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Steve Pitcher Discusses ACS Services, System Care and Feeding, and More

In this episode of iTalk With Tuohy, Steve Pitcher discusses ACS Services, system care and feeding, and more.

Paul Tuohy:Hi everybody and welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. I'm delighted to be joined today by a gentleman that I've had a bit of fun with the last couple of times we met at conferences. So a fellow IBM Champion, all around hardware guy and admin guy working with iTech Solutions, Steve Pitcher. Hi, Steve.
Steve Pitcher:Hey Paul, how are you doing?
Paul:I'm doing well, thank you. So this is also a first for me, Steve. I'm talking to somebody all the way over in Nova Scotia. Don't think I've done that before. So Steve, you're sort of now renowned in the industry and a well known speaker at conferences all over the world and that. You talk a lot about obviously the areas of hardware and admin—which as you know is likely looking into a bowl of gravy for me [laughs]. So we're—so tell me, okay at the moment, what do you see as being one of the major concerns for people, let's say on the hardware side?
Steve:Well first off, just so you know I'm a big fan of gravy so—
Steve:We shouldn't—let's not disparage the gravy.
Paul:Okay. Okay [laughs].
Steve:I guess from a hardware side or an infrastructure side—and I try to use that word a lot because we talk infrastructure, you kind of see the bottom of the period. When we talk hardware, it may turn people off in terms of "okay well I don't have to worry about that. It's hardware." I think, you know, complacency is a fairly big issue and you know our community is used to saying things like: "well you know, the box just sits there in the back and it runs." I think that's probably the worst attitude to have because it's unattended. You're leaving it to do its thing and we may not be reviewing you know things on the system that we should. One of those things when I talk to customers especially—and it has nothing to do with you know hardware or infrastructure so to speak—but it is the service dates that have come and gone for POWER5 and POWER6, end of January and end of March respectively, in 2019. And POWER7, a lot of popular POWER7 machines are going out of service in September. So when I talk to a new customer or a potential customer, you know one of the first things we do is say "well, what are you running?" We have a look at the machine and, you know, they're running 8202 E4C, and it's a—it'sscary because when you say "hey, you realize this machine's going out of support Sept. 30?" I'd say probably four out of five times they're like "really? I had no idea." So that's a big concern for me is that, compared to when people were going away from 7.1 to get to 7.2 or 7.3, it seemed like everybody was talking about "okay well 7.1 is going out of support." Nobody really talks about "my POWER6 is going out of support in March of 2019."
Steve:I literally just got off the phone with somebody yesterday who has a POWER5 that went end of support in January thinking "yeah, we're ready to go." I'm thinking "okay, that's great." We should have done this six months ago, but it's good that we're going now. I just hope you have a good backup in case this thing, you know, falls off the rails.
Paul:Yeah. So tell me something Steve: I mean it just—it just drives me—I mean okay. I know if like these are customers of yours and that that you're keeping them like on top of this and making sure they're informed, but like for other people and that—I mean is this a thing that the notification arrives from IBM and they just ignore it or they don't read it—or they don't get a notification on it?
Steve:Well you know if could be just a—you know, maybe just gets lost in the shuffle.
Steve:You know but I think—I wrote an article called "Making the IBM i Bubble Bigger" a few months ago on MC Press, and I kind of talked about that, where you know we have, you know, the bubble: you know, of informed customers, you know, I guess, engaged business partners, engaged consultants, and we all know what's going on. We all know what's going to happen and, you know, you have people that are outside the bubble for whatever reason. Maybe they've, you know, put a machine in 12-13 years ago and they just haven't been contacted by, you know, IBM or a business partner ever since.
Steve:We do find that. So you know what we're trying to do is trying to make that bubble bigger that we—when we talk to a new customer we at least provide that little bit of education to say "hey, you know, keep up with what's going on. You can find this information here, here, and here. I'm going to check in with you every six months just to make sure you know what's going down, because you know these dates change and support changes from time to time." So—
Paul:Okay so it's the end of September for POWER7.
Steve:Yes, Sept. 30, 2019.
Paul:Okay. Okay so—
Steve:That's not for all POWER7s, but some of the most popular ones like the Power 720.  
Steve:That's, you know, the most popular POWER7 machine that's out there.
Paul:All right. Okay. So just something that you touched on earlier, Steve, and I know that there's a lovely term that I've heard you use where you talk about admin and you talk about care and feed. You actually just touched on this earlier where you sort of people just take that attitude of "oh, well the system. It just runs, you know. You can just leave it alone." I know that's something that annoys you.
Steve:Yeah, it annoys me [laughs].
Paul:Okay, understatement of the year. Okay.
Steve:Little things like, you know, contact information. Like you change contact info and prompt it. You know we find from time to time that, say a customer's disk drive fails and you know IBM, they've got, you know, ECS set up and IBM's going to contact the developer that left three years ago because she's the person that's in change contact info.
Steve:So that's no good. You know we've got to look at this at least once a year to make sure that you've got the right people being contacted, a valid email address, a valid phone number. Some people just don't have it set up, period, and that's scary if you have something happen in the middle of the night. You know you're paying for support. You should be making good use of it so you're aware of the problem when it starts. Other things, you know, like PTFs you know, from a database perspective or a security perspective. There's so much coming out in database and security every single day, you know individual PTFs that are wrapped up into groups and hypers that—you know if you're not applying PFTs on a regular basis then you know you're missing out on that and you're paying good money for your software maintenance. It really breaks my heart when I see "wow, you're three years back. Wow. That's not good." Here's a quick one for you: I brought a customer that was on 7.1 up to—they were on 7.1 like TR nothing, right? So we gave them PTFs. I had to slip the lick, bring them to TR 11. And then when we were on TR 11, everything was great. IBM came in two days later because predictive analysis PTFs said "hey, you've got a back plane that's going to go, so we've got to replace it." So if they hadn't have had those PFTs, they would have not known about it.  
Steve:That's—that's kind of scary.
Paul:Yeah. Yeah, I'll put my hand up to being guilty about the PTFs at times, but generally it's usually for me the PTF is because I want something, so it will be sort of—there's a new feature that's come out and that's when I go looking—is when I go looking for it.
Paul:But yeah, again I'm not the admin guy so, so that's my—that's my excuse. Again sorry, something just that you touched on there, Steve—and okay—something that's close to my heart is ACS, Access Client Solutions, because this is where we do all of our database development work and that now and the guys are doing great things with it. But one of the big things that's in there are all of these—like what I would call ops admin, but I don't know. I think it's now being called DevOps and stuff like that.
Paul:All of these procedures and services that are in there for looking at stuff on the system and I have to ask: Do you use those?
Steve:Oh, Db2 services? IBM i services?
Paul:Yeah. Yeah.
Steve:Absolutely. Absolutely. So that's one of the things that you know you're going to get with your PTFs and your OS upgrades is the ability to, you know, query the system in a very easy way compared to, you know, having to, you know, create a long convoluted CL and then you've got—the thing you've got to maintain then. So with a simple SQL statement—even just as simple as SELECT (*) FROM TABLE—you get a, you know, results that work for you with one line of code. So it's—it's very, very great. Just the amount of stuff that's come in the last couple of years with Scott and his team, Scott Forstie and his team, is just bloody ridiculous. That's probably the most exciting thing I see happening with the operating system over and over.
Paul:So of course one of the big things that's in there is that there are all of these examples of the services, and I know that one of the things that ACS has is where you set up your own examples. I mean like do you have that? Do you now have sort of your base of here are standard scripts that I'm going to run on anybody's system to, you know, check things, or if I want to look at certain things?
Steve:Yeah so I look at security on a regular basis through Db2 services. I look at PTF information, system status information. I look at performance. That's just massive. Two seconds here, Paul.
Paul:Okay sorry. You're just fading away slightly there, Steve, on me. Are you there?
Steve:Is this better?
Paul:Yup, that's better. Sorry, yeah. So you were putting your head in that bucket of gravy on me again, so—
Steve:Yeah. I tend to put my head in the big bucket of gravy from time to time.
Paul:So sorry. You were saying for PTFs and things?
Steve:Well for PTF's I look at—you know I get all that information from Db2 services. I look at security information. I look at performance. To give you a great example: yesterday we had one of our techs that say "hey you know is there a way to find out information on temporary storage use on IBM i?" I said yes. There's a view called Sys tempstorage or something in QSYS2 and, you know, it's that easy. We can grab that. You know you've got to be on 7.2 or above to get it, but you know, it's very easy to get.  
Paul:Yeah. Cool. So before we go, I always like to end up on something personal. So when you're not up to your eyes in the middle of other people's hardware and operating systems, what do you like to do to chill out?
Steve:What do I like to do to chill out? You'll find this funny because I'm never more at peace than when I'm ironing clothes [laughs]. I go to a—I'm serious. I go to complete Zen if I have an ironing board, an iron, some steam, and some pants. You know when I go to a hotel, that's usually the first thing I do is I unpack all my stuff and I iron it. It just sets my mood for the rest of the night. It—yeah. That's how I chill Paul, I iron.
Paul:I'm now considering moving to Nova Scotia because I know that.
Steve:Maybe it's something in the water here [laughs].
Paul:Okay, apart from ironing, what else? Because I know you have one other interest.
Steve:Well I—you know I tend to do a lot of cooking, I do a lot of construction around the house. I was hanging drywall this morning before my day started, really, and you know my wife and I have just built on and built on and built on to, you know, the existing structure of the house, be it decks or, you know, adding on rooms. I tend to do that well. If IT doesn't work, I can always get a job doing construction for sure.
Paul:I'm definitely moving to Nova Scotia. If you're going to build my house for me and then keep ironing my clothes, it will be great.
Steve:Hey, keep the big pot of gravy on for me, Paul, and you know.
Paul:Payment in gravy. That'll work [laughs]. Okay Steve, listen: thanks for taking the time to talk to me, really appreciate it, and I'm sure we'll be bumping into each other again soon.
Steve:I'm sure we shall.
Paul:Okay everyone, that's it for this iTalk. Tune in again for the next one. Bye for now.
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