Monitor System z CICS on an iPad

The iPad apparently is hot among System z admins. Unlike last week’s post about managing System z networking through the iPad, the folks at PlexSpy (Matter of Fact Software) only talk about monitoring CICS through the iPad, not managing it. CICS is far too complicated and critical to trust actual management to anything but a full blown mainframe CICS management tool.

There is no shortage of tools to manage CICS. Tools from IBM, CA, and BMC provide robust, industrial strength mainframe tools for CICS.

CICS, even more than JCL or Assembler, has emerged as the litmus test for mainframe competency. Those who have mastered CICS enjoy a small extra measure of status, it seems, when mainframers gather. The IBM Academic Imitative curriculum includes a slew of courses on COBOL and Assembler and JCL but just one course on CICS.

That shouldn’t be surprising. CICS, the mainframe’s high performance, high volume transaction monitor, is powerful and highly complex. Anything CICS touches almost always is mission-critical. And as organizations extend the mainframe into new areas CICS will become more important than ever. It plays a key role in strategies for delivering mainframe capabilities as services and as part of a SOA effort.

Because of the criticality and complexity of CICS, PlexSpy, which runs on the mainframe, is a read-only tool that just monitors CICS. That eliminates the chance of a user screwing something up. It is accessed via any browser, including the iPad, which is what the company uses to demo the tool.

However, PlexSpy takes a broad view of the CICS infrastructure, which makes it easier to start troubleshooting CICS when problems occur. Its purpose is to help administrators who may not be particularly adept at CICS to respond to complaints by identifying the likely problem. Simply entering the name of a business application, for example, will bring up a view of all the relevant CICS infrastructure components—regions, files, whatever—that impact the application.

The tool flags likely discrepancies. From there, the admin can turn over the likely problem to skilled CICS staff, saving them the time it takes to laboriously trace possible problems throughout the extensive CICS infrastructure. To actually resolve the problem, they will turn to their regular CICS management tools. The value of PlexSpy lies in its ability to identify likely problems fast and without requiring deep CICS skills, not in its use of the iPad. In the case of PlexSpy, any browser will do. The iPad is just sexier than, say, a clunky Windows laptop, which would work just as well.

At a time when IT is pressured to contain costs, mainly by reducing staffing, monitoring tools like PlexSpy play a worthwhile role. They make it possible to reduce the workload on more costly CICS experts by having less skilled (meaning less costly) staff do the initial troubleshooting.

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