Saving RPG and the iSeries–Now Isn’t That Profound?
October 11, 2005 Dan Burger
Most people make it a bigger problem than it needs to be. That problem is taking RPG-based core business applications to the Web and converting them into graphical applications. Major stumbling blocks to this process can be quickly clicked off. One is that RPG programmers are not Web programmers. Two is that a great deal of code will need to be rewritten. And, three is that the iSeries cannot or should not play a Web server role.
One company that is hell bent on rearranging these stumbling blocks and turning them into building blocks is Profound Logic, a company that has successfully integrated a Web application development environment with a RPG-aware HTML Web page designer and a GUI editor.
Profound is not alone in this quest. The IBM Developer’s Roadmap includes more than just a handful of options, some of which are Big Blue’s own design and many more which come from the independent software vendor (ISV) community. Profound Logic, however, is not to be overlooked. Its RPGsp (sp stands for “smart pages”) has been impressive. The list of companies using it to launch dynamic Web sites, build data-driven applications, and analyze code has grown into the hundreds.
Here’s an example. The city of Jacksonville, Florida, hosts much of its data and processing on the iSeries. Over the years, the IT staff built applications using a lot of RPG and CL programs, plus query objects. Not all screens were dependent on query objects, but in those cases RPG programs and CL programs were being used to build the data. Then the query would be called to pull the data out of those temporary files.
Converting display files while building Web applications is one thing. Converting query objects is something else. Although the conversion rate when working with display files is generally very high, and most conversion tools are capable when it comes to handling display files, companies look at ease-of-use issues to differentiate products.
Joe Frasier, Jacksonville’s IT manager for the Public Defender’s Office, 4th Judicial Circuit, was on the ground floor of the software selection process. According to Frasier, RPGsp was the only software, after many options were tested, that could handle the query objects that are heavily used in the Jacksonville system. Other tools that were tested required a significant amount of code to be rewritten.
“We had a unique requirement that no other vendor or product could solve for us,” Frasier says. “Other vendors told us that it was impossible or that we needed expensive add-on products. We heard lots of promises, but RPGsp is the only one that delivered.”
One of the things that factored into the Jacksonville situation was that not all the necessary information would fit onto a green screen. In fact, it took three screens and the user had to go one after another to obtain all the information. When converting the RPG apps to Web apps, all this information fit on one screen. “After converting, modifications were made, which could not have been done with WebFacing,” says Alex Roytman, president of Profound Logic. WebFacing was one of the many options Jacksonville was testing.
Another example of RPGsp being put to use comes from the San Jose, California, water system.
The IT department there was looking for a way to make it easier for users to find information stored across various computer systems. As it existed, users had to navigate a minimum of four paths and eight screens to obtain the required data, because only pieces of the information were found on a single screen. And this was only for their iSeries data. Additional information was stored on Oracle, MySQL, Access, and other platforms.
Dana Drysdale, vice president of information systems at San Jose Water, used RPGsp to create screens that included information from multiple sources, and overhauled the system to make use of a graphical Web browser-based environment.
The integration of iSeries applications with data on other platforms was achieved by combining RPGsp and RPG2SQL, which is a product by another iSeries ISV, RJS Software Systems. RPG2SQL plugs into RPGsp and provides access to databases such as Oracle, MySQL, SQL Server, and Access directly from RPG code. Profound Logic and RJS have been working together on delivering cross-platform Web application capability to end-users. It is likely this feature will become increasingly popular as companies place a higher priority on live data in their Web applications.
It was only about two months ago that Profound Logic publicly announced its latest version of RPGsp, which it now bills as the central part of its Dream Architecture, the overall conversion process that takes green screen applications and convert them to Web applications. Compared to options that create Web apps that remained tied to the original green screen objects after the conversion, RPGsp really is a dream. The primary benefit is that without a tie to the green screen, the programmer can add more fields to the screen and enhance the application in the future without going back to the original green-screen application and making the changes there. The limitations to changes at the green-screen level–available space being one of them–makes an option like RPGsp desirable.
Living in an RPG-based Web application world is appealing to many iSeries shops with staff that possess RPG skills. Those skills and the iSeries role don’t need to be diminished. At least not the way Profound Logic sees it. And it would seem that a lot of iSeries shops see it the same way.
This article has been corrected since it was first published. It originally noted, “the list of companies using RPGsp to launch dynamic Web sites, build data-driven applications, and analyze code has grown into the thousands.” The correct number is estimated by Profound Logic to be “more than 300 companies.” Profound Logic claims more than 1,000 customers in its entire customer base, which includes customers using software products in addition to RPGsp. IT Jungle regrets the error. [Correction made 10/11/05.]