Volume 13, Number 5 -- February 12, 2013

Zend Adds Mobile, Problem-Resolution Features to PHP Stack

Published: February 12, 2013

by Alex Woodie

Zend Technologies today is expected to announce the general availability of its latest PHP stack, including Zend Server version 6 and Zend Studio 10. The development tool gains new mobile tooling, specifically the inclusion of the PhoneGap mobile app framework. The Zend Server runtime, meanwhile, brings new features to help programmers and operators work together more efficiently to track down problems in production PHP apps. The IBM i version of Zend Server, when it ships, will have a new edition as well.

Consider these sobering statistics, which Zend chief marketing officer Elaine Lennox shared with IT Jungle last week:

  • 50 percent of application deployments are later rolled back to a stable state (source: IBM)
  • 56 percent of applications that are promoted from testing into production will fail (source: Electric Cloud survey)

This tells us that, despite all work that an organization puts into developing a new application and testing the heck out of it, the real world will break that application, more often than not. Murphy must have been thinking about software development when he postulated his famous law, which states that, if something can break, it will.

So what is Zend Technologies, which fancies itself "the PHP company," doing about this? Isn't achieving world peace easier than solving the ongoing crises that is the develop-test-deploy cycle?

The answer, of course, is that Zend isn't becoming a bug-tracking company or a change management software vendor or an NGO . It just wants to clean things up in its little corner of the world, which is helping customers to build and run PHP apps.

In fact, Zend has been trying to simplify its customers' lives for a while now, with features like code tracing, the "black box" flight recorder for troubleshooting PHP apps. And with Zend Server version 6, the company thinks it has finally found a way to make code tracing more relevant to today's fast-paced development groups.

"We're actually to the point where people are doing builds a couple times per week, and some clients a couple of times a day," Lennox says. "What that's done is created a huge roadblock between the development and operations team, where today the most common causes of application failure are actually not the code itself. It's all around this handoff between dev and production."

Zend Server 6 brings several new features aimed at alleviating this roadblock and enabling more collaboration.

The first new feature is more automated deployments. Developers typically hand production teams a list of requirements that the production environment must have, and it's up to the production team to make sure they've done it right. With version 6, the developer is able to write automated scripts that will guide the production team. If something isn't right in any piece of the production system--which could be quite large if it's a clustered system--it will notify the team to the potential problem.

The second new feature is potentially more powerful: a way for developers to gain access to the production system, in read-only mode. Usually, it's taboo for a developer to gain access to a production system. Regulations like Sarbanes-Oxley and HIPAA require strict separation of coders and administrators. Even in unregulated companies, a wall is often maintained between the creative types and those who love order.

The problem with maintaining that wall is that developers can't see what's going on with their application when it's promoted into production and it (inevitably) fails or starts kicking up errors. (This wall doesn't exist as often in smaller IBM i shops, where the same person is the developer, the operator, the DBA, the security officer, and the chief bottle washer.)

"What we've created is basically a way that a developer can see, in read-only mode, exactly what's happening in production," Lennox says. "If an app behaves any differently in production, they can see all the behavior statistics for that application, the moment it's in production. And if something doesn't' work the same way it did in dev-test, they can see in real time exactly what went wrong and how to fix it. So it's a much smoother way to deploy an application."

Code-tracing, which is available in Zend Server version 5, was supposed to provide some of this. "But the challenge with code tracing was the only people who could see it were on the operations side," Lennox says. "And you literally had to take screen shots and send them to the developer and say, 'This is what I can see.' Now you can give developers direct access to production servers. They can't change any settings. It's look, not touch. But they get right in there and fix the problem based on the code trace."

This read-only feature is only available with the enterprise version of Zend Server; the company is expanding the number of versions of the software, as well as the features and price points. The enterprise version will also have the access control features and LDAP integration capabilities necessary to enforce separation of duties.

The third new feature aimed at helping the cycle is a new auditing function. With version 6, every change made to production system configurations is stored in an audit trail that keeps track of who changed which settings and when.

Zend Studio 10

The world is embracing mobile apps at an astonishingly fast rate. According to Lennox, mobile app development will soon outpace traditional desktop app development by a factor of four to one. Many Web development projects are simultaneously mobile development projects.

Because PHP is very Web focused, Zend has been able to help clients build mobile apps for some time. Its Zend Client development tool started out as a place to code and debug PHP code running on servers, including IBM i servers. A few years back, when the first Web 2.0 apps were developed in AJAX, it added support for JavaScript in building front-end interfaces.

With the introduction of the PhoneGap (Apache Cordova) in Zend Studio version 10, Zend has fully embraced the mobile app paradigm. PhoneGap enables developers to automatically generate Web-based apps that run on iOS, Android, and Windows Mobile devices. PhoneGap also gives users the option of generating native apps for those three mobile platforms, says Zend's Mike Pavlak.

Zend Studio 10 also brings a new visual drag and drop editor that enables rapid creation of RPC-style and RESTful services without having to write any connectivity code.

The two new products are now available for Windows, Linux, and Unix platforms. It's Zend's policy to make the IBM i versions available within 90 days of the ship date for open systems versions. However, Lennox thinks it will be less than 90 days in this case.

Zend has traditionally shipped two versions of its runtime: the Zend Server for IBM i Community Edition (CE), which is free and shipped by IBM with all copies of IBM i, and the full Zend Server for IBM i product, which is not free and which contains advanced functions like code-tracing.

Zend will be changing the name of the CE product; it will still bring a year of free support to IBM i shops. Zend is also planning to split the full Zend Server for IBM i into multiple products-- Zend Server Professional Edition and Zend Server Enterprise Edition--just as the company does for the open systems world. We'll have more info on the features and price points of these products when they GA.


Zend Updates PHP Server Stack for IBM i

Zend Reveals DBi, A New Version of MySQL for IBM i

New Open Source PHP Toolkit for IBM i in the Works

Zend Gently Nudges Customers to New PHP Runtime

Oracle Drops MySQL Support for IBM i

PHP and JavaScript Come Together in Zend Studio 8

What a Lifelong DB2 Fanatic Sees in MySQL

MySQL Database Getting Closer Ties to the System i

Zend Server for i/OS Now Available

Zend Server 5.0 to Run on i OS

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