In each column, The Support Authority discusses resources, tools, and other elements of IBM Technical Support that are available for WebSphere products, plus techniques and new ideas that can further enhance your IBM support experience.
This just in...
As always, we begin with some new items of interest for the WebSphere® community at large:
Two new sets of support-related education modules have recently been released on IBM Education Assistant:
Several new problem determination tools were released or updated this month:
- IBM Assist On-site provides a remote desktop capability that enables a member of the IBM Support team (when you agree and when it's appropriate) to access your desktop and share control of your mouse and keyboard to get you on your way to a solution faster. (Available through IBM Support Assistant.)
- Symptom Editor is a companion tool to the Log Analyzer that we mentioned previously in this column. It can be used to create and maintain symptom catalogs and symptom definitions that enable Log Analyzer to automatically recognize common problems. (Available through IBM Support Assistant.)
- IBM Web Server Plug-in Analyzer for WebSphere Application Server does just what its name says: it diagnoses problems related to a WebSphere HTTP plug-in configuration. (Available on IBM alphaWorks.)
- IBM Lock Analyzer for Java performs lock analysis on a live Java application to highlight threads with lock contention that could affect performance (or lead to deadlocks and hangs). (Available on IBM alphaWorks.)
- Several other tools have also recently been updated, including Visual Configuration Explorer and Thread and Monitor Dump Analyzer.
A new series of articles has begun in the developerWorks Java™ zone on tools for Java problem determination. The first three installments are on Dump Analyzer, the Extensible Verbose Toolkit, and Lock Analyzer, respectively.
You might start seeing more documents on the IBM Software Support Web site called Knowledge Collections, as we continue to release more of them. To quote from the Web site, "A Knowledge Collection is a focused compilation of links to documents that share a common theme. Knowledge Collections are navigation aids that organize content to help users quickly find relevant information. Knowledge Collections are not designed to be an all-inclusive list of all documents dealing with the specific theme (but they can be a great starting point!)." To find all Knowledge Collection documents, simply search for the string "Knowledge Collection" anywhere on the IBM Support site. For example, here is a Knowledge Collection document about migration planning and another on Daylight Saving Time.
Continue to monitor the various support-related Web sites, as well as this column, for news about other tools as we encounter them.
And now, on to our main topic...
The large number of IBM products that are available, not to mention their sometimes complex interrelationships, can be confusing enough. It goes without saying, then, that the last things you need are inconsistent access methods, different terminology, and specialized Web sites that prevent you from finding and downloading a specific patch or upgrade to an IBM software product.
Fix Central began life several years ago as a site for providing fixes to IBM's Server Technology Group products (primiarily operating systems). In spring of last year, the site was selected to host similar material for IBM Software Group products, which are those developed under IBM's Information Management, Lotus®, Rational®, Tivoli®, and WebSphere brands. In May, the first Software Group products appeared on Fix Central. At the time of this writing, not all products have transitioned into this centralized facility yet, but upgrades and fixes for a number of high profile products are available there now, so this is a good time to become familiar with Fix Central and how you can make the most of it.
Fix Central is more than just a Web site: it is an entire system for distributing fixes for IBM software. This column will look at how Fix Central works, using WebSphere Application Server as a sample product.
Using Fix Central
Fix Central has a simple interface (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Fix Central home page
To find what you need in Fix Central:
Select a Product family or brand, in this case WebSphere, (Figure 1) for a list of supported products.
Figure 2. Select product family and product
Select the product from the list, in this case WebSphere Application Server (Figure 2) and click Continue. If you don't see the product you need, then fixes for that product are not yet available on Fix Central. However, simply select All others and you will be taken to the appropriate Technical Support page where you will be able to get the fixes you need.
On the Search page (Figure 3), select the type of fix you are looking for:
- All fixes will show you all fixes created for the product, or let you narrow the search within the Version you are using, and, within that, the Platform (operating system) on which you are running.
- Fix ID lets you retrieve a specific fix by Fix ID, which you might have obtained from IBM Technical Support or from the product's Technical Support Web site.
- APAR (Authorized Program Analysis Report) is a 7-character identifier for a known defect in IBM software. If you received an APAR ID from IBM Technical Support or from a Web source, this choice will list all fixes -- including individual patches and maintenance upgrades, as appropriate -- that resolve the defect.
Figure 3. Search page
Fix ID? APAR? What's the difference? The difference is mostly a technical one, having to do with how fixes are packaged. A Fix ID is a unique identifier for an interim fix, fix pack, or refresh pack. A "fix" can contain many APARs, and an APAR can be in many fixes (such as an interim fix and many successive fix packs). The main point is that once you know a Fix ID or APAR ID from IBM Technical Support, you can use Fix Central to download it.
(Rather than present you with the Search page, some products, such as WebSphere Portal and WebSphere Portal Dynamic Server, might require you to log in at this point, due to license requirements or export restrictions. Log in with your IBM Web ID (the ID you use for Passport Advantage, MySupport, developerWorks, and other IBM facilities. If you do not have an IBM Web ID, you will be able to register free to get one. See this Support Authority column for more information.)
Find fixes by product
As an example, let's look at what's available for WebSphere Application Server on AIX. Assume that you are currently at level 22.214.171.124; that is, Version 6.0, Refresh Pack 2. To keep the results manageable, select the appropriate version and platform from the All fixes option; for the purpose of this example, suppose you're not sure whether your server is using 32-bit or 64-bit WebSphere Application Server (Figure 4). Click Continue.
Figure 4. Selecting version and platform
A status panel displays indicating that Fix Central is looking up the fixes that match your request, and then you see your results. As you can see in Figure 5, there are quite a few results.
Figure 5. Results of product version and platform search
How to read a Fix ID in Fix Central
You might not think so at first glance, but you can tell a lot about a fix from the information that is displayed here. The Fix ID is the dash-delimited string in bold. Looking at the first fix shown in Figure 5 as an example, 6.0-WS-WAS-AixPPC32-RP0000002, this is what this Fix ID tells you:
- 6.0 is the version and release to which the fix can be applied. (If the fix can be applied to different levels of code, this number represents the earliest such version.) Versions themselves are broken down as follows, using 126.96.36.199 as an example:
- 6 represents a major version.
- 0 represents a major release within the version; in this case, the base (first) release.
- 2 represents a refresh pack level, which is major maintenance upgrade.
- 21 represents a fix pack, a collected set of fixes tested as a body by IBM and intended in this case to be installed over refresh pack 2.
- WS indicates that this fix applies to WebSphere Application Server or a related product.
- WAS indicates that this fix applies to the WebSphere Application Server base product itself. You can see that other fixes apply to the Application Client or HTTP plug-in, which may or may not be applicable in your case.
- AixPPC32 tells indicates that this fix was created for the AIX Power PC 32-bit platform.
- RP in "RP0000002" indicates that this fix represents a Refresh Pack, which is a major maintenance upgrade. Other kinds of fixes are:
- Fix packs, represented by FP, are periodic maintenance upgrades, released in between refresh packs.
- Interim fixes, represented by IF, are usually individual fixes. This indicator is followed Fix ID by an APAR ID, as in 188.8.131.52-WS-WAS-IFPK43169, which indicates a WebSphere Application Server base product fix for APAR PK43169 that can be applied to WebSphere Application Server V184.108.40.206.
- 2 in "RP0000002" indicates that this is Refresh Pack 2 for WebSphere Application Server V6.0.
Finding the right fix
Looking again at the search results in Figure 5, you will see WebSphere 6.0 refresh pack 2 for each of the major components of WebSphere Application Server: the application server itself, the application client, the HTTP server, and the HTTP plug-in. Since you are already on refresh pack 2, you would not be interested in those. But let's also assume that you are interested in the application server, the HTTP server, and the HTTP plug-in components:
Scrolling down, you will see the latest fix pack for each component (fix pack 21 at the time of this writing) that we can apply to V220.127.116.11. Fix packs are provided for either 32-bit or 64-bit versions of the product, so you would now have to determine which version you have installed -- or get both. Finally, in Figure 6, you will see an individual patch (known as an interim fix) that appears to have something to do with Enterprise JavaBeans and access control.
Figure 6. Fix pack and interim fix
The Fix ID ends with "21," which tells you that you can apply this fix after you move up to fix pack 21. Beyond that, the abstract shown doesn't provide much information to help you determine if you really need this fix or not. In this case, you can select the More information link.
Detailed information provided by IBM Support is displayed about the problem addressed by this fix. After reviewing this information, you decide that you do want to upgrade to fix pack 21 for WebSphere Application Server, the HTTP server, and the HTTP plug-in, and apply the EJB-related interim fix to the application server as well. After checking with your Operations staff, you learn that you are running 32-bit WebSphere Application Server. Therefore, you will select these items for download:
and click Continue.
The Terms and Conditions panel displays, explaining the legal terms under which you may download and use the fixes. Select I agree after reviewing the terms.
Finally, the Download panel (Figure 7) displays, listing the three fix packs and the one interim fix you selected. Under each fix pack you also see something called Requisites, such as 6.1.0-WS-UPDI-AixPPC32-RP0000009, pre-selected for download. The More information link will tell you that this is a new version of WebSphere Application Server's Update Installer, a utility that makes installing fixes convenient and safe. If you don't have that version of the Update Installer, leave that item selected. (Don't worry, it will download only once, not three times!)
Figure 7. Download panel
This is an important feature of Fix Central, the inclusion of requisites for you to download at the same time as the fix you were originally after. These additions can be installation tools, as in this case, or required maintenance levels or fixes from the same or other products.
Click Download now to download to your system in one step. (If you had previously selected HTTP instead of Download Director, then each file would have been presented with a separate download link.)
Fixes by APAR and Fix ID
You can avoid problems by keeping up with WebSphere's recommended fix list, accessible from the Recommended fixes link on the WebSphere support site (see the support site WebSphere Application Server as an example). Recommended fixes are usually fix packs or refresh packs, not interim fixes. You can also opt to be notified about important WebSphere maintenance downloads by registering an email address with IBM's free mySupport service. When you know the fixes you need, you can either link to the recommended fixes from the support page, or go directly to Fix Central. (The next release of Fix Central, planned for January 2008, is expected to feature a built-in recommended fixes option.)
When you have a problem that is associated with a specific APAR, we generally recommend that you install a fix pack or refresh pack that contains the APAR. (See Fixes by version for WebSphere Application Server.) This simplifies maintenance and, in the long term, reduces the risk of problems and unexpected interactions between fixes. If needed for an urgent problem, however, you can install a specific interim fix directly, then replace it with the more general fix pack or refresh pack later (or when it becomes available).
Suppose that your Web application runs into this problem: While trying to read in a cookie, your application gets a Java NullPointerException in WebSphere Application Server's CookieUtils class. You could then:
Go to the WebSphere Application Server support page and search on "CookieUtils". The results you get might look similar to Figure 8.
Figure 8. Searching IBM Support by specific symptom
If the first result looks interesting, you could open the associated article and find that APAR PK48169 might resolve your problem.
Return to Fix Central and search for the APAR ID and click Continue (Figure 9).
Figure 9. Search Fix Central by APAR ID
The results that display (Figure 10) show that this defect was fixed for two different versions of WebSphere Application Server, V6.0 and V6.1. Simply select the one you want (or both) and download.
Figure 10. Results of APAR search
Alternatively, if you knew the Fix ID beforehand, you could have entered that on the search page instead to get the one result you needed.
There's another way you can find fixes in Fix Central, which you might have already discovered: Web links from other IBM support sites that link to Fix Central. As more IBM products adopt Fix Central, you will see more links that will take you directly to the appropriate fix on the Fix Central site (Figure 11).
Figure 11. Links to Fix Central
Above are the basics of what Fix Central does today. Over time, Fix Central will become the site for hosting fixes for IBM software. Some important enhancements anticipated for 2008 include:
- Additional products: DB2® products for Linux®, UNIX, and Windows (Versions 9 and 9.5), with many more to follow.
- Recommended fixes: Information from IBM Support to help you determine what maintenance updates you should apply based on your product, platform, and version.
- Knowing when fixes are superseded: If a fix to a specific problem has also been incorporated into a maintenance upgrade, such as an interim fix that has become part of a fix pack, Fix Central can advise you of the upgrade to better help you decide which to get.
- Text search: Find fixes within Fix Central by entering keywords, error messages, exceptions, and other elements.
Frequently asked questions
Fix Central looks nice, but the product that's most important to me is not there. Why not, and when will it be?
We're working on it! IBM has literally hundreds of software offerings, and each has its own requirements and its own customer base. Products are being brought into Fix Central in a way that is as efficient and non-disruptive to our customers as possible. If you want to see your product in Fix Central soon, let us know by contacting your IBM account representative -- and use the Feedback link in Fix Central as well.
If I don't understand how to do something in Fix Central, or I can't find a fix that's supposed to be there, or need to report a problem with Fix Central, how do I get help?
For suggestions, questions, and to report problems with the site, use the Feedback link provided on the Web site. If you are trying to find a fix for an urgent problem and Fix Central appears to be preventing you from doing so, contact IBM Technical Support as you normally would for the product involved, by either:
- Opening an electronic service request
- Contacting IBM Support at 1-800-IBM-SERV.
I can find the fix I need, but Fix Central says the fix "cannot be downloaded due to entitlement restrictions." What does this mean and how can I get past that?
The fixes for some products (WebSphere Application Server is not among them) require you to be "entitled" to the base product in order for you to get fixes; essentially, this means you need to have download rights. Ordinarily, entitlement is set up when a purchase agreement for an IBM software product is made with your company. Certain registration IDs for persons in your company are provided with that entitlement. If you think you are or should be entitled to the base product but are encountering this error, or you need to know who in your company is entitled for a product's fixes, contact your IBM eCustomer Care representative or IBM account representative and let them know.
Fix Central is emerging as a centralized platform for managing access to fixes and regular maintenance for a broad variety of IBM software products. The goal of Fix Central is to simplify the task of ensuring that all your installed systems are up to date, and to reduce the occurrences of problems due to confusion about fixes or difficulty in acquiring the proper fixes for each product on a timely basis.
We encourage you to take advantage of Fix Central, and to keep the feedback coming so we can continue making it better.
- The Support Authority: Getting help from the IBM Support Assistant
- The Support Authority: If you need help with WebSphere products, there are many ways to get it
- IBM Software Support Web site
- IBM Guided Activity Assistant
- IBM developerWorks
- IBM Redbooks