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Harnessing the Power of ASCII Text Processing

Ron Stover
Ron Stover

DPS Telecom tech support chief Ron Stover recently turned a client's technical difficulty into a learning experience. When Bill Seaton of Teton Telecom called Ron for help with his ASCII alarms, Ron not only solved his problem, he helped Bill learn more about how ASCII processing works.

How it works...

In ASCII alarm processing, the monitored device emits a stream of raw ASCII text, which contains a rich amount of data about the device's operations. The IAM-5 then processes the text in a two-step process: first the IAM-5 matches on message headers that indicate an alarm message, and then it extracts the alarm data and maps it to T/MonXM's standard alarm format. After that, all of the processing, tracking, and notification capabilities present on a regular alarm point are available for the ASCII alarm.

Because there is so much data in the text stream, ASCII processing can be a very powerful alarm collection method, but because the data is so raw, setting up the IAM-5 to correctly recognize and process the data can be complex initially.

Turning up a new ATM switch

Bill Seaton's problems began when he started turning up a new ATM switch. Seaton is the central office technician for Teton Telecom, an Idaho-based company with approximately 10,000 customers, stretched across a large rural territory. The ATM switch, when fully implemented, will be a crucial piece of equipment for Teton.

"This is equipment we're bringing up gradually, but as time goes on it's going to be more and more crucial. All of our Internet traffic and some of our voice traffic is going to go through it," said Seaton.

Seaton is monitoring the ATM switch with an IAM-5, and he wanted to send alarms from the switch as e-mails to his cellular telephone, using the IAM-5's pager profiles capability.

After hours notification without a 24/7 NOC

"Since our operation doesn't have a 24/7 NOC, we have to have the system notify us through pages," said Seaton. "No one's here at night, and even during the day I'm not always in the office. I need alarms to go to my cell phone, and on the weekends they need to go to the on-call technician's pager."

ASCII messages contain the details

When he first began turning up the switch, Seaton believed that the switch would send discrete alarms to indicate transmission problems. The switch did issue a few discrete alarms, but they were only for housekeeping functions. If there was an actual problem with the switch's data handling functions, alarms would be sent as ASCII text, and Seaton was unsure how to port the ASCII output to his IAM-5 for alarm processing.

Ironically, Seaton had at one point studied ASCII processing at a DPS Telecom training class. But the information had not been relevant to him at the time, and it had been a long time since the class.

"I knew just enough about ASCII to get very frustrated," said Seaton. "I started in on trying to hook up the ASCII, but I instantly found I was in over my head."

Setting the IAM-5 to log on to the switch

When Ron got Seaton's tech support call, the initial issue was configuring Seaton's IAM-5 to telnet to the ATM switch. "The problem was that the IAM-5 needed to log onto the switch," said Ron. "It actually needs to log on and give a user password. That's fairly rare, so the default setting is for the IAM-5 to not log on. First we corrected that and then we moved on to the ASCII."

Matching the relevent alarm data

Seaton knew what he was looking for in the ASCII data, so matching on the relevant alarm data was not too difficult for him. "Bill actually did most of the matching," said Ron. "Matching is the easy part, because people know what they want to see. Each alarm spit out about ten lines of text, but only two lines of it had the information he needed."

Ron helped Seaton extensively with the extraction phase, however, up to having Seaton send him the raw ASCII text in an e-mail so Ron could run it through the IAM-5 in the tech support simulation lab.

"That was the interesting part to me," said Seaton, "that I could send him the actual ASCII output and he could work with that."

"In the lab here it was just a little quicker," said Ron. "I could feed it into our IAM-5 and adjust the extraction a little bit."

Working together to solve the problem

Throughout the process, Ron showed Seaton what he was doing, and how Seaton could himself apply what he was showing him to making future adjustments to his ASCII processing.

"I tried to keep him in the loop on where everything came from, showing him the debug and stuff like that," said Ron. "And he was catching on, remembering his class and how to apply it."

"After he explained the pattern recognition to me, I got it," Seaton said. "It was definitely a training experience. At the beginning ASCII seemed almost like magic, but after we were done going through the process, it made sense."

Once Seaton's ASCII processing was cleared up, it was a simple matter to ensure that the alarms went to the correct window and pager profile to be sent to Seaton's cell phone.

Quality Tech Support

Seaton said that Ron's tech support was essential to the success of the implementation. "Ron was very courteous, very helpful, and his knowledge was invaluable. The important thing is that I could call tech support and they could resolve the problem."

Ron believes that quality tech support is not just about helping the client today, but providing the client with the tools to prevent and repair problems in the future, as well. For that reason, Ron always explains the problem and its solution thoroughly to the client.

"I try to always help them learn what I'm doing. I don't want to just fix it for them without showing them how I did it, because then if the problem crops up again, they'll have to call us again," said Ron. "I try to give the clients as much information as possible. The more they know, the more self-sufficient they'll be, and the more comfortable they'll be with their monitoring equipment."

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