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CICS Serviceability: An Ever-Evolving Process


Editor’s note: This is the first in a two-part series on the evolution of the CICS transaction server’s serviceability process and enhancements.

Through the years, serviceability, as it relates to CICS, has been primarily concerned with reducing the time and effort required to identify and solve a problem by CICS customers and IBM support engineers. For sure, more aspects of serviceability exist, such as achieving various levels of autonomic capability, but we’ll focus on the history of serviceability within CICS and the evolution of a serviceability process. The second part of this series will focus on areas in which CICS serviceability has been enhanced to reduce the time and effort required to solve a problem, where customers can help, and potential opportunities for more enhancements.

A Brief History of Serviceability Needs

CICS hasn’t always been a highly serviceable software product. In the 1970s, for instance, anytime you needed to make a change and ran into a problem, your local IBM program support rep (PSR) or software engineer would show up onsite, and wade through piles of paper dumps, listings and microfiche to uncover the root of the problem. Sometimes they even had to stop the whole CPU to examine physical memory.

In those early days of CICS, serviceability evolved as a necessity to determine the cause of a problem that brought CICS production regions down. Developing serviceability during a crisis is never the desired method, but often times it’s the mother of invention. That's how DFHTRAP evolved, through crisis.

In the 1980s, when CICS was a bit more stable, many businesses used both CICS/MVS and CICS/VSE as their primary transaction-processing solution. IBM customers quickly saw the value in developing CICS applications and kept deploying them on the mainframe. CICS was more stable and very flexible. It allowed both macro and command-level programs to run together in harmony, when they weren't overlaying storage. While this protected a client’s investment in previously developed applications, it also introduced challenges for both the system and application programmers when it was time to upgrade CICS, MVS or IMS.

Back then, nearly any problem beyond a very simple program check required a recreate of the failure and very difficult and time-consuming diagnostic gathering. Whether it was a data I/O related problem, incorrect output, communications or storage overlays, system programmers had to contact IBM Technical Support. And if Level 1 couldn’t locate a known solution, a Level 2 support engineer would need to perform more in-depth analysis. Level 2 might have requested a recreate with a dump, trace or a custom DFHTRAP. And let’s not mention the challenges of the sysgen and a user’s local source code changes or those added by ISVs.

Those of us who experienced one or more of these crisis situations quickly learned it’s much more desirable for all involved to design and integrate best-of-breed serviceability into the base product to avoid such crises.

Bill Bulfin provides Level 2 worldwide remote technical support for CICS and the CICS tools portfolio of products. His 32-year career at IBM Service began in Chicago, where he provided support for DOS/VS. He later relocated to Endicott, N.Y., to support VSE.

Ed Addison has worked in IBM Service for 24 years. He began his Level 2 career in San Jose, Calif., while supporting VSAM and moved to Raleigh, N.C., in 1993 to support CICS. He has been performing Serviceability Reviews on CICS Transaction Server since 1994.


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