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BCD And Zend Expand PHP Pact

Published: August 15, 2012

by Alex Woodie

Business Computer Design Int'l. and Zend Technologies today unveiled a partnership to boost the visibility and usability of their respective PHP offerings for IBM i shops. The pact today revolves primarily around sales and marketing initiatives for the Zend Server for IBM i runtime environment and BCD's template-based PHP development tool, but the companies are working on delivering more integration in the products themselves at some point in the future.

BCD unveiled a PHP version of its WebSmart development environment almost five years ago, and since then it has gradually picked up steam. Today, BCD sells as many licenses for WebSmart PHP as it does for its traditional WebSmart ILE development tool, and the company has hundreds of customers using WebSmart PHP, according to BCD's sales and marketing director Eric Figura.

What's unique about WebSmart PHP is that it generates PHP code (as well as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript) for the customer based on a collection of application templates and wizards. This rapid-development approach allows customers to create working PHP applications within minutes and eliminates the need for a minimum level of technical proficiency PHP before starting a PHP project--a big bonus for RPG coders looking to branch out into PHP.

Up to this point, BCD has limited its engagement with PHP only to the development side of things. Naturally, all PHP code needs a runtime, and if a BCD customer wanted to run the PHP code generated by WebSmart PHP on their IBM i server (as opposed to a Linux or Windows server, which the product also supports), then BCD would point them to the IBM i PHP runtimes offered by Zend.

But BCD never really involved itself with how that WebSmart PHP app was running on IBM i and the Zend runtime, says Marcel Sarrasin, a product manager with BCD. "We would provide all the support to help them develop the application, but once the application was running live, we didn't really talk to them about it at that point," Sarrasin said Tuesday in a conference call with BCD and Zend. "It was up to them what they wanted to do, or what tools they used in terms of monitoring the performance of those applications, and keeping an eye on potential trouble spots in those applications."

This is where BCD's interest in Zend Server for IBM i comes into play. Zend Server for IBM i, which launched more than two years ago is the most feature-rich PHP runtime offered by Zend, as it has features that aren't available in Zend's other PHP runtime for IBM i, the free Zend Server Community Edition for IBM i, or Zend Server CE i (Zend stopped supporting two older runtimes, Zend Core and Zend Platform, in July 2011).

As part of the new partnership with Zend, BCD will be talking a lot more about Zend Server for IBM i, and what it can do for its WebSmart PHP customers that Zend Server CE i can't. Specifically, BCD will be talking up the bug tracking and code tracing capabilities that can only be found in Zend Server for IBM i, which starts at $7,250 for a year's subscription. (Other differentiators for Zend Server for IBM i include its own integrated IBM i-native Apache environment, job queue support, and caching functions that improve scalability and performance, but for now BCD's focus is on code tracing.)

The code tracing capability in Zend Server for IBM i automates the process of identifying bugs and application performance issues. The features, which can tell the programmer the exact line of code that has the problem, allows programmers to fix problems up to 80 percent faster than if they had to hunt for the source of the problem in a log file, says Siddhartha Agarwal, Zend's vice president of worldwide field operations, and the head of Zend's sales team.

"We improve the productivity of that [WebSmart PHP] development environment so that developers can debug easier and debug faster," Agarwal said in the conference call. "It's like a black box recorder on a plane, where when the plane crashes, and everything that happened up to the point of the crash is recorded. So they're not looking at log files per se to try and figure out what happened. They're just looking at these code traces."

The BCD folks are impressed with this code tracing capability, and think it could be a very useful thing for some of its WebSmart PHP customers. "With the new insight we have of Zend Server for IBM i and the advantages of the product, we think it's really worthwhile to promote that to our existing customer base," Sarrasin said.

At this point, there are no hooks between WebSmart PHP and Zend Server for IBM i. WebSmart PHP users would have to use the Zend Server for IBM i console separately to identify the problem areas before fixing them in their WebSmart PHP editor. But in the future, BCD plans to utilize Zend APIs that will hook WebSmart PHP into Zend Server for IBM i and enable customers to get code-tracing details in their IDE of choice, which is a feature Zend introduced into its Zend Studio development tool in May 2010.

Just as BCD will be pushing Zend products more strongly into its customer base, Zend will be talking up the BCD solutions to its IBM i customers. This includes WebSmart PHP, which has impressed Zend's IBM i technical guru Mike Pavlak, who said the folks at BCD "have done a great job with the templated approach." But Zend will also be pushing Presto, BCD's green-screen refacing software.

"Far be it for us, as a PHP company to admit that the world doesn't only use PHP, but that's the reality," says Elaine Lennox, the chief marketing officer job at Zend. "Often you may not be redeveloping an application or even creating a new PHP app. You may just want to reface that app. Both companies see that clients do a mixture of new application development in PHP, and access current application logic that exists for the current UI in a nicer way."

While both Zend and BCD offer PHP editors, executives with the companies say they aren't competing for development dollars. Rather, they both recognize the advantages that the other brings to the table, and that's what they're trying to highlight with the expanded partnership announced today.

"There's various elements we've worked together on in the past, but this is going to be a much more aggressive, much tighter go-to-market partnership between the two companies that we've had before," said Lennox, the former VP of System i marketing at IBM who joined Zend a year ago. "We see an opportunity to work together, and to offer our clients an end-to-end solution, from development to production."


Zend Updates PHP Server Stack for IBM i

Lennox Takes CMO Job as Zend Plans for Growth

Zend Gently Nudges Customers to New PHP Runtime

Zend Studio Gets New Code Tracing Capabilities

Zend Server for i/OS Now Available

BCD's WebSmart PHP Goes GA

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