Zend Core for i5/OS Ships for OS/400 V5R3
January 15, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
After a brief beta testing period to make sure everything works alright, Zend Technology‘s enterprise-grade PHP software, Zend Core for i5/OS V5R4 has been back-ported to the earlier OS/400 V5R3 release. Zend Core for i5/OS 1.6, which runs on both i5/OS V5R4 as well as on OS/400 V5R3, went into beta in early December. The software is available for free for customers with these two operating systems, which support a range of iSeries and System i5 hardware. By supporting Zend Core on V5R3, IBM and Zend have significantly extended the reach of PHP on the OS/400 and i5/OS platform.
In case you haven’t been paying attention to the Internet for the past five years, PHP is one of the dominant programming languages for applications written to run on the Web, and it is increasingly being used to create what should be considered enterprise-grade applications, such as the open source SugarCRM customer relationship management suite, which is a rival to Oracle‘s Siebel and other CRM software as well as to the popular Salesforce.com application, which is provided as an online service.
Whether or not companies want to host applications like SugarCRM on their iSeries and System i5 servers remains to be seen. But demand for such applications seems likely given the high prices that some vendors charge for RPG-based or Java-based applications. This is particularly true if IBM tries to push down into very small accounts, where the software budget is not high but companies need sophisticated application software that integrates with the DB2/400 database and various i5/OS features such as spool files and queues. While it would be best, in theory, for Zend’s Core PHP software to run natively inside OS/400 and i5/OS, it runs in the PASE AIX runtime environment, which is a lot more integrated into the system than a Windows server on an Integrated xSeries Server or a Linux or AIX partition running under the skins of an iSeries or i5 server.
Zend Core for i5/OS has a bunch of different software in it, including the Zend Core PHP language, the Zend Studio development tools for creating and managing PHP applications, and the Zend Platform runtime for supporting PHP applications on i5/OS V5R4 and now OS/400 V5R3 servers. The Zend Core bits of the package are what make PHP integrate into the features of OS/400 and i5/OS. Specifically, they include the ibm_db2 and odbc extensions to PHP that let PHP talk to DB2/400. Zend Core also includes support for PHP 5.1.6 and the Apache Web server on i5/OS V5R4 and OS/400 V5R3, and has a fully functional PHP toolkit, a Web administration tool, and a tool to set up Zend for i5/OS on the AS/400, iSeries, and System i5 servers.
By restricting the initial Zend Core for i5/OS software, which was announced last year, to i5/OS V5R4, IBM and Zend significantly curtailed the potential use of the software. When a new technology such as PHP comes along, it is tempting to try to use it as a lever to compel hardware upgrades, much as IBM has in the past used new hardware to force operating system upgrades. It is hard to say if this was IBM’s initial plan for PHP support on V5R4. It could simply be that getting PHP to work well with earlier releases is somewhat problematic. IBM never did say. To its credit, and partially because of pressure from the OS/400 installed base and probably from Zend’s own desire to see its addressable market widened, IBM worked with Zend to get Core for i5/OS extended back to V5R3, and got it into the field in relatively short fashion to boot.
By supporting Zend Core for i5/OS on the earlier OS/400 V5R3 release, the PHP software can now run on AS/400 Model 170, 250, and 7XX servers and iSeries Model 8XX machines. It is hard to say how many V5R4 machines IBM has in the field, since IBM doesn’t talk numbers. But IBM may have sold only 15,000 to 20,000 V5R4 licenses last year, and at best 25,000 if you wanted to make a generous guess. OS/400 V5R3 shipped between May 2004 and is still orderable. But V5R3 has been shipping for three times as long and was required on Power5-based servers, and probably has an installed base of new machines in the range of 50,000 to 60,000, plus another bunch of machines that didn’t change iron but upgraded to the operating system for one feature or another that ranges in the 10,000 to 15,000 range–and maybe even higher. Suffice it to say, that the addressable market for Zend Core for i5/OS has just gone up by a factor of three or four or so, which means downloads of the free software should take off.
As of the middle of December, IBM was saying that over 5,000 downloads of Zend Core had been done to date, but according to Jim Dillard, IBM alliance manager at Zend, the official number of unique company registrations for the commercial software (not the betas for Zend Core for i5/OS) is north of 4,000 today. The fact that the V5R3 software was beta has, in fact, diminished the download rate for against what you might expect from the Linux or Windows platforms, since i5/OS and OS/400 shops do not typically have permission to run beta code on production boxes–even if it is free. The IBM midrange has more self-control than that. “Now that V5R3 general availability is out, I expect to see the download curve get more steep, and maybe even start looking like a hockey stick,” says Dillard. My guess is that Zend will see at least registered 20,000 downloads of Zend Core for i5/OS by the end 2007–and it could be a lot higher.
The limiting factor might be iron. Those old AS/400 Model 170 servers use 100 MHz and 125 MHz “Apache” and 200 MHz and 252 MHz “Northstar” PowerPC processors. While that was a lot of iron at the time to run highly complied RPG code and a snappy database, it may not do the trick when it comes to Web-based, interpreted languages like PHP.
Despite that limiting factor of processor performance, it might make sense to argue for Zend and IBM working together to extend PHP down to all V5 releases, including V5R1, which started shipping in May 2001, or V5R2, which started shipping in August 2002. There could be 100,000 or more AS/400 and iSeries machines out there running these two releases–possibly a lot more, like maybe two times that number–albeit these OS/400 licenses would be running on very old iron. It is hard to say how many of these shops want native-ish PHP running on their production machines. (Again, it is running in PASE, not OS/400. But then again, so is your TCP/IP stack.)
I happen to think that if IBM and Zend wanted to go volume, the trick should be to get a very inexpensive i5 box into the field with lots of performance and then get these people to move off that old iron. But, I am just a broken record, now ain’t I?
Anyway, V5R1 and V5R2 support PASE, but OS/400 V5R1 supports only the AIX 5.1 runtime and V5R2 supports either AIX 5.1 or 5.2 runtimes, both of which are kind of old compared to the current AIX 5.3 runtime. At the very least, support for OS/400 V5R2 should be a no-brainer, since OS/400 V5R3 also used the AIX 5.2 runtime. In theory, it should be possible to get PHP running on V5R2. Neither IBM nor Zend are saying there is a plan to go back further in the OS/400 time machine.
In any event, if you have OS/400 V5R3 or i5/OS V5R4, you can download the Zend Core for i5/OS 1.6 at this link on Zend’s site. To help you figure out how to install and implement PHP on the iSeries and i5 platform, IBM has put together a team of techies–Gary Mullen-Schultz, Melissa Anderson, and Vlatko Kosturjak with contributions from Jim Bainbridge, Tony Cairns, Craig Johnson, Kent Milligan, David Peraza, Michael Sandberg, Steve Will, Whei-Jen Chen, and Alan Seiden–to write a Redbook called PHP: Zend for i5/OS, which you can download here.
One last thing. There is apparently an issue with Zend Core for i5/OS. Right now, according to the Redbook, Zend Core for i5/OS only supports one instance of Zend in PASE running against a single Apache Web server running in OS/400 V5R3 or i5/OS V5R4. More on that next week, and why you should care.