Monday, July 31, 2017

Debugging Remote Control in IBM Control Desk


One of the many great features in IBM Control Desk is the ability to have a service desk agent remotely take control of a user's machine for troubleshooting (or repair) purposes. This function leverages the IBM BigFix for Remote Control agent on the target machine and a JNLP file on the server that launches a JAR file on the agent's machine.


The architecture is fairly simple. The JAR file running on the agent's machine communicates DIRECTLY with the BigFix Remote Control agent on the user's machine, which listens by default on port 888. This means that any firewalls between the agent's machine and the user's machine must allow a connection to port 888 on the user's machine.

Installing the Agent on the User's Machine

If you manually install the agent, it prompts you for the server name and port, but these values are ignored if you don't have BigFix in your environment. So if you don't have BigFix in your environment, these two values can be anything you want - it doesn't matter. It also asks you for the port that the agent should listen on. This is 888 by default, but can be changed to anything you'd like.

Launching the Controller Interface in debug mode on the Agent's Machine

This can be done in several ways from the ICD GUI, but going that route doesn't actually allow you to put the Controller interface into debug mode. To do that, you need to copy the TRCConsole.jar file from any of your ICD application servers or from the Administrative Workstation. Search for the file by name and you'll find it. Copy this file to the agent's machine.

On the agent machine, you need to launch the JAR file with the --debug flag:

TRCConsole.jar --debug

This will create a file named trctrace_<date_timestamp>.log in your %HOMEPATH% folder. This file will contain detailed tracing information that can be used for debugging.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

DevOps and Microservices Architecture done right - IBM Netcool Agile Service Manager


Our last article described just how easy it is to upgrade any or all of the components of Agile Service Manager. This article is meant to describe some of the design, patterns and processes that had to go into the application itself to allow a two-command in-place upgrade.

Microservices Architecture

Yes, this is a trendy buzzword these days, and that's only part of the reason I'm using it here. In general, a "microservice" can describe almost anything you access over the web - a website, a document, etc. Absolutely anything. But one very important concept about microservices when designing an application is separating functions that then expose all of their capability through some interface. In ASM, there are several "services", each of which is implemented in a Docker container. Each one of these "services" actually provides a number of related "microservices", which are then exposed via URLs accessible through the host system. All of these services communicate with one another through the exposed microservices. 

ASM's strict separation of functionality allows a lot of flexibility in application development. For example, one service is the File Observer, which is used to read a file of a specific format, which contains topology information. The main purpose of this service is to read a file and convert it into data that is then sent to the Topology service, which is responsible for processing the data for its purposes and ultimately sending it to the Cassandra (database) service, which will persistently store the data on a filesystem that's available on the host and accessible via the Search/ElasticSearch service. Notice that this application pattern is very similar to existing application patterns, but in this case each service is provided by a separate container.

Containers vs VMs

Docker containers are MUCH smaller than full virtual machines. Additionally, Docker has defined and implemented numerous usecases that make containers easier to create, deploy, configure and orchestrate than VMs. So, while ASM could have been delivered as multiple VMs (via OVA files and some type of hypervisor-specific orchestration), the use of Docker containers makes deployment and management much simpler. I'm saying that a similar result could have been achieved with VMWare vSphere, but IBM's Docker solution for this application seems to be sleeker to me.

Containers vs J2EE Applications in an App Server

In many ways, Docker can be seen as similar to a J2EE Application Server like WebSphere - it provides a common architecture with functions, capabilities and services that are shared among the applications/containers running within it. However, Docker containers can run applications written in any language you want - from Java to R to Haskell. Anything you can run on the host OS can be run inside a container. Containers can also be given strict resource limits for CPU usage, memory, file access, etc. To me, containers seem to be much more like atomic units than J2EE applications. 

As an example that I believe many people can relate to, an Application Server can be thought of as your browser, with each tab being an "application". It doesn't happen often, but one tab can crash your entire browser. Docker has been written specifically to avoid this with containers, which is a great thing.

IBM's Design Choices

IBM appears to have chosen this particular pattern in order to make the application as manageable as possible from both perspectives - development AND administration. When upgrading the components of the application, each service/container is basically free to do whatever it wants as long as it continues to adhere to its published REST interface (since REST is the only interface IBM has created for the services).

What does this have to do with DevOps?

DevOps requires frequent building and deploying, ideally in a manner that does not cause any regression test failures. The structure of this application wholeheartedly adheres to this requirement, and it is brilliant. 

I'm certain you can think of thousands of ways that this doesn't apply to some application that you deal with, but you should ignore those thoughts when thinking of the future. I truly believe that most, if not all, enterprise-scale applications will be rewritten using either this pattern or one that's extremely similar to it. And everyone in all areas of IT needs to be ready for the new opportunities and challenges that will come with it.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

IBM Agile Service Manager application maintenance is very easy

The Agile Service Manager team has done an amazing job on installation and upgrade. If you've never managed an enterprise-scale application, the information in this post probably won't impress you much. But really, if you've never managed an enterprise-scale application, you probably quit reading our articles a long, long time ago.

So now that I've got a technical audience, here's the amazing thing:

I just received some updated ASM components from IBM. To install them took TWO COMMANDS:

yum install *.rpm

docker compose up -d

THAT'S IT, and the new components are up and running, with the new functionality. I didn't even have to manually stop or start any processes. It was literally THOSE TWO COMMANDS. This, to me, is absolutely stunning, and hopefully a sign of more good things to come.

Docker Agent for IBM Workload Scheduler

IBM Workload Scheduler has Docker agents!

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Using IBM Agile Service Manager and BigFix to obtain and display application communication topology data


We've been working with a client who owns BigFix and Netcool Operations Insight, and who recently purchased the optional Agile Service Manager component of NOI. Up until now, we've been helping this customer obtain communication data (network/port/process connection information) in their environment through BigFix. A valid question you may have is: Doesn't TADDM do that and more? And the answer is yes it does, but the customer has some fairly severe obstacles that prohibit a successful deployment of TADDM.

Why are we doing this?

Any Operations group needs as much contextual information as possible to allow them to do their job effectively. Some of the information that Operations teams need is:

- Which systems are communicating with (dependent upon) Server X?

- What processes and applications are running on Server X?

- What is the impact to other systems if we reboot Server X?

etc. There are many, many more questions that come up, and often the best way to answer those questions is with a topology view of the environment. TADDM gives you this topology information, but again, this client is not able to install TADDM, so wanted another way to get similar data.

How are we doing it?

The first challenge was getting the communication information via BigFix. With just a little searching, we realized that this was actually very easy. The 'netstat' command in both Windows and Linux will actually show you information about which ports are owned by/in use by which processes, and then it's just a matter of getting more details about each PID. Linux has the 'ps' command, and Windows PowerShell does too, though the output is different, of course. We also found that PowerShell has a few functions that will directly convert command output into XML. This is important because BigFix includes an XML inspector that lets you report on data that's in an XML file. On Linux, a little Perl scripting was used to accomplish the same goal.

So with the IP/port/process information in had, we then needed to display that data in the ASM Topology Viewer. To do that, we used the included File Observer. Specifically, we wrote a script to create the appropriate nodes and edges so that this information can be displayed by ASM.

What's it look like?

Here you can see that a java process on has opened TCP port 40474 to communicate with a DB2 process listening on port 50000 on


Topology data is absolutely crucial to a Operations team for numerous reasons. In this case, we were able to provide this visualization to our client in a very short amount of time (a week or so) while leveraging software they already owned. They now have better insight into their environment and are better prepared to address events in their environment.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

A Windows command similar to awk

I'm always amazed at the capabilities available with built-in Windows command line tools. My latest find is the FOR /F command, documented here:

My main use for the awk command in *NIX is to pull out some piece of a line of text. I know awk is MUCH more powerful and even has its own robust language, but I've always used it to pull pieces of text out of structured output. And that's what FOR /F does for you. The syntax is completely different, but the capability is there and it's quite powerful.