The Support Authority: Where do support engineers go for help?

This list of problem determination resources include some of the most popular starting points that are used by those whose primary mission is to determine the source of a problem and work to resolve it. Like you, many support engineers turn to The Support Authority to find resources that really help. This content is part of the IBM WebSphere Developer Technical Journal.

Dr. Mahesh Rathi, WebSphere Application Server SWAT Team, IBM

Dr. Mahesh Rathi has been involved with WebSphere Application Server product since its inception. He led the security development team before joining the L2 Support team, and joined the SWAT team in 2005. He thoroughly enjoys working with demanding customers, on hot issues, and thrives in pressure situations. He received his PhD in Computer Sciences from Purdue University and taught Software Engineering at Wichita State University before joining IBM.



09 December 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:

  • Are you ready for IMPACT 2010? Register early and save on registration fees and hotel accommodations. IMPACT 2010 is the premier conference for business and IT leaders. Join us in Las Vegas, May 2 through 7, and learn to work smarter from the most experienced business and technology leaders in the world.
  • Check out the new and updated version of Common Malpractices - Eleven risks to system stability and reliability. The WebSphere SWAT team has the opportunity throughout the year to visit customer sites to assist in diagnosing complex system problems. This white paper explains the particular practices and patterns that we observed while assisting clients during 2008. The information is provided to raise your awareness of the missteps that can occur when deploying complex systems. Examples are provided for a better understanding of how and why the trouble occurred. We also explain some possible solutions for each malpractice, and provide pointers to additional documentation for further research.
  • The new Problem Diagnostics Lab Toolkit (PDTK) is a Web application that helps users improve their problem diagnostic skills by reproducing various common problems, monitoring the impacts of different actions, and investigating the problems. The tool will help you understand common problems, plus you’ll gain not only knowledge but experience as well -- which plays a very important role in problem resolution.
  • Have you tried the IBM Support Portal yet? If not, this is a good time to start using it because, now that all IBM software products have been included in this new resource, the current IBM software support pages will be replaced by the IBM Support Portal in January 2010. See the Support Authority's Introduction to the new IBM Support Portal for details. Be sure to let us know what you think by sending your comments and suggestions to spe@us.ibm.com.
  • There are several exciting webcasts planned in December at the WebSphere Technical Exchange. Check the site for details and become a fan on Facebook!

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...


Year-end roundup

Throughout the year, this column has presented several of the major initiatives and tools that have been (and continue to be) developed within the IBM WebSphere Support community. To wrap up the year, we’ve taken a slightly different approach.

As you know, there is a vast inventory of tools and utilities available in the IBM support repositories to help you with various support issues. Rather than present you with information on even more new tools (we’ll get back to that in January), we decided to ask some of our support engineers to share some of their most frequently-referenced resources that could help you streamline your troubleshooting during the busy year-end season. We have listed some of the most commonly used links here, along with a brief description; perhaps not surprisingly, many of them point to this very column as a starting point. For your further convenience, we have also listed the tools managed in IBM Support Assistant (ISA) so you can get to these useful utilities even faster.


Popular resources for problem determination

  • Troubleshooting Guide for WebSphere Application Server

    This guide helps you get begin the troubleshooting process. It takes you through the procedure of identifying which component is causing the problem, finding the most appropriate troubleshooting information, collecting the necessary MustGather information, and finally submitting a problem to IBM Support.

  • Features and tools for practical troubleshooting

    IBM puts a lot of effort into developing and improving mechanisms for obtaining, processing, and analyzing diagnostic information to determine problem cause and resolution. This Support Authority article discusses some of the practical features and tools that are available to help you troubleshoot WebSphere Application Server.

  • Choosing the right WebSphere diagnostic tool

    This Support Authority article provides a quick reference guide to help you decide which of the most common WebSphere diagnostic tools are the best to use at any given time, plus some background information that offers a glimpse into how problem determination tools are developed.

  • 10 great troubleshooting tools you might not know about

    There are a lot of troubleshooting resources available to help you with your IBM software products. This Support Authority articles lists ten you should have in your toolbox.

  • A systematic approach to problem solving

    Problem determination is not an exact science, but it's also not rocket science. This methodical approach from The Support Authority will help your problem solving techniques become more organized, systematic, and, ultimately, more effective.

  • 12 ways you can prepare for effective production troubleshooting

    Rather than focus on what to do after a problem happens, The Support Authority presents 12 things you can do to your environment now to make troubleshooting quicker and more effective when problems do occur.

  • IBM Education Assistant videos: Problem determination for WebSphere Application Server V6.1

    A very good visual introduction to problem determination. Several videos cover these topics:

    • Where to start
    • Log files overview
    • Configuring logging and tracing
    • Hung thread detection
    • Log and Trace Analyzer
    • Diagnostic providers
    • Connection leak diagnostics
    • IBM Support Assistant

Tools managed in IBM Support Assistant

You’ve heard of them and want to use them but don’t know where to find them? Get to know the IBM Support Assistant and you’ll have access to these extremely helpful tools:

  • Log Analyzer consolidates and visualizes many logs from many products, and can easily flag anomalies within the large quantity of log data.
  • Symptom Editor for Log Analyzer can match log entries against a database of known symptoms.
  • Visual Configuration Explorer helps you easily visualize and explore complex product configurations. You can also compare two configurations and run validation rules against a configuration.
  • IBM Port Scanning Tool detects potential conflicts over network port usage.
  • Java Health Center is a comprehensive tool for monitoring and analyzing many aspects of the health of an IBM JVM. (Featured in last month’s Support Authority.)
  • Garbage Collection and Memory Visualizer provides extensive analysis and health checking on verbose GC logs
  • IBM Thread and Monitor Dump Analyzer analyzes javacores and /thread dumps.
  • Memory Dump Diagnostic for Java (MDD4J) effectively analyzes heap dumps.
  • Dump Analyzer analyzes system dumps. It is an extensible collection of analysis modules to diagnose different modules
  • WebSphere Application Server Modules for Dump Analyzer are specialized modules for examining WebSphere Application Server-level information.
  • IBM Trace and Request Analyzer is a specialized tool for analyzing delays in request processing.
  • IBM Database Connection Pool Analyzer analyzes problems related to WebSphere connection pools.
  • IBM Assist On-Site is a live remote assistance tool. Using this tool, an IBM support team member can view your desktop and share control of your mouse and keyboard to get you on your way to a resolution.

Summary

Hopefully, this list of some of the problem determination tools and techniques most frequently used by our support teams will help you launch or accelerate your problem solving tasks as efficiently as possible during this busy time.

Come back in January as we resume with more news from the troubleshooting front!


Acknowledgements

Thanks to Dan Julin, from whose presentation on ISA tools I have liberally borrowed.

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