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Afterlife Support Service User Guide


Service Description

The Netezza Afterlife service from Smart Associates is extremely similar to the break/fix style support service IBM has traditionally provided Netezza/PureData for Analytics customers to date, designed specifically for those systems that have reached End Of Life or are no longer supported by IBM directly. We’re able to do this because all our support engineers used to be part of the global Netezza product support team and know the hardware, software, and firmware inside out. We also have access to an inventory of spare parts either from existing customers we’ve helped migrate off their old Netezza platform, or from trusted third party suppliers and resellers. The only major differences between our support service and IBM’s are:

Pricing: we offer a combination of fixed (all inclusive) pricing models; 9X5 (work day) or 24X7 hours of cover; non-production, volume (>3 systems), and small (NX00X-005 or smaller) discounts; and charge a flat rate per supported system (no matter how large).

Software: we’re unable to make bug fixes or patches to IBM software, as we don’t have a copy of the proprietary source code. This is why we strongly advise customers to download all the latest versions of IBM’s NPS software and related tools and utilities prior to their support contracts expiring (as we’re perfectly capable of installing these patches or software upgrades independently of IBM if necessary on our customer's behalf in future). That said, we are able to remotely investigate and diagnose the cause of performance or stability issues and provide assistance resolving these without the need for software updates in the vast majority of cases.

Hardware: replacement parts are chargeable, and can either be sourced on demand or pre-purchased in advance (based on a historical PMR analysis to provide an indication of predicted failure rates). For older generation systems that are no longer manufactured, parts will typically be used, but wherever possible we endeavour to source new parts using the correct IBM FRU numbers (to ensure compatibility with the customer’s existing system). The on-site physical installation of replacement parts is something we typically expect customers to perform themselves with our remote assistance.

Alternatively, if customers would prefer us to provide a field engineer to perform all on-site hardware replacements on their behalf for a fixed price per year (including parts) then that is also an option, although in this case the fixed price will vary according to the size of the system.


Service Levels


Although every support incident is different, and therefore response and resolution times may vary according to the severity and the nature of the issue itself, as well as the support hours of cover purchased by the customer, the following table summarises how quickly we expect to respond and resolve to different severity incidents on average or better (expressed in business hours), subject to best efforts and availability of remote access and suitable replacement parts (where necessary):

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Service Operation


Before we can begin supporting a customer system, we must first perform the Onboarding Process described in the section below. Once that’s done, we will automatically be alerted to any significant system events occurring on all supported systems. Customers are also always free to raise new support requests manually either via our dedicated website https://smart-associates.atlassian.net/servicedesk/customer/portal/1 or simply by sending an email to support@smart.associates.

All remote access is either via a customer-provided secure VPN connection, or using our WebEx remote desktop sharing software, or a customer’s preferred alternative mechanism (e.g. Microsoft Teams). Details regarding provisioning of access are provided in the Onboarding Process section below.


Onboarding Process

Once a customer has signed up for either our Netezza Afterlife or Virtual DBA Support Services, we perform the following steps to onboard the customer and provision the service.

Agree Remote Access Methodology

In order to be able to help customers resolve problems we can initiate a remote desktop sharing session using either Cisco WebEx, Microsoft Teams, or alternatively a customer-hosted preference (e.g. Zoom, GotoMeeting, etc.)

The only problem with the remote desktop access method is that it requires someone from the customer side to join a conference call and share their screen for the duration of the incident resolution process. Some customers prefer us to be able to remotely connect to their network directly (e.g. using their preferred Virtual Desktop Interface or Virtual Private Network protocols) and log in to the supported servers in order to work on support tickets without tying up a member of staff and their workstation. We’re happy to do this, but would recommend the following guidelines:

  1. A generic smart_associates Netezza host and database user be created for us to login to (once the remote network connection has been established, via the customer’s preferred secure method). The purpose of this is to ensure that everything we do is auditable, that we never have access to any sensitive system passwords, and so that it’s easy to revoke access just by changing the password of or deleting these users.

  1. The smart_associates Netezza host user should be in the sudoers list, and be able to sudo su - nz and sudo su - root (as there are some diagnostic and configuration tasks that can only be performed as those users on the system). The purpose of the su command is to give us the privileges needed, but without needing to know the passwords for these accounts.

  1. The smart_associates database user should have the same permissions as the Netezza database admin user (in order to be able to perform the same types of diagnostic and configuration tasks, as necessary). Note that if the nz Netezza host user already provides Netezza database admin user access, then it may not be necessary to create a specific database user account for us.

Jira Service Desk Registration

Jira ServiceDesk is the SaaS provider we use for creating and managing customer support ticket requests, and should be the primary way customer’s interact with our Help Desk (emailing individuals directly is not encouraged, as they may not necessarily be available, whereas there should always be a support engineer on call monitoring Jira ServiceDesk).

Raising a support ticket can be as simple as sending an email to support@smart.associates or logging in to our dedicated portal: https://smart-associates.atlassian.net/servicedesk/customer/portal/1 but tickets can only be raised by registered, authorised users of the system.

In order to do this, we first need to be provided with a list of names and email addresses for all the customer’s personnel who are authorised to raise support tickets with us (including any generic distribution list email addresses that are used to notify members of the development, operations, and/or management teams of any nzevent alerts). Once we have these details, we will create the equivalent Jira ServiceDesk users and send out introductory emails to registered customer staff members, which will enable them to log into the support portal and change their default password.

Healthcheck

Once we have gained remote access to a customer’s environment, via the preferred methodology agreed above, the first thing we do is perform a Netezza Health Check, by running the nzhealthcheck command and inspecting the log file it produces. The purpose of the health check is to determine if there are any immediate software or hardware issues that need resolving as a matter of urgency.

If the system is still under IBM support this provides an opportunity for any necessary replacement parts or software patches to be ordered directly from IBM via a PMR prior to the existing support agreement ending.

Alternatively, if the system is no longer supported by IBM, then we can procure the necessary replacement parts on our customer’s behalf. In order to determine the correct parts to order, another set of commands we commonly run for Twin Fin generation hardware (due to variations in disk and host parts) are the following:

As user nz:
ssh mm001 info -T blade[1] | grep -i hs
nzpush -s 1/1 encl show --all | grep -i exp

As user root:
dmidecode -t 1

NZ Event Integration

In order for Jira ServiceDesk support tickets to be automatically raised when any significant hardware or software events occur on a supported system, the support@smart.associates email address needs to be added to any configured nz events requiring our attention. This is something we can either do on a customer’s behalf, or they can perform themselves. Please note that without such integration, support tickets will have to be manually raised by customers themselves, as described in the Jira ServiceDesk Registration section above.

Clearly in order for this to work it is essential that the Netezza systems are able to communicate with mail or proxy servers capable of sending emails outside of the customer organisation. Again this is something we’d be happy to assist with.

Communication and Change Management Plan

So that we’re aware of what we are and aren’t allowed to do without authorisation under the support agreement, how to get such authorisation if required, and who to communicate with when performing operations that may potentially affect on line or batch overnight users and processes it is essential that we are provided with the necessary change management, and issue escalation and notification processes documentation to ensure we can remain compliant with our customer’s internal standards and procedures.

If such documentation doesn’t exist, we’d be happy to help produce it in consultation with the necessary and appropriate customer personnel.

Hardware Replacement Training

Any hardware components supplied under this support agreement will be assumed to be customer replaceable by default (unless we have specifically agreed and been authorised to perform such activities locally on your behalf). We have an optional remote training program to guide customers through the entire hardware replacement process if this is something they are not already comfortable and familiar with. Please raise a ticket to ask for it to be scheduled if required.

Regardless of whether a customer has completed the optional hardware replacement training or not, we highly recommend they raise a support ticket before attempting any kind of hardware replacement so that we can provide assistance throughout the process by remotely running all the necessary commands to locate the failed component (making a led flash on the cabinet to ensure the right part is removed) as well as to format/power cycle/firmware upgrade/etc. any replacement components and rebuild/reconfigure them (if/as necessary).


Frequently Asked Questions


Does your team have previous expertise in managing the 3 different Netezza models that we use currently through experience with other clients?

Yes. We used to support over 600 Netezza customers globally on behalf of Netezza and then IBM for 5 years (during the transition from TwinFin to Striper - N1000 to N2000 series), and some of our team even worked on the Striper and Mako engineering side of things. We also support a number of Mako customers directly around the world at present. So you’re in safe hands.

Do you have any reference-able customer case studies where you have have successfully delivered this service (either geographically or within a specific vertical)?

Yes, we’d be happy to put you in touch with any of the following reference customers on request.

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Are you aware of all the correct part numbers that are used for each different type of appliance?

Yes. We know exactly which part numbers to order for which models (one of the reasons why we perform a healthcheck first is in order to determine the correct parts for each system we support). Most importantly we know the IBM FRU numbers to make sure we get the right combination of disk drive, and chassis, to fit the supported system.

What is the process of recovering from failed disks (as in, after the disk is replaced, will your DBA experts manage the recovery remotely)?

Yes, we can run all the necessary commands remotely to locate the failed component (making a led flash on the cabinet to ensure the right part is removed) as well as to format/power cycle/upgrade firmware/reset serial number/etc. any replacement components and rebuild/reconfigure it (if necessary). This is also true of host as well as SPU/Sblade parts, SAS switches, AMMs, etc. If you want we can teach you how to do these things yourself, but the reality is most customers prefer us to do all this for them.

Have you sourced these types of disks before, and is it through a 3rd party hardware vendor?

Yes, we have a variety of sources for parts. Some are from existing customers who we’ve supported and helped migrate off Netezza; some are from 3rd parties. Which source we use depends on availability, and price – but the point is we have several available in our supply chain.

As part of the monthly coverage, does the Netezza support cover any periodic patches, and maintenance of all layers (firmware, Netezza platform, etc)?

We are absolutely capable of installing patches and upgrades to all layers of software and firmware – obviously in consultation with the customer to ensure change control procedures are met, and that any such maintenance occurs during a correctly scheduled window. The one thing we ask is that you please download all currently available patches and software updates (e.g. NPS, HPF, FDT, INZA, Performance Portal, SQL Extensions, etc.) while you’re still covered by IBM Support so these can be applied if and when necessary at a time of your choosing.

Does this service invalidate IBM support for HW, SW etc ?

Not as such, but given IBM is refusing to support any N1001/N2001 systems beyond the end of June 2019, and N2002 systems beyond the end of June 2020, this is surely not a concern. All our replacement parts are certified IBM components.

What happens when Smart Associates can’t fix a problem? Who do they escalate to, if anyone?
This has never happened. As previously mentioned we have numerous ex-Netezza and IBM support engineers on the team who know the systems inside out and know what they’re doing.

Having said that, given the age and unsupported nature of some of these systems, along with the fact that some components are no longer even manufactured, It is entirely possible we may run into an issue we’re not able to resolve and under such a circumstance clearly the support service would have to end. If the issue of using an unsupported platform is important to you, we can optionally migrate everything off your existing Netezza systems onto an alternative supported platform typically within a matter of weeks. Please let us know if you require a separate quote for this.


To download the brochure, click here or if you want more information, you can contact us here.