Zend Delivers New PHP Engine for IBM Servers
July 19, 2005 Alex Woodie
IBM and Zend last week announced the availability of a new PHP package, called Zend Core for IBM, which brings iSeries shops an inexpensive and easy-to-use tool for building dynamic, database-driven Web applications. While it’s not the first version of the open-source, server-side scripting language for the iSeries, the new PHP implementation brings advantages, such as technical support through the newly announced Zend Network, and the choice of using either DB2/400 or the embedded Cloudscape database.
PHP is one of the most popular languages (possibly the most popular) for creating and maintaining Web sites. According to a PHP usage survey for July, more than 21 million Internet domains are currently running PHP. This is out of a total of 68 million current Internet domains in the known universe, according to the Web site watchers at Netcraft. PHP, which is closely integrated with the Apache Web server and can run as an Apache module, is most commonly deployed with Apache, which powers 70 percent of the world’s Web sites, or about 48 million domains.
ASCI-to-EBCDIC translation: PHP talent is way more abundant than RPG sub-procedure programming skills (or iSeries advertising dollars, for that matter) and could provide the aging platform a much-needed injection of young programmers and their modern, open-source, Web programming skills.
iSeries shops have been able to use PHP with their HTTP Server (powered by Apache) for some time now, as this April 2003 Redbook from IBM, titled“Bringing PHP to Your IBM iSeries Server”, can attest to. The Redbook describes the necessary steps to run the AIX version of PHP version 4 as a CGI BIN application in the iSeries’ PASE environment. (It can also run as an Apache module.)
Zend Core for IBM
The new PHP package, Zend Core for IBM, brings several advantages to enterprise customers. While the new PHP package is still a PASE product, it includes (almost) everything a user needs to start using PHP, doesn’t require users to hunt around the Internet for patches, and doesn’t require them to do any compiling, as the implementations described by the IBM Redbook does. Zend Core for IBM is also available in a Linux for Power implementation, giving iSeries shops flexibility in how they want to deploy it. Zend Core for IBM is also based on the latest PHP 5.0 code, which brings increased support for XML and Web services.
While PHP is not yet a native OS/400 product (IBM should make that a priority.), iSeries shops still benefit because there is now complete documentation and technical support available to them. Zend had received complaints from enterprise IBM customers who said they felt out on their own when deploying Zend PHP applications that connected to their databases. Users didn’t know what kind of performance to expect and they had to recompile their PHP applications whenever there was a change. Zend says these concerns are answered by Zend Core for IBM.
Zend Network–the new technical support program launched in conjunction with Zend Core for IBM–brings users major and minor updates, quarterly bug and security fixes, and Web-based support, including helpdesk and access to a Knowledge Base. One year Zend Network support subscriptions start at $199 per server for the first 30 servers, and $149 per server for 31 to 100 servers. Companies can save money by buying maintenance in bulk, and by buying two-year deals. A premium support package that includes 24/7 support is extra. Anybody downloading PHP software from Zend is entitled to one free trouble ticket.
IBM and Zend worked together to include drivers for IBM’s DB2 and Cloudscape databases with the Zend Core for IBM product. Because the drivers use the same API, it’s a simple matter for users to upgrade the backend from the Cloudscape database to the DB2 database, which IBM says will provide better performance, as the Cloudscape database is not as “robust” as DB2.
For even greater Web site scalability and complexity, IBM will recommend WebSphere and Java. Big Blue at this point doesn’t see any overlap or conflict between PHP programming for Apache, and writing Java for deployment on WebSphere. Whether or not this is a case of wishful thinking, that IBM is recommending anything but WebSphere and Java for Web development, on the iSeries, or any other platform for that matter, is a welcome change to small and medium size businesses for whom WebSphere and Java is overkill.
Here’s the gotcha for iSeries and zSeries shops (you didn’t think open source meant “Scott free,” did you?): Organizations wishing to connect to DB2/400 or the version of DB2 UDB that runs on mainframes must also license DB2 Connect from IBM. Licenses for DB2 Connect range from $290 for a personal edition of the product to about $66,000 for an unlimited edition. For more information on using DB2 Connect with your iSeries, see “Application and Data Integration Between Linux and OS/400” in Four Hundred Guru.
IBM, which has been working with Zend since February to build Zend Core for IBM (see “PHP is Almost Certainly Coming to the iSeries”), is actively promoting the new product. Janet Perna, IBM’s general manager for information management solutions says Zend Core for IBM is “an important milestone” for PHP development. “The service and support delivered by Zend Network is critical for developers to aid in the adoption of PHP and complements IBM’s commitment to open source software-based solutions,” Perna says.