Everybody Needs Monitoring On The IBM i
October 18, 2023 Chris Hird
If you are running a software business, you can never go wrong by listening to the customer and then providing what they want.
Our journey into being an adjunct for the open source Nagios system monitoring tool began when we had a client that wanted to monitor multiple LPAR instances being backed up by our high availability software, HA4i, from a single pane of glass. At the time, we had a PHP interface for our HA4i tool, and we really did not want to rewrite all of that just to be able to give this customer that single pane of glass. So we asked the client what they were doing for monitoring for other stuff running on the IBM i platform, and they told us they didn’t have any monitoring tools on IBM i but that they did have Nagios monitoring their Linux servers and Ethernet switches and other gear.
And so, we went out and had a look at Nagios, and thought that this might be something that we could adapt for our purposes as well as those of the client and it would be a win-win for everyone. We found a couple of old OS/400 and IBM i plug-ins from two decades ago, and then we found that IBM had done a couple of Nagios plug-ins, too, and that is what we had a look at. We went down a lot of rabbit holes that we jumped down before we got to where we are today with our At-A-Glance (AAG) product, which is based on the Nagios Core tool from the Nagios community as well as NG4i, which is a plug-in that we decided to write from scratch to get it to do exactly what we think it should do.
In doing so, we solved one of the problems that all high availability software vendors have, and that is that you need to constantly monitor the HA software and the core system to make sure that everything is working right now so in the event of a failover – caused by a software glitch or a hardware failure, which you might see coming before it happens – you know that the system can in fact do that failover right now.
There are a lot of different monitoring tools out there in the IBM i market – our compatriot Joe Hertvik, who used to write the Admin Alert column for The Four Hundred, compiled a list a decade ago that is still pretty valid except that Fortra, formerly known as HelpSystems, now owns the tools from Halcyon Software as well as Bytware and its own ROBOT line of tools. Many of these tools have been around for a long time. But because they are relatively expensive – at least to the budgets at most of the small and medium businesses that run most of the IBM i instances in the world – the penetration of these monitoring tools is sadly not very high. But building upon the Nagios stack gives us a chance to shake up pricing and offer very good monitoring for a lot less money.
Customers can use our implementation, which is Nagios Core plus the NG4i plug-in that we wrote and get a fully supported Nagios implementation that speaks IBM i and integrates with our HA4i software as well for $54 per LPAR per month. If they need deeper Nagios functionality for other equipment in their datacenter, they can buy the supported Nagios XI suite from Nagios Enterprises, the commercial entity behind the Nagios project, and still use our NG4i plug-in to integrate the IBM i platform into the rest of the gear being monitored.
Our pricing is public, unlike that of Fortra, but I’ll give you an example. We gained a customer recently who was only monitoring two LPARs on the IBM i system. This customer had long since already paid for the licenses to the Halcyon tool and was just paying maintenance on it, and they wanted to move up to four LPARs. The cost of the license and support for our AAG product for four LPARs was less than this customer was paying for support alone on a single LPAR with Halcyon. This is the value that the open source community can bring to the IBM i community. And because we started with a foundation of open source, we can provide a cheaper solution.
We are doing demos with managed service providers now who have hundreds of LPARs and who are paying an absolute fortune to other vendors for monitoring tools and we are a fraction of the cost. About the cost of a cellphone data plan, more or less.
So what else are we up to? Well, we have just added interfaces into the Hardware Management Console, or HMC, that is used to manage LPARs and virtualization on midrange and enterprise-class Power Systems machines. We have just added SSH encryption to it this week, in fact, and this software is free to anyone who has a license to AAG.
For us here at Shield, it’s always about customers. It’s just about being able to give customers what they want to ensure that the IBM i platform is and remains an integrated solution. We are not about isolating the IBM i and trying to make everything run on it. Rather, we want to integrate the IBM i platform into all of the other infrastructure in the datacenter, and the Nagios monitoring proves that this approach works perfectly in that scenario.
Chris Hird is owner of Shield Advanced Solutions.
This content was sponsored by Shield Advanced Solutions.