LANSA User Conference Puts New App Modernization IDE in Spotlight
May 10, 2005 Dan Burger
Application modernization can make a person’s head spin faster than a propeller-topped beanie in a hurricane. There are many software sources for modernization, including IBM, which puts Big Blue in the position of competing with and trying to appease software vendors that are critically important to the iSeries installed base and to the iSeries ecosystem itself. Sorting though the options, platform interoperability issues, and investment considerations can easily result in information overload.
So on the heels of a major product release that centers on application modernization, LANSA put together its annual dog and pony show for its customers (end user organizations and independent software vendors) with the goal of educating its most loyal fans about the significant enhancements, the new architecture, and new capabilities inherent in LANSA 2005. Based on a 66 percent attendance increase compared to the past several LANSA user conferences, it’s not an exaggeration to say LANSA has garnered some attention among its faithful, which are primarily iSeries customers.
“We had two camps at LANSA Launch 2005 that were pretty equally divided,” says LANSA’s vice president of marketing, Brian Sterrett. “In our session regarding the new integrated development environment, one group felt it was information overload. In general, these are the ones who are making a leap from greenscreen development to a Windows-based development workstation.”
It’s a big leap, but as Sterrett points out, it’s one that doesn’t have to be made all at once. “These guys don’t have to use the Windows-based IDE,” Sterrett says. “They can stay with greenscreen development using LANSA 2005. But we hope they will choose to use the Windows-based IDE because it offers the increased benefits of a rich Windows client environment.”
Sterrett described the conference evaluations from a second group as praising the content and the opportunity to learn a great deal. In all likelihood, the attendees who weighed in with this type of response were LANSA users with more product experience.
Ghislain Jacques, vice president of product development, at Chrono-Logic, says his company has been a LANSA partner for three years. Chrono-Logic received an early product release of LANSA 2005, so the programmers there have had a chance to become familiar with it. (For an overview of the new LANSA developing environment and tools, see the IT Jungle story “LANSA Unveils 2005 Version of IDE” in the March 15 issue of Four Hundred Stuff.)
“Our developers appreciate the consolidation of what were once separate screens for fields, files, and processes,” Jacques says. “Now everything is on the same screen and much more information provided as well. It makes it more productive to use.”
Chrono-Logic develops 99.9 percent of its software in LANSA with programmers who were originally trained in RPG. “We used Visual LANSA and the LANSA framework to develop a change management solution specifically for use with developing in LANSA on the iSeries,” Jacques notes. (The change management product is not solely for LANSA development projects though.)
I also talked with Jim Jackson, the chief technical officer at CommSoft, a new LANSA customer. CommSoft is a software development firm with plans to use LANSA for the continuing development of it billing software that is marketed to telecommunications companies. The software runs only on iSeries.
“We have been an iSeries shop for as long as there’s been an iSeries and an AS/400,” Jackson notes. “We even go back to the System 34/36 days.”
CommSoft has been primarily an RPG shop, but in the past 10 years it also used a fourth-generation tool called Synon, a Computer Associates product that’s been renamed several times and is now called AllFusion 2E.
“We found the LANSA products enable us to inherit the stuff that we’ve done with our previous development,” Jackson says. “So we can build upon those applications in a similar 4GL language. To me, writing code is all about defining the model and the process. Let the product create the code. You don’t create miles of code. We have many thousands of hours invested in the creation of our product. We want to expand upon that rather than start over.”
Jackson says CommSoft took a long look at other programming languages and other visual tools, including Microsoft .NET. He was impressed with the capability to bring his company’s business processes and models into the LASNA tool and be able to separate the business logic and user interface. It was also important that LANSA could support CommSoft’s interface to PDAs and the wireless world. The Synon tool did not.
The development staff at CommSoft consists of more than 30 people. In addition to working in RPG and Synon, there is a small amount of Java programming. “I want to consolidate our efforts so we produce with a single set of code and a single set of business logic on a single platform,” Jackson says. “I think we can get out product faster using LANSA.”
Jackson anticipates some rough roads moving from Synon to LANSA. To begin with, it involves a new tool kit. Smoothing that road somewhat is the CommSoft programmers’ understanding of what Jackson calls “the CASE tool mentality in a 3GL/4GL language.” He reasons that the move to LANSA will be easier than for those who have never had any visual tools. After reviewing the new LANSA 2005 tools, he calls them “very intuitive.”
“Our goal,” Jackson says, “is to completely train the entire organization to program in LANSA. The project plan is to start with development, which is the normal progression, and then slowly integrate it throughout our organization. We will probably have a mix of our people who know Visual LANSA” and LANSA for the Web.
One additional point Jackson made about his due diligence on LANSA was that this would also give CommSoft the opportunity to find human resources faster. “The Synon world limits our ability to find people.” He says. “The new architecture of LANSA opens up new possibilities regarding human resources for bigger projects. This relates to new staffing for growth. We can bring, for instance, kids out of college. They see working in LANSA as an opportunity to make use of their skills and expand their skills. It’s a tough sell to get young people to come in and learn older technologies.
Jackson laughingly refers to himself and his company as iSeries and IBM bigots. He says he followed the iSeries Roadmap to find LANSA.
TextThis was music to the ears of John Quarantello, the iSeries executive in charge of the Tools Innovation program. Quarantello is in the middle of the recent iSeries ISV programs that involved a new Developers Roadmap that opened the door for companies like LANSA that offer alternatives to WebSphere and Java. He was one of several IBMers attending the LANSA launch, and IBM was a platinum sponsor for the event, which certainly signals IBM’s willingness to work together.
“The new Developer’s Roadmap emphasis is on the business benefit rather than the business benefit you get with Java,” Quarantello says. LANSA has five tools listed, which means they have been certified to support the latest operating system and latest hardware systems.
LANSA is one of the companies on the roadmap that plays very well with IBM. Not only do LANSA products work well as stand-alone options, they also support WebSphere Application Server on iSeries and are certified for WebSphere and Eclipse. This is extremely important to IBM because even though IBM is now officially saying “there are excellent solutions out there that don’t necessarily need to be done with WebSphere and Java,” those that do are still the favorite sons.
“LANSA drives a lot of hardware,” says Quarantello. “A lot of their applications run natively on the iSeries, but they also support other platforms. Yet from an iSeries perspective, LANSA is primarily an iSeries vendor.” LANSA can help companies with solutions that run natively on the iSeries, under AIX or IXS, or Linux, he points out. Being instrumental to driving hardware sales and adding non-OS/400 workloads at iSeries shops can definitely win you favor with the iSeries executives.
“The reason IBM has been successful in the past,” Quarantello says, “has been because of great solutions and great tool providers. IBM has realized that more resources and focus on the success of the partners is required. If they are successful, then the iSeries will be successful.”
IBM has even come to the conclusion that Microsoft .NET can be part of the solution package.
“LANSA, and other vendors on the Roadmap, provide .NET integration where the customers demand it or need it,” Quarantello notes. “If customers have multiple development environments and .NET is one of them, we want to have tools that enable them to integrate the multiple applications. LANSA and others have products that modernize and extend applications. If the ISVs are interested in co-existence, interoperability, extending and modernizing applications, those are all good things for our clients. With the IXS and IXA these can be workloads that are kept on the iSeries. It remains part of the value proposition to run the application where it makes the most sense. If customers want to tie multiple applications together through Web services or partner tools, we want to accommodate them. The alternative is to stick our head in the sand and just wish that .NET goes away, and I don’t think that’s going to happen.”