools to make sure the database is running as expected.
In today’s ecosystem we need to be sure the tools run anywhere. Mac, Linux, Windows, and various mobile devices, all need to work and be supported, and with the new software they are.
IBM i Access for Windows went end of life in April 2019; it has been replaced by ACS. There are two ways to get the package: either download it from here, or if you’re running IBM i 7.4 SF99662 or IBMi 7.3 SF99722, get it directly from your machine by pointing to your IFS at /QIBM/proddata/Access/ACS/Base.
Once you apply the PTFs, visit this location regularly to ensure you’re keeping current with ACS. Rowe also shows how with version 184.108.40.206 version of the software, you can modify ACS properties in ACS to ensure that your searches for updates are targeted to your local system. It’s important to keep ACS current. Customer input is important to the ongoing development of this product.
There’s now the option to select and upload multiple files to your IFS, along with the ability to upload an entire directory with its contents. In the past only a single file could be uploaded at a time. IBM has improved both the performance and the actual interface, and have provided a better capability to filter files in different ways. Other additions include integrated file unzip support and the capability to view ILE source members or EBCDIC files as UTF-8 text files. Finally, there’s the capability to run SQL scripts. Watch the replay and you’ll see examples of how this is helpful.
IBM i developers are making greater use of SQL. Scott Forstie, senior software engineer at IBM, has a GitHub page which contains 67 working examples. And COMMON has a video series on SQL. Also check out SQL Tutor.
A neat part of the demo involves content assist. You’re prompted for possible values that will make sense in the context of the command that you’re creating. Rather than needing to look up commands or syntax, you can click your mouse to see which options are available. There’s a context-sensitive interface that can help with CL and SQL; it’s also useful for configuring commands and options for the commands. The demo shows various ways you can build these commands, along with using the formatter tool. Click on the “insert from examples” button; if you don’t write SQL, you can use built-in examples and learn from them. The examples help answer questions about the system, like which files are owned by users, IFS growth, etc. This section in itself is a great reason to watch the replay.
IBM has also changed the ACS interface. The preferences and property settings are now in the same place, which makes it easier to keep track of the different options you might want to set instead of searching for options in multiple places.
Under tools, there’s an open source package manager. From here you can manage the rpm packages on the IBM i system. In the past, if your machine didn’t have direct access to the repository, you had to download all the packages before you could use any. Now, if your IBM i machine is isolated from the internet, you can use your workstation in conjunction with an SSH tunnel to automatically download from an rpm repository on the internet and get that copied to your IBM i system.
Moving away from ACS, there is a discussion around IBM Navigator for i. There’s a performance data investigator (PDI) that you can use with collection services, disk watcher, job watcher, database, etc. You can view the data in new graphical interfaces, and this new functionality makes it an important feature. Tons of system information is available for analysis. If you want to know how a specific chart was generated, can click on the show SQL button to see what was run and what data was gathered. Don’t forget: Navigator is a free solution that comes with the system. Again, watch the demo to see it in action.
A new digital certificate manager, available for IBM i 7.3 and 7.4, makes it much easier to manage your certificates. You can manage local certificates, you can look at all of the certificates that are on your local certificate store. You can get information, search, look for expired certificates, etc. There’s also an SQL service. While the older tool you used for your digital certificates remains available for now, expect it to eventually go away.
Administration Runtime Expert (ARE) is a tool for comparing central systems to endpoints. You can, for example, move PTFs around your environment using this powerful and free tool. It was stated during the session that it is deserving of its own session to cover all it can do.
Toward the end, learn more about monitoring your environment using Nagios. There are lists of supported elements like CPU utilization, disk status, list job information from a subsystem, message checks, etc. It’s also possible to use SQL plugins to define your own rules, your only limitation as to what you monitor is your imagination.
Why did I go into such detail on one webinar? Because I’ve written enough articles over the years to know many readers don’t invest the time to click on the links and listen to the replay. I wanted to try to whet your appetite. If you’re interested in learning more about the capabilities of IBM i and Power Systems hardware, Power VUG webinars are a great way to sharpen your saw. Please click that link and take some time to watch and learn, then you too will be able to add to your ultimate set of tools.
Rob McNelly is a senior Power Systems solutions architect doing pre-sales and post-sales support for Meridian IT, headquartered in Deerfield, Illinois. McNelly was a technical editor for IBM Systems Magazine, and a former administrator within IBM’s Integrated Technology Delivery and Server Operations division. Prior to working for IBM, McNelly was an OS/400 and IBM i operator for many years for multiple companies. McNelly was named an IBM Champion for Power Systems in 2011, an IBM Champion Lifetime Achievement recipient in 2019, and can be reached at email@example.com.