System i PHP Drive Going Strong, Zend Says
Published: October 3, 2006
by Alex Woodie
The push to create a new generation of young PHP programmers and PHP-driven Web applications on the IBM System i is moving forward according to plan, according to Zend Technology, the company commercializing the open source scripting language and providing support and training services. "Things are going phenomenally well," Zend business development vice president Mike Pinette says, giving evidence of that early success. "We're firing on all cylinders."
It's been just two months since IBM announced the general availability of the Zend Core for i5/OS runtime engine and the Zend Studio Professional for i5/OS development environment. According to Pinette, there have been more than 4,000 downloads of Zend's PHP tools, although that number also includes beta versions of the tools, which have been available since March.
PHP Technology Developments
In the last few weeks, Zend has added another product, called Zend Platform, to its i5/OS portfolio. Zend Platform builds on the basic PHP development and runtime capabilities already delivered with Zend Core and Zend Studio to help developers fine-tune their PHP applications for maximum performance, including the detection and resolution of performance problems and runtime errors.
The enhancements will continue into 2007, when Zend expects to deliver support for i5/OS V5R3. Currently, only i5/OS V5R4 is supported with the runtime component, which restricts the potential i5/OS PHP audience by a considerable amount. IBM will need to make some changes to the Apache Web server to enable PHP on V5R3, Pinette says. That is expected to occur by the beginning of 2007.
Also next year, System i PHP enthusiasts can expect a new version of Zend Studio that plugs into Eclipse development environments. The Eclipse plug-in--practically a requirement for any development tool or programmer utility these days--will enable System i shops to develop PHP applications in their WebSphere Studio IDE.
The next version of PHP is also expected to debut next year. The big new feature in PHP version 6, Unicode support, will make the code more portable. However, because PHP is an open source product and is developed by a loose amalgamation of developers around the world, no guarantees can be made on the exact date of delivery, Pinette points out.
PHP Ecosystem Developments
But technology is only part of the story. Pinette is also spearheading initiatives to boost the recognition of PHP on i5/OS, including working with local user groups, universities, and business partners to expand training and educational opportunities around the world.
For example, Pinette, fresh from a trip to Europe, cites a PHP-based Web portal currently in production by the University of Berlin in Germany. The portal functions as a recruitment portal that unites students learning PHP on the System i to business customers in the region--in effect, using i5/OS-PHP technology to further grow i5/OS-PHP opportunities. "We thought that was very innovative," says Pinette, evidentially in command of the idiom of the "i."
Zend is working with IBM Japan and the iSUC user group to evangelize the technology in that country, where System i usage is arguably growing faster than in North America. The Zend Core and Zend Studio products have already been translated into Japanese, Pinette says. What's more, Zend will be on hand to deliver a keynote during the 17th annual iSuc conference being held in Sapporo later this month.
In the U.S., Zend is involved with colleges and schools. "We're working with several institutions on building out curriculum for PHP on System i," Pinette says. Zend's point person for this initiative is IBM's education program director for System i, Linda Grigoleit.
The PHP net Zend is casting also includes IBM business partners, including systems integrators and ISVs. These companies can license the Zend PHP Collaboration Framework, which Pinette describes as "a composite application development environment that delivers a layer of services, including certified binary distributions of the langue, that allow business partners to create richer applications."
"We're putting it out as broadly as possible," he says. "A regional systems integrator may consider PHP a competitive advantage over small software shops in the region. They're able to use the framework and devise a methodology around the framework." So far, Zend has licensed the framework 110 times. "We're starting to get such momentum that we're contemplating hiring an administrator just to do the licensing of people who want to license the framework," he says.
PHP Usage in Real World
PHP applications are also going into production at the bread and butter System i shops--the manufacturers, distributors, retail chains, banks, and financial institutions that have heavily invested in OS/400 and RPG over the years.
Pinette says PHP has been used by some of the biggest "mainframe-class" System i shops to develop commercial lending, retail banking, insurance, and retail point-of-sale (POS) applications. "There have been a few awareness or "how do you do this" [issues] but we're overcoming those via our support network," he says.
One of these implementations involves the Ministry of Finance in France, as well as the portal at the University of Berlin. Beyond these organizations, Zend cannot name the large companies adopting PHP, due to the fact that they haven't agreed to let their names be used. These companies consider what they're doing with PHP to be strategic, and therefore they don't talk about it publicly, according to Pinette.
Pinette is learning how "risk averse" the System i community can be--to technology and to publicity--and how tough it can be to get companies to talk about their specific technology usage. This is a common practice when dealing with IT security issues at companies of all sizes. When dealing with large, public companies, it's practically unavoidable, no matter what the technological matter, without dealing with layers of lawyers for months on end.
Ultimately, this has made it difficult to gauge the real world success PHP has had since the technology became available in beta form in March--which probably puts Zend right in the middle of negotiations with numerous legal teams. "It's been an interesting six months," Pinette says. "Sometimes it's hard for us to convince them to profile" their technology usage.
The good news is that Zend has the backing of IBM. The company has already hired one System i expert, and is in contract negotiations with another programmer with more than a decade of experience on the platform. It appears that Zend is in the System i PHP business for the long haul.
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