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:
- Following the release of IBM Support Assistant Version 4.0 we continue to work diligently to port or refresh the remaining Version 3.1 tools to Version 4.0 as quickly as possible. This month, the Memory Dump Diagnostic for Java (MDD4J) and the Visual Configuration Explorer are being updated. Check this new Web page for a quick reference to all the tools available on the IBM Support Assistant.
- In addition to the updates above, two new tools have also been released on the IBM Support Assistant:
- Port Manager helps you detect and avoid conflicts between all the various network ports allocated by the various software products installed on one machine.
- The WebSphere Application Server extensions for the IBM Monitoring and Diagnostic Tools for Java - Dump Analyzer extend the functions provided by the base Dump Analyzer tool with several new analysis modules that examine WebSphere-related data structures within a system dump from a WebSphere JVM.
- Some alphaWorks tools have also been updated:
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...
What are Software Premium Support Services?
Previous installments of The Support Authority have presented information on a variety of tools and resources that IBM provides to help you maintain and troubleshoot systems that are based on WebSphere products. These resources can generally be divided into three broad categories:
Self-help: If you prefer to troubleshoot problems without any direct interaction with IBM, a great deal of information is readily accessible on the Web (through eSupport), as well as tools that you can run, such as those available in the IBM Support Assistant.
Traditional support: In this mode, you collaborate with IBM Support specialists to resolve problems and answer questions. This service is typically provided as a standard component of your organization’s purchase of IBM software products (for example, through Passport Advantage). Problems are handled by our group of experienced support specialists, generally in the order in which that they are received, subject to prioritization according to severity.
Premium support: This more personalized service provides an integrated set of support services across all of IBM Software Group that complements your existing Passport Advantage support. It provides priority call handling and a personalized relationship with the IBM Support organization through a designated Premium Support Manager or Premium Support Analyst, who becomes familiar with your specific environment and concerns, and can provide assistance both proactively and reactively when a problem occurs. Premium support is available worldwide at an additional fee for specific IBM software products.
This article offers an overview of the various aspects of IBM Software Premium Support Services (hereafter referred to as Premium Support) to help you understand how this level of support can benefit your environment.
Levels of Premium Support
Premium Support is an add-on to any IBM client Passport Advantage support agreement. The Premium Support offering is not a single one-size-fits-all contract. Each agreement can be customized for the needs of each client, within a few common guidelines. In general, you can choose what elements of Premium Support best meet your business needs.
There are three components of Premium Support that are provided at three different levels. Associated with these levels are Premium Support roles:
Premium Support Manager (PSM) is the focal point for all of the software supported from all five of the IBM brands included in your Premium Support contract. The products included are determined by your organization’s unique needs. Your PSM manages escalations, administers periodic PMR reporting, and facilitates obtaining the technical resources with a coordinating and project management focus, while possessing a technical background that enables him or her to effectively manage communications between you, Level 2 (L2) support, and executives from both IBM and your company.
Premium Support Analyst (PSA) provides the ongoing technical expertise required to avoid potential problems or to resolve reported ones. The PSA is responsible for providing you with the highest level of remote or on-site technical direction, diagnostic assistance, and solutions to problems (defect and non-defect) associated with supported products. Also, the PSA sends e-mails or contacts you about any My Support alerts or Knowledge Engineers’ pre-alert notifications that might be critical to your customer environment. One key responsibility of a PSA is to notify you about APARs that might impact your environment with the Weekly APAR report. PSAs possess in-depth technical knowledge for a specific product family, such as WebSphere Application Server or WebSphere MQ.
Priority Call Handling provides priority for PMRs opened by clients with products covered by Premium Support. Under normal conditions, these PMRs will be worked first by experienced L2 product support teams. PMRs opened by a client using a Premium ICN qualifies them for this additional consideration. Priority Call Handling is included with PSM and PSA services, but is not available as a standalone service.
Here is how these roles apply to the levels of service:
- Strategic level
At this top level, IBM assigns an on-site dedicated PSM or PSA (or both), who will coordinate and manage your relationship with IBM Support. This person interacts on a daily basis as a member of the team supporting specific applications and products that drive your business. The PSM or PSA takes work direction from the client, regarding Premium Support deliverables and setting priorities for support work performed. The PSM or PSA coordinates delivery of proactive technical product support, knowledge sharing activities, best practice applications, and, most importantly, executive sponsorship. To summarize, this level of Premium Support provides a combination of PSM plus product PSAs, both on-site and remote resources, and Priority Call Handling.
- Analyst level
At this intermediate level, IBM assigns a remote PSM or PSA (or both) that works with multiple customers. You can purchase on-site days in which the PSM or PSA will travel on-site to, for example, attend planning sessions, perform tools education, or to assist with a major migration. The specific activities are customized and tailored for your support needs and what is most critical for your environment. To summarize, this level of Premium Support provides a combination of remote resources across software products purchased across IBM brands, and can include Priority Call Handling.
- Assist level
This fundamental level provides a PSM only, who is assigned to work with you and to coordinate and manage your relationship with IBM Support. Typically at this level, the assigned PSM works remotely and works with multiple customers in parallel. Your PSM can provide product knowledge, but serves primarily as a focal point for all of the software products within your contract. To summarize, this level of Premium Support is delivered by the PSM remotely for one or more IBM software brand products, and includes Priority Call Handling. PSA resources are not available at this level.
What can Premium Support do for you?
The core of Premium Support is your relationship with a PSM or PSA. Here are some key activities with which they can assist you:
- Planning and technical preparation
When the PSM or PSA meets a new client, they have the means to offer and develop skill gap analysis for the client’s key technical contacts, can advise and develop training and education plans, and they can review and validate product deployment plans. Obtaining this deep technical information is a valuable customer benefit.
- Initial deployment
The PSM or PSA can provide guidance on a new product deployment or even on a scheduled (or unscheduled) maintenance update. The PSM or PSA becomes an extension of the client’s team and functions in a project management role as well as a technical role, researching interoperability issues and providing configuration assistance.
- Growth and capacity planning
Your PSM or PSA will work closely with you to investigate architectures, with additional strengths in best practices research, plus provide product performance tuning research, with the ability to reach into the IBM development and product test organizations for more information worth sharing. The first and foremost function of each PSM or PSA is to help with problem avoidance. By providing additional information as necessary for security, pervasive issues, or product flashes ahead of time, a PSM or PSA can help you adapt to nearly any issue.
- Operational status
The PSM or PSA can provide weekly, monthly, or quarterly reports to your staff and management, including trend analysis and PMR reports. With a wide range of responsibilities, a PSM or PSA is often leveraged by a client for a collaboration with the IBM Account Team, since a PSM or PSA often has meetings with the IBM Account Team for a Premium Support client to ensure synergy among all IBM personnel assigned to the client. A PSM or PSA can also assist in managing a critical situation, and has the ability to coordinate across multiple IBM software brands.
- Upgrades and changes
Before any upgrade, a PSM or PSA can research the benefits of a new release, and coordinate (or provide) training on any new features and functionality. Feature request research and beta offering nominations are other support services that can be provided.
Premium Support in practice
You now have an idea of what Premium Support is, but what how does any of this happen in your day-to-day work? With a Premium Support agreement, here are some of the things you can expect that will help you make the most of your Premium Support relationship:
Your PSM or PSA is your focal point for all the services you get through your Premium Support contract, so a good line of communication with him or her is very important. Of course, if your PSM or PSA is permanently on-site, communication will be excellent. If your PSM or PSA is remote, you must take care to keep him or her continuously in the loop. Sometimes a client will not contact their PSM or PSA for weeks at a time, or just at the beginning of a contract, or not until things have settled into a routine. If your PSM or PSA is not continuously involved, they might not be able to help you! During your Premium Support kickoff, you must determine with your PSM or PSA how you will stay in touch. This could include:
- Regular phone calls (typically, weekly or bi-weekly) to keep everyone informed of what’s going on, emerging issues, changes of plans, and so on.
- Regular on-site visits by your PSM or PSA (typically, quarterly), which are invaluable to strengthen the relationship, and to provide an opportunity for in-depth discussions and informal sharing of information that perhaps cannot occur in a simple phone call.
- Named callers
Your Premium Support contract, and in fact most other types of IBM Support agreements, are based on a list of named callers: a list of specific people in your organization who are empowered to engage IBM Support services. This list is critical to IBM, but also to you so that you can keep track of who in your organization has the authority to perform various actions, such as prioritizing outstanding support issues and responding to suggestions from IBM Support. Keeping that list current and correct is quite crucial. In particular:
- Make sure that a sufficient number of people are designated as named callers so that, should a situation occur off-hours or when the primary persons are unavailable, someone is still able to engage IBM Support and represent your organization with authority.
- Generally, communication between you and the PSM or PSA works best when you designate a small number of individuals to serve as focal points. However, if there are many designated named callers, it is also important that they all remain reasonably current in all the ongoing discussions and activities involving Premium Support to avoid confusion and miscommunication. Ideally, most of the named callers would attend most of the regularly scheduled communication with the PSM or PSA, or at least stay in the loop through the dissemination of status reports.
- Although IBM maintains the list of named callers, only one or two individuals in your organization will typically be designated and empowered to add and remove names from that list. It is important that these individuals remain readily available and known to all, especially if new names need to be added quickly to react to a changing business situation.
To supplement the regular and semi-formal sharing of information through phone calls and on-site presence or visits, it is also very useful to create and maintain more formal, written documentation to avoid misunderstandings and miscommunications, to help keep everyone on the same page, and to save time at the beginning of a new project or when a problem occurs. Your PSM or PSA will work with you to create and to regularly update:
- System diagrams that describe the current architecture of your systems and applications.
- An outline of all expected changes to your environment for the foreseeable future, such as new application deployments, planned software upgrades and migrations, expected changes in load and usage patterns, and so on.
The value of these documents naturally depends on how current they are. Rather than saving time and effort, an obsolete document can waste it. Your PSM or PSA will help you keep these documents current; the periodic on-site visits might be a good opportunity to do so.
- Be proactive
Premium Support provides you with an opportunity to be proactive, as we can help you anticipate potential problems before they occur. Be sure to take full advantage of this:
- Discuss and review your projects and plans for changes to your environment with your PSM or PSA as early as possible and as frequently as needed.
- Work with your PSM or PSA to establish a regular maintenance plan, including necessary upgrades to key software components. Such maintenance is necessary overhead for the healthy long term operation of any sophisticated software environment, and performing it on a pre-planned and well-chosen schedule will typically be much less expensive than performing it purely reactively, after problems develop.
- Take advantage of education opportunities. Education is empowerment, and can often help you avoid bigger headaches in the future! Your PSM or PSA will work with you to identify areas where your staff might benefit from additional education, and can assist you in obtaining this education from of the many IBM resources that are offered. And keep in mind that not all education is expensive, nor does it necessarily require a large time commitment. In particular, the IBM Education Assistant facilities are designed to provide free education resources in small modules that can each be consumed independently in a few hours.
- Work with your PSM or PSA to plan ahead to have the most effective response when and if an unexpected problem occurs. In particular, an earlier installment of this column provides some useful tips to begin this type of planning.
- Keep abreast of new information, problem reports, alerts, and so on, that are regularly published by IBM Support and that might affect your environment. You PSM or PSA will help you with this by providing special e-mails and other direct communication during your regular meetings, whenever appropriate.
- Working on PMRs
On occasion, you will inevitably be working on problems, handled through IBM Support’s PMR system. How does this work with Premium Support?
- You can (although you don’t have to) go directly through your PSM or PSA to open a new PMR. If you open a PMR through other channels (for example, through a phone call to IBM Support or through the Web site), your PSM or PSA will be automatically notified and get involved when appropriate.
- You should, however, take special care to keep your PSM or PSA in the loop if you communicate directly with other representatives of IBM Support (for example, L2 Support Engineers) in the process of investigating a PMR. For example, if you are exchanging e-mail with IBM Support, try to always keep your PSM or PSA copied on the messages. Your PSM or PSA will regularly communicate with other IBM Support representatives to track the progress of your PMR, but keeping all parties in touch can greatly simplify and accelerate the process.
- Don’t forget that, even with all the special assistance that Premium Support and your PSM or PSA provide, the process of investigating and resolving complex issues remains a collaborative process between you and IBM Support. We need your help and prompt response to collect diagnostics and implement solutions on your systems, and we need your feedback to verify when the problem is resolved and determine if you are satisfied. Communication here is key as well.
- On-site incident response
Depending on the specifics of your Premium Support contract, you might have arrangements in place to have your PSM or PSA come on-site specifically to help resolve an unexpected situation. When this becomes necessary:
- The value of advance planning and being proactive cannot be stressed enough. The earlier we can anticipate that a problem might occur and that a special on-site response might be required, the more effectively we can organize that response and arrange to have the best skills available and prepared.
- As with less acute PMRs that are being investigated remotely, don’t forget that your PSM or PSA will need your active support and participation when on-site. Although your PSM or PSA can effectively act as an extension of your staff when working with the rest of IBM Support, he or she cannot entirely substitute for your staff at your site.
- Leverage self-help tools
Working with your PSM or PSA is a major benefit of the Premium Support relationship. But even so, as many clients remind us, some things can be done even faster if you can do them yourself. For this purpose, IBM Support is expanding our array of tools and resources that help clients help themselves. Many of these resources have been discussed in previous installments of this column, and your PSM or PSA can help you learn more about them. Consider in particular:
- When your PSM or PSA is unavailable
Your PSM or PSA is your primary line of communication, but what happens when he or she is on vacation or otherwise unavailable?
- Since good communication can help avert many problems, you and your PSM or PSA should regularly be discussing your needs and upcoming events, and make sure that everyone has the same expectations.
- If you are located in a different time zone, or have some teams in your organization that are located in a different time zone than your PSM or PSA, be sure to discuss this fact when making your initial communications plans. Your PSM or PSA might be able to make arrangements to be available at times other than the normal business hours, if this is when you are most likely to need assistance.
- Although your PSM or PSA is your best line of contact, he or she is not the only one. Even with Premium Support, you can still contact IBM Support through other channels (on the phone or on the Web). Your request will be handled appropriately to your Premium Support status, and your PSM or PSA will be notified as soon as possible or necessary.
- Your PSM or PSA will always have a designated backup if he or she cannot be available for any period of time.
Premium Support success stories
Here are a couple of real situations that illustrate the benefits of Premium Support.
Challenge: A Premium Support client upgrades their Application Interface Layer (AIL) twice a year, which includes the WebSphere Process Server product. The actual upgrade process consists of two steps:
- Upgrade existing systems and applications.
- Validate the upgrade using some level of predetermined testing.
The aggressive timeline for development and deployment of services and functions from all departments puts an incredible strain on the testing that is required to make sure all parties are ready. Some development, driven by business directive, is rushed to deployment, lacking detail in architecture design, functionality, and testing.
Solution: Premium Support became engaged with the client after an unsuccessful upgrade. Premium Support analyzed the situation and began to track a task list of activities coordinated between the client and IBM to make sure that the next scheduled upgrade would be successful. These tasks included noting and implementing process improvements, providing technical talks, performing on-site engagements, and expediting problem resolution with IBM Support teams.
Benefit: Premium Support provided daily executive summaries to the client and IBM executives and management teams to track their progress for the next upgrade of AIL and WebSphere Process Server. To prepare for the upgrade, Premium Support arranged and managed the on-site presence of technical skills and resources. As a result of Premium Support’s proactive planning and management, the client’s next upgrade was a great success.
Moving forward: Premium Support continually works with the client to implement these action items to improve their upgrade process:
- Validate readiness of procedure to perform integrated test runs.
- Prepare a viable back out plan; remedy the fact that once the process begins, there is no turning back.
- Increase education and train more staff members to cover the workload.
- Automate all tasks and procedures possible.
Challenge: A diversified worldwide company had WebSphere Application Server V5.1, with an existing vendor application that worked on one JDK version but failed on another. As a result, the JVM would crash after several minutes of testing with simulated load. The vendor had made several changes to the code hoping to alleviate the crash. This deployment was severely impacted to the point that it was escalated to the executive level.
Solution: The PSM successfully engaged WebSphere Application Server support engineers, and encouraged the development team to proactively look beyond the IBM product and look for what symptoms caused the failure. With continuous around-the-clock efforts, the development team was able to determine the root cause of the failure and to provide alternatives to the client, as well as provide recommendations for code improvement to alleviate the problem to the application vendor.
Benefit: The PSM immediately engaged the support engineers, notified their management of the escalating situation, led conference calls with IBM support and development teams to determine the differences in the JDKs, attended internal client calls, and communicated IBM updates to their senior management.
Moving forward: Today, Premium Support continues to work closely with the client. The PSM highlighted several items to improve client success in future application releases:
- Encouraged client to improve application testing.
- Provide alternative testing scenarios; for example, test JDK standalone.
- Encouraged frequent application code reviews with vendors, including IBM.
- Advise the client to review all JDK updates to become more knowledgeable of JDK literature and education, and to attend any additional education provided.
How to get Premium Support
To become eligible for the Software Premium Support Services program, you must have a regular support agreement through Passport Advantage. Inquire about Premium Support through your IBM Account Team. Premium Support has an offering for all IBM Software brands (Lotus®, Information Management, Rational®, Tivoli®, and WebSphere). Depending on your needs, Premium Support can include one or more brands and products. For WebSphere, the product families that make up the WebSphere Premium Support offering include:
- WebSphere Commerce
- WebSphere Application Server
- WebSphere MQ
- WebSphere Business Integration
- IBM CICS
- Application and Integration Middleware
- WebSphere DataPower SOA Appliances.
See the Premium Support Web site for a complete list of eligible IBM products.
This article offered a glimpse at the Software Premium Support Services offered by IBM for WebSphere products. Premium Support augments the regular support services available when you purchase an IBM software product with a more personalized and focused set of services and resources. If you find that you have a special environment, or special application requirements for which you often need to go beyond the resources offered by IBM Support self-help or traditional technical support, you might consider upgrading to Premium Support.
The authors wish to thank Vicki Johnson, Manager of AIM Premium Support, for her advice and patient reviews of this article, James Kochuba for starting the idea of this article and getting things in motion, and Shawn J Burns and Tamiko Watts for the Premium Support success stories they generously provided.
- The Support Authority: If you need help with WebSphere products, there are many ways to get it
- The Support Authority: 12 ways you can prepare for effective production troubleshooting
- Premium Support Overview
- Premium Support product families
- Executive Sponsor
- Premium Support Manager
- Premium Support Analyst
- The Support Authority: IBM Support Assistant V4.0 makes all your support work easier
- IBM Software Support Web site
- IBM Support Assistant
- IBM Workplace for Customer Support
- IBM Education Assistant
- IBM developerWorks