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IBM Support Insights: Infrastructure Management Simplified

Like many of you, my organization manages servers, switches, storage devices, etc., in multiple data centers located throughout and even outside of the country. With collections of devices this large, naturally, there are many challenges. How do you manage hardware inventories? How do you know when a new device is added to your environment? How do you track serial numbers? How do you know when your vendor’s maintenance contracts are about to expire? Do you have an overall risk assessment of your environment at your fingertips?

Recently I received access to a systems management tool called IBM Support Insights, which IBM describes as a cloud-based service that allows organizations to proactively improve uptime and address security vulnerabilities. It’s available at no charge with select IBM warranty support and maintenance contracts.

A subscription version, IBM Support Insights Pro, becomes generally available September 12, 2023. Pro, which uses watsonx Assistant for interactive application help and navigation, is designed in particular for organizations in industries with a heightened sensitivity to downtime and security breaches. In addition to standard capabilities, the Pro version offers access to views for analyzing security vulnerability and hardware lifecycle risks, recommended OS and firmware levels, and enhanced case analysis (to be released shortly after announce) and up to 12 months of case history.

Snapshots of Inventories, Hardware Issues and More

By logging into Support Insights, I was able to answer many of the questions I posed above. In one sample demo account that was loaded with real-world data, I discovered that nine new assets were added in the past month. I also learned the date they were added, the machine type, the product family, the serial number, and the vendor. By clicking on individual assets, I could access contract and billing information. I could see where each asset is installed, who it was sold to, and any cases that were opened against that asset—all from a single portal running in my web browser.

I could also check the firmware level, view the expiration dates for hardware support, and be informed of pending OS updates. I could view all cases that had been opened with IBM support: the total created, the number closed and the number of days from creation to close for each individual case. I could sort IBM cases by asset name to see how many calls were being logged against specific machines.

This additional information makes it easier to plan actions around inventories. Organizations can quickly learn when and what assets are approaching end of service, which LPARs need to be updated and which machines they’re spending the most time servicing. They’ll eliminate gaps in service that could lead to extended downtime, and they won’t miss patches on any of their machines.

Getting back to my testing, I found a risks and recommendations page that provided an overall risk score for my environment. I could access visual detail—i.e., charts—to examine coverage issues, OS/firmware end of support events, security vulnerabilities (CVEs) and hardware end of support events. I was able to view all my devices that lacked a support contract, along with assets with a looming expiration of coverage (within 30 to 90 days).

Have you ever tried to open a ticket with support, only to learn that your support contract has expired? Or have you been told that support can’t assist you until you update your LPAR, because the issue you’re dealing with was fixed in a service pack issued months earlier that you haven’t installed? With this information close at hand, organizations can avoid these dreaded but all too common experiences.

Under the OS/Firmware dial I could see which machines needed firmware or OS updates. The Hardware dial displayed alerts for all the hardware that was at or approaching end of life. The Asset Analysis tab—a feature available only to Support Insights Pro subscribers—contains views for analyzing security vulnerability and hardware lifecycle risks and enables users to make reasoned decisions about patches, upgrades and replacement planning by providing details about correlating risks and issues.

All of this information is extremely valuable. You’re afforded a snapshot of your hardware issues. You can determine if your staff is spending a lot of time with the vendor trying to resolve these issues. Support Insights offers visibility to your entire data center’s inventory while providing information from various sources, connectors, and vendors to help you navigate potential issues and recommended actions.

From an IBM perspective, the tool utilizes information derived from the IBM Call Home service to get data related to IBM Power and Storage systems, things like firmware levels. The tool can also source data from IBM contracts, allowing simple access to information on machine types and models, contract coverage information, along with warranty information. This can help populate information around lifecycle status of hardware, along with any coverage or warranty issues.

The IBM Technical Support Appliance (TSA) can be used to automatically discover assets and import data into Support Insights. I briefly describe TSA here.

Support Insights provides lifecycle information for the AIX, IBM i and Red Hat operating systems, along with widely used IBM solutions like VIOS and the HMC. In one location you can view the versions you’re running, along with recommended updates. There is also support for non-IBM servers (Dell, HPE, Oracle, VMWare), storage platforms (EMC, HPE, NetApp) and network and security devices (including Cisco, Juniper, F5, Brocade, QLogic, Check Point, Palo Alto and Fortinet). On that note, Support Insights supports the Cisco CSPC Connector, which provides information about OS levels, security vulnerabilities, hardware, software end-of-support and more. Further, the Support Insights ServiceNow CMDB Connector can pull data from ServiceNow to help populate inventory and provides additional data for analysis.  As of this writing, the ServiceNow Connector is in beta.

Some Views From My Testing

Since a picture is worth a thousand words (or so I’ve been told), I’ll share some screenshots.

Here’s a sample of inventory management:

Figure 1. Inventory coverage from a sample customer

Here’s a view of inventory coverage from a sample customer. These views are customizable. I can see current maintenance and support agreements and determine if some have expired or are about to. With this information, I can quickly and easily identify my most at-risk assets and avoid issues that could trigger unplanned downtime.

Figure 2. Machine type/models and coverage status

By drilling down into the asset names, I could see machine type/models and the coverage status. Running this against real data can help you proactively manage renewals, which saves money, time and resources. I don’t have to wonder whether all my devices are covered. I know.

Figure 3. Renewal management

Have I opened cases with vendors? How many? How long has it taken to get these issues resolved? This information can be used to inform business units about vendor relationships and help the organization learn to identify any machines that have abnormal service patterns.

Figure 4. Case metrics dashboard

What risks exist in my environment? Are they related to security or back-level OSes and hardware that is end of support? With prioritized at-risk assets identified, I can plan for patches and move to supported hardware when necessary.

Figure 5. Risk and recommendations dashboard view

Figure 6. Risks and recommendations asset list

These views are from Support Insights Pro. They enable users to understand security vulnerability and hardware lifecycle risks at a deeper level and make better, more informed decisions by correlating risk factors across security, hardware and software end of support, and support coverage.

Figure 7. Risks and recommendations, continued

Providing Visibility

During my training, I came across this summary of the tool:

“IT inventory management requires visibility first and foremost. Without visibility across the IT estate, it is difficult and time-consuming to identify the most critical issues and assess the business impact. IBM Support Insights provides automated multi-vendor infrastructure asset discovery, customized inventory views and exports, and support coverage and change analysis.

“By understanding the overall risk of their IT estate (servers, storage and networking), clients can benefit from taking on-time and preventive actions to improve their overall availability and reduce the risk of security breaches and service disruption.

An interactive demo is available here. You’ll need an IBM ID to log in. Or contact for details.