The Support Authority: Fix Central enhancements make it easier than ever to find the right software maintenance updates

Fix Central is IBM's one-stop software maintenance delivery platform that takes a lot of the guesswork out of finding fixes and maintenance updates for many IBM software products. New enhanced searching options now make it even easier for you to find the right updates for the products and versions that you are running. This content is part of the IBM WebSphere Developer Technical Journal.

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Kelley Anders (kelleyb@us.ibm.com), Advisory Software Engineer, WSO2 Inc

Kelley Anders is an Advisory Software Engineer in IBM Software Group’s Support Tooling department. She is the current technical lead for the Fix Central project. Mrs. Anders holds a dual Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics and Geography from the University of Maryland University System.



Russell Wright (rbwright@us.ibm.com), WebSphere Serviceability Development, EMC

Russell Wright has several years of experience developing and supporting data communications and middleware software including WebSphere Application Server. He currently manages the deployment of troubleshooting tools for the IBM Support Assistant and is a developer for the IBM Guided Activity Assistant.



04 March 2009

Also available in Chinese

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:

  • Do you find yourself spending more time than you would like trying to collect data or run traces on IBM WebSphere software products? Good news: Now there’s IBM Support Assistant Lite to help you quickly collect diagnostic files and send them to IBM Support so your problem can be resolved faster. Automation is available for many of the WebSphere MustGathers to improve accuracy and reduce the time for data collection. IBM Support Assistant Lite contains the handy data collector component of the IBM Support Assistant Workbench for your immediate data collection needs. Later, you can install the IBM Support Assistant Workbench to get the full range of problem solving features, such as concurrent search, product fix information, and diagnostic tools. IBM Support Assistant Lite is now available for:
  • If you’re considering installing or upgrading to WebSphere Application Server V7, then get a head start with What’s new in WebSphere Application Server V7, which provides an overview of the important new features in this latest version.
  • Important updates for IBM WebSphere Portal users:
  • If you use IBM WebSphere Process Server then take a look at these recent articles about the WebSphere Process Server architecture and performance tuning for Business Process Choreographer:
  • The Support Authority regularly offers information to help you support your WebSphere products, from finding the troubleshooting information you need to running the best diagnostic tools for solving different types of problems. There’s also another resource you should be aware of, the Steps to get support for WebSphere Application Server. This all-in-one checklist provided optimal information to help you begin your search for answers, and much of it can apply to other WebSphere products as well. Print it out and keep it at hand.
  • Updates are available for these two popular diagnostic tools on the IBM Support Assistant (see the Tools Add-On List for information about all of the tools available):
    • IBM Pattern Modeling and Analysis Tool for Java Garbage Collector
    • IBM Thread and Monitor Dump Analyzer for Java.

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...


Fix Central evolves

IBM continues to make it easier for you to get the software maintenance fixes you need with some major new enhancements to Fix Central, the one-stop platform for distributing fixes and updates for IBM software. In addition to these new features, several more products have boarded Fix Central since it was introduced in The Support Authority in November, 2007. More enhancements are on the way, so until then, here’s a chance for you to get up to speed on Fix Central and see how it has evolved.

Where does Fix Central fit in?

Previous Support Authority columns have explained other support resources that are available to help you diagnose and resolve problems, including:

Fix Central complements these other support resources by making it easy for you find and download defect fixes and maintenance upgrades for IBM software. Fix Central is not a problem diagnosis tool. Instead, it provides service maintenance for IBM software products in one of these forms:

What's an APAR?
An Authorized Program Analysis Report (APAR) is a problem report specific to an IBM program and release that has an associated fix.

What's a PMR?
A Problem Management Record (PMR) is a document used by IBM technical support to track the troubleshooting process for a customer-reported software problem.

  • A fix pack upgrades your product, component, or feature to a new service level.
  • A refresh pack completely replaces your product, component, or feature by upgrading it to the next service level.
  • An interim fix, or iFix, handles a specific issue (or issues) not yet included in a full fix pack or refresh pack. An iFix might contain one or more APARs; an APAR is created when IBM technical support determines that a problem reported in a PMR is a defect in an IBM software product.
  • A group fix pack enables multiple fix packs, refresh packs, or interim fixes to be grouped together for ease of search and download.

When you go to the Fix Central home page your browser will look similar to Figure 1.

Figure 1. Fix Central home page
Figure 1. Fix Central home page

These latest enhancements to Fix Central will help you find applicable software fixes and updates faster by enabling you to search all software products, filter results for your version only or type of fix, search with wildcards, and get more fix details:

  • Search all software products

    The home page now has an All Software option that lets you find a product without specifying an IBM software brand. When your system environment uses a stack of software products and you don’t know the brand (such as WebSphere, Rational®, Tivoli®, and so on) of the product you suspect to be the source of the problem, then you can use the All Software option from the Product Group drop-down menu. When you select All Software (Figure 2) an alphabetical list of products displays in the Product drop-down menu (Figure 3). You can then select the appropriate product from this full list. (Of course, you still select the brand if you know it to narrow down the product list.)

    Figure 2. Search all products
    Figure 2. Search all products
    Figure 3. Product group
    Figure 3. Product group
  • Find fixes that apply only to your product version

    Suppose that you’re using WebSphere Application Server V7.0.0.1. You want to stay at that installed version, and when you search for fixes you just want to see items that apply to your particular version only. When using this enhancement, the results that are returned from the search will be applicable to the version you are using, but they will not include any that would cause the version to be updated.

    To use this feature, first select the installed version of your product from the main Fix Central panel (Figure 4). Then, on the Identify Fixes page, check the Do not show files that change my installed version option (Figure 5).

    Figure 4. Choose the installed version of the product
    Figure 4. Choose the installed version of the product
    Figure 5. Option to filter search results by installed version
    Figure 5. Option to filter search results by installed version
  • Use wildcards (*) in text searches

    You can now use a wildcard (*) in the Fix Central text search option. For example, to search for a suspected performance problem, you might want to use a wildcard text search like the one shown in Figure 6 to get the broadest set of possible results.

    Figure 6. Wildcards in text searches
    Figure 6: Wildcards in text searches
  • Filter results by the fix type

    This enhancement affects how the fixes themselves are displayed to help you decide which fix is the right one for your situation. When the search results are returned from the Identify Fixes page, you can filter the results by fix type to narrow down your options (Figure 7). The choices are (only those fix types that apply will display):

    • All
    • Fix pack
    • Interim fix
    • Refresh pack.
    Figure 7. Select fix type
    Figure 7. Select fix type
  • Get more information from the fix description

    When you ultimately select a specific fix, the fix description page now contains two new fields to help you further evaluate the suitability of this fix (Figure 8):

    • Release date shows when the fix became available.
    • Upgrades to version shows the resulting maintenance level after the fix is applied.
    Figure 8. New fields in fix pack description
    Figure 8. New fields in fix pack description

Have questions about Fix Central?

If you’re unfamiliar with Fix Central, here is some information to help you get started:

  • When should you use Fix Central? You should use Fix Central when the software support pages point you to downloads residing on Fix Central, or if you want to search the maintenance delivery repository to see if there are new maintenance items available for your particular product.
  • How do you know when you need a software fix? The support page for each product can tell you if you need a fix for your product. IBM Technical Support might also direct you to a fix, if one is available, while working on a PMR that you opened.
  • How do you know which fix you need? When IBM Technical Support gives you a specific FixID, you can search on that from the Identify Fixes page (Figure 6), or you can perform a variety of searches based on keywords and APAR numbers.
  • How do you know if a fix will be compatible with your environment? Using the installed version and the platform fields on the initial search page in Fix Central will provide you with fixes suitable to your environment.
  • What if you have difficulties downloading a fix? Click on the Feedback menu item on the left panel menu (Figure 1) and provide all the associated information about your current situation. This will then be forwarded to IBM Support so they can better assist you.

Summary

Because more and more products continue to deploy to Fix Central, it’s important that you become familiar with it and understand how you can benefit from the latest enhancements to the Fix Central maintenance delivery infrastructure. A list of products that use Fix Central is available from Fix Central help, just click on Supported Products. We look forward to providing more features in future releases.

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