Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Tech Side of #socbiz - IBM Support Assistant

One of the most frustrating aspects of systems administration/management is the all-too-frequent discovery that a problem you're experiencing is actually a "known issue", and that you've gone through the hassle of opening a trouble ticket and collecting/transferring a few hundred megabytes of logfiles and debug traces for something that already has a known fix or workaround.  Well, I'm going to help you avoid that - or, at least, make the data collection as easy as possible - where many of IBM's products are concerned...and the tools are FREE!

IBM Support Assistant
(ISA) was developed to speed both the collection and analysis of diagnostic data.  There are two main "pieces" in the ISA architecture: the ISA Lite Data Collectors, which automate the collection of data for specific products, and the ISA Workbench, which lets you drill down into collected data for problem discovery, trend analysis, and the like.   ISA Lite Data Collectors are available for products in every area of IBM's software portfolio, including IBM Connections 3.x/4.0, IBM Sametime, IBM Websphere Application Server, IBM Tivoli Directory Server, IBM DB2, and more; check the ISA webpage for a complete listing.

The other side of the ISA architecture--the ISA Workbench (ISAW)--is where the rubber hits the road.  There are dozens of analysis tools available within the ISAW framework, allowing you to get down to the nitty-gritty of your data quickly and easily.  I've had particularly good results with several tools:
  • Log Analyzer: This Tivoli plugin not only performs basic log analyses, but also allows you to import "symptom catalogs" for various IBM products.  For instance, you can import a symptom catalog for Websphere Application Server 7.x that is based on the current Technote library; this will allow you to catch "known issues" through a log review - possibly doing so BEFORE they become a major problem.
  • Memory Analyzer for Java: This tool is a Java heap analyzer that will help you find memory leaks and manage memory consumption of Java apps.
There are also some promising new tools in the "Tech Preview" category; I'm particularly interested in the "IBM Trace and Request Analyzer for Websphere Application Server," which works to detect delays/hangs in Websphere and HTTP plugin trace files.

I think it's well worth your time to download ISA, collect some sample data and put it through its paces.  ISA is available for both Windows and Linux.  While RHEL and SUSE are the only officially supported Linux variants, I have installed ISAW under Ubuntu 12.10 with no problems noted in my preliminary test cases.  (You'll need to use alien to convert the downloaded .rpm to a .deb file for use with Ubuntu...)

Give it a shot; there's no telling what you might find.

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