One of the most prolific areas of systems products that I get to review is within the arena of Spool File management, and I am always amazed at the number and variation of utilities that come to market. From the number of utilities available it can be deduced that while technology moves in different directions and speeds, spool file management remains a problem area that people are only too willing to provide a solution to.
The spool file problem is multi-facetted. Normally, users would produce reports which are directed to their local queues, and as spool file owners they will largely be responsible for the production of their output. But within most iSeries installations, the emphasis of process automation relies on service batch jobs producing output which would not usually be assigned to a regular user ID. To combat this, programs and/or output files need to have overrides or instructions to place and replicate spool files to areas that they can be retrieved or archived.
A good spool management tool will allow redirection and duplication based on the production rules that can be assigned to a spool file based on any one of its many attributes. An excellent spool management tool will do this securely with a simple to use rule designer, and provide more “modern” techniques to deliver spool files in a way that makes them useable to the user.
One of the latest such products to be released is SpooliT by Asymex.com. SpooliT’s main intention is to remove spool files from iSeries DASD onto a cheaper disk source, such as an Intel based server, whilst offering a comprehensive system to reproduce and distribute reports more effectively.
By offering close integration with “standard” office utilities, reports can be transformed into any of the most popular word processing formats, and distributed via either email or fax. This not only extends the possibilities of iSeries report serving, but also removes the need for operator intervention to locate reports as well as freeing system resources from print serving.
SpooliT starts and ends with graphical user interfaces, and no intervention is required to manage the product via a 5250 interface. The initial install “wizard” starts by presenting a simple, well categorised menu with which to carry out the install (figure 1).
The wizard automatically detects the presence of the server software, and if not found will execute the install directly from the PC.
It is worth mentioning that the iSeries install is extremely small, with only 28 objects (almost all program objects) of a most unremarkable object size. The PC installation consumes around 22mb of disk space, but does rely upon a repository to be created on the server – the size of which will depend upon your spool usage.
The install wizard goes on to give you more configuration options than you are likely to ever need, each of which can be revisited and tailored to meet individual requirements.
Once installed, SpooliT presents the user with an explorer style interface that allows you to get to grips with spool file management (figure 2).
Getting Down to Business
As is evident from the view of the workbench in figure 2, SpooliT provides the user a method with which to export any iSeries spool file to .pdf, HTML or even Microsoft Word and Excel.
Also, the formatted spool file data can be sent to a third party using either email (Microsoft Outlook) or fax (if fax client is installed). The default email handling option is MAPI, which caters for the typical Microsoft Outlook type email system, but SpooliT also makes provision for using SMTP or Lotus Notes. In each case you will need to identify an email profile that will be used to send SpooliT reports.
Reports can even be sent back to the iSeries to be published on a separate queue for additional manipulation or printing (figure 3) or archived away from the iSeries completely.
To assist with managing spooled files, reports are then assigned to custom categories which further enables the scope of SpooliT. To expand on this, SpooliT provides the multi levels of Category Groups and Categories. Category Groups represent logical groupings of Categories which provide a customisable structure that will be unique to your requirements, and will make finding that specific spool file easier for your users.
Categories contain Categorization Rules which are used to instruct SpooliT where to place spool files depending on their attributes when they are being archived. When the archive option is taken against a Spool File or report, SpooliT will check each categorization rule for every category within the selected archive. When a match is found between the categorization rule and the Spool File, then the Spool File is stored within the category.
By default, when an archive is created within SpooliT you are automatically given a Category Group called “Unknown” whose categories are based around the attributes of a Spool File (File Name, Form Name, Job Number, Library, Output Queue, System, User and Userdata). When a Spool File is archived SpooliT will attempt to categorize the report based on the categorization rules that you have created for any categories that you have defined. If the Spool File cannot be categorized into your defined categories (i.e. the report doesn’t match your rules for categorization) then SpooliT will automatically categorize the report into the “Unknown” Category Group and sub-categorize it by the report attributes.
A Spool File may be categorized into only one Category within a Category Group BUT may be categorized into many Categories in different Category Groups where each entry in an additional Category Group is really an “Alias” reference to the first occurrence.
For example, a category of “Finance Reports” may have a categorization rule defined to apply any Spool Files that originated from a Printer Queue called “Finance Printer” resident on the iSeries.
The Spool File may match to many categories and will be logically “stored” within all of the matching categories. This concept is similar to cross-referencing or multiple indexing – there is only one physical copy of the Spool File but potentially many ways of locating it (known as an Alias). If the Spool File does not match any of the Categories, SpooliT will automatically store it under the default “Unknown” Category Group, and sub-categorize it by the eight iSeries Spool File attributes (File, Forms, Job, Library, Output Queue, System, User, and Userdata).
Users may be associated with distribution rules for a Category, which then allows SpooliT to automatically email or fax a Spool File to that user when it is archived into that category.
The reviewed product was the Enterprise version of SpooliT Server, which is the most comprehensive (and most expensive) version available. Whilst the Enterprise version would suit all needs, Asymex recognize that for some installations requirements may be less demanding and provide (cheaper) versioned modules which offer fewer functions targeted at a particular group of tasks. The other versioned modules are:
· SpooliT Browser – which offers the capability to display and export to other formats.
· SpooliT Explorer – which offers Browser capabilities plus Fax and Email support, as well as the ability to archive, and cut to CD.
· SpooliT Server – As SpooliT Explorer but comes complete with document handling scheduler and provides an enterprise document management solution.
The scheduler provides a configurable daemon function to react to events triggered by the arrival of new spool files into monitored queues. The scheduler has the ability to archive or distribute reports as they hit the queues, removing the spool file after it has been processed if required.
The arriving spool file can then be distributed to multiple locations in a manageable format, without any operator intervention.
This not only saves time searching for spool files, but also ensures that reports are not printed unnecessarily or stored on the iSeries indefinitely. Users finally have to take responsibility for their reports, but will be made to feel good in doing so.
The Enterprise Server version was found to be extremely useful. By establishing different points around the network I was able to distribute reports to a number of locations from a central server, without a noticeable hit on the iSeries.
Producing report data in other formats was more than satisfactory, and the navigation through queues via the user interface was excellent. There are far too many options to review within the whole of the application to qualify each explicitly, but based on my knowledge of corporations without adequate spool file management, SpooliT provides a solid platform for enabling print management without ever running the WRKSPLF command again.
Authority is determined via access to output queues and spool file authority and does not breach standard OS400 security.
Concerned about meeting the requirements of the ever more popular “super user”, I looked into SpooliT Browser as a side option, considering a deployment plan of a central SpooliT Server, with a number of Browser clients, with the majority of users receiving spool files in a usable format over the wire.
First impressions rate SpooliT as a highly functional comprehensive print management system that appears to meet the “known” requirements. In functionality terms, SpooliT matches that of any other product, whilst the pricing is suitable to meet most budgets.
There are a few areas that I think could be improved, but my gripes lean toward the installation and configuration rather than operational capabilities. The graphical presentation left absolutely no confusion with regard to navigation, although the use of non-standard cursors employed by SpooliT within Windows was found to be a little distracting, but great if you like that sort of thing.
If you are swayed by customer quotes, I found this one to be both interesting and on-topic:
“SpooliT enabled us to take a big step towards becoming a true paperless workplace. That’s good for us and good for the environment. We give them the big tick”…Nike Australia
Green bar reports are dead. Long live green bar reports!
More details and a free product trial is available by visiting www.asymex.com
This article was written for and first published in iSeries News UK and is reproduced with their kind permission.