Shield Builds on Success with Nagios for IBM i
September 27, 2023 Alex Woodie
Traditional system monitoring tools on IBM i are valuable, but they have one big downside: They often require an operator to sit there and stare at the screen to detect when things go wrong. “That gets old very quickly,” says Chris Hird, the Shield Advanced Solutions director who found an alternative approach in Nagios.
Nagios is unique among monitoring tools – at least in the IBM i world – in that it actively runs checks for a variety of systems on monitored machines on a continuous basis. It is constantly pinging target server (and network and storage devices) to check how the storage is doing, whether there are any job errors, whether backups have run as planned, and any number of other checks that can be built or bought.
The open source software has become the standard for enterprise system monitoring in recent years. IBM developed an IBM i plug-in for Nagios Core, the main open source project backed by Nagios Enterprises, back in 2018. Among the early adopters was Hird, who wanted to develop a way to help his IBM i customers monitor their high availability (HA) environments.
“A lot of customers put in HA and they’ve got nothing monitoring it,” Hird says, “so they have to either manually monitor it, and that gets old very quickly, or they hope that it’s all right. We said, that’s not acceptable. We don’t want the operators watching stuff. We want to tell you when we know something’s going wrong.”
That early work with the IBM plug-in didn’t turn out well, however, so Hird and his group of developers decided to take it upon themselves to build their own product. That product, called At-A-Glance (AAG), includes the open source Nagios Core product as well as NG for i, which is an IBM i-based plug in for Nagios.
A native IBM i product that Hird and his team wrote in C, NG for i does the work of interfacing with Nagios Core, which typically runs in its own Linux environment or even on a Raspberry Pi. NG for i takes the queries initiated by Nagios Core and gets the answers to them by hitting any number of IBM i APIs.
“Our plugin does all the work,” Hird tells IT Jungle in a recent interview. “So it’s like a telephone conversation. It’s really ringing in and saying ‘Are you OK for this? Is the disk availability okay?’ And we’ll go back and say, ‘It’s 99 percent. Okay, then we’re good.’”
Shield recently launched AAG 2.0, which brings about 30 more checks to the product. That brings the total of Nagios checks to more than 130. The new release brings additional Nagios check commands for BRMS, PowerHA, and MIMIX. It also now supports WRKPRB, damaged object checks, library checks, and device status.
And more checks are on the way. “A new update is going out soon that will have HMC checks and some other checks,” Hird says. “So we have just written probably another 10 or 12 checks.”
The company also offers its own integrated Nagios distribution that comes with everything a customer needs to get going, Nagios Core, other Nagios components, a Linux distribution, and the AAG plugin. Customers can either run this on their VM or get it prepackaged on a Raspberry Pi device.
Companies that have already invested in Nagios and are running the paid version of the product, Nagios XI from Nagios Enterprises, can also adopt AAG to provide better visibility of their IBM i assets. In fact, AAG 2.0 features a new wizard to streamline the installation process for customers who are already running Nagios XI.
“If people are running Nagios XI, they just need our plugin,” Hird says. “If they’re not running anything, then they need the stack, and that’s where we’ve done both.”
But the open source work doesn’t stop there. In AAG 2.0, Shield has also integrated Grafana, a popular open source solution for visualizing logs, metrics, and traces, into the AAG solution to provide an out-of-the-box dashboard.
Shield’s IBM i customer base seems to be appreciating the work Hird and his team have put into making it all so easy to get going. No mussing with open source repos, since AAG is sold as a licensed program product (LPP). PTFs are easy. And of course, there’s no PASE, since the plug-in is a native IBM i program written in fast and efficient C. No 5250 either.
“We want this to be modern. We don’t want a green screen,” Hird says. “We don’t want just a load of numbers. We want some graphs. So adding Grafana into our build was key. And Nagios core does a great job of feeding Grafana with the data.”
At $50 per monitored IBM i LPAR or server per month, the subscription is affordable enough for just about anybody to give it a try. According to Hird, just about everybody who sees the product signs up for a subscription.
“The smaller customers that we’re dealing with love it because it gives them a comfort level, where they’re not having to sign on and look at stuff,” Hird says. “They get a notification that says OK, this file is on hold. You’d better go and see what’s going on.’”
AAG 2.0 is available now. You can learn more at www.shieldadvanced.com.