MySQL Database Getting Closer Ties to the System i
May 1, 2007 Alex Woodie
The System i is about to get a second supported database. Last week at the MySQL user conference, IBM and MySQL announced plans for MySQL to offer professional support for the open source database running on i5/OS, and to enable DB2/400 to work as one of the database “engines” that plugs into MySQL. The plan, when completed, has the capability to bring thousands of new Web 2.0 applications to the System i, and loads of DB2/400 data–and business credibility–to the upstart MySQL database platform.
For years, there has been one, and only one, database management system for the AS/400, iSeries, System i line of products: DB2 for i5/OS, more commonly known as DB2/400. Sure, people have tried running other databases, like Oracle, in a Linux or AIX partition or in the PASE Unix runtime, but you couldn’t get support, and it was not commercially marketed.
For most shops, DB2/400 offered everything they needed. By integrating DB2/400 into the operating system and making it part and parcel of the platform, IBM simplified life for programmers, eliminated the need for most shops to hire a database administrator (DBA), and kept the total cost of ownership low. For all intents and purposes, DB2/400 was it when it came to database for the System i. It was a nice, neat, tidy bundle, and it just worked.
Then came the deal with Zend last year to bring the popular PHP scripting language to i5/OS. IBM and Zend worked to support DB2/400 with PHP, enabling developers to write new PHP applications that ran on the System i and used DB2/400 to store and serve data.
It’s the PHP, Stupid
However, because the bulk of the PHP applications already on the market are written on top of the free and open source MySQL database platform, customers really needed to run MySQL on the System i to get the full benefits of PHP, according to Craig Johnson, IBM’s System i product manager for PHP and MySQL.
“A lot of our customers have been deploying PHP applications and some of them naturally are going against the DB2 for i5/OS database already on the system,” Johnson says. “But some of our customers wanted to leverage open source applications that are already out there, already written, and a lot of the PHP application are written for the MySQL database.”
There are really no technical hurdles to prevent System i shops from running MySQL on their machines. The database, if loaded onto the System i, would store data in the Integrated File System (IFS), like all non-native code does. But it still takes time to configure MySQL to work correctly on the System i. IBM worked with Zend on this issue, and the result was a series of technical instructions, posted on the forums on Zend’s Web sites, explaining how System i shops could go about configuring MySQL to run on the System i, and solving ongoing maintenance issues.
Now, instead of relying on Zend’s forums for instructions, tips, and advice, IBM and MySQL are formalizing the process that System i shops can take to obtain the MySQL code and, more importantly, obtain technical support. “It’s for our customer who wanted to take the next step, to have it supported by MySQL,” Johnson says. “They can go there and purchase it for i5/OS, just like they do for a number of other operating systems.”
That brings us to the second and more interesting part of last week’s announcement: direct integration between DB2/400 and MySQL.
MySQL is unique among most relational database management systems in that it splits the interface that programmers use to write applications from the back-end code that actually stores the data. While programmers using PHP and other languages have a single data model they write to, the actual heavy lifting can be performed by any number of database engines that can plug into MySQL. Depending on whether a user is writing a transactional applications, a data warehouse applications, or a very quick in-memory business intelligence applications, they can select from an array of engines that plug into MySQL. These storage engines are available from MySQL, as well as from partners, like Oracle InnoDB, Solid Information Technology SolidDB, NitroSecurity‘s NitroEDB, and Infobright‘s BrightHouse.
Now you can add one more third-party storage engine for MySQL: DB2/400.
When the storage engine becomes available–and IBM is keeping very tight lipped about a possible ship date, or even when users might get their hands on a beta or alpha release–it should make it easier for System i shops to implement the latest MySQL applications, Johnson says.
“You’ll be able to run the MySQL-based application, which is written to use MySQL syntax, and data will be stored in DB2 for i5/OS,” Johnson says. “They already have [DB2/400]. They already know how to manage it. [This will allow them] to continue to use the one database. The advantage is, our customers get to leverage open source and other applications written for SQL, and i5/OS, versus buying an Intel server and having to manage another server.”
Any PHP applications, even those most commonly deployed on Wintel or Lintel machines, will run unchanged on the System i, provided it was written to run on the MySQL database. “PHP is an interpretive language, so it doesn’t have to be compiled,” Johnson says.
The plan calls for MySQL to deliver a version of its database, ostensibly called MySQL for i5/OS, that will include the hooks for using DB2/400 as a database engine. Users will still need to purchase DB2/400 from IBM. Also, at this point, it doesn’t appear likely that System i users will be able to make direct use of any of the other third-party engines. They’ll be able to use MySQL’s native engines, or DB2/400 via the plug-in.
Wikis, Portals, and Blogs…Oh My!
What kind of applications will this bring to the System i? What you won’t see are a slew of ERP-type apps–accounting, payroll, inventory management–coming to the platform through the new PHP-MySQL interfaces. There are already thousands of i5/OS-based ERP applications written in RPG, COBOL, and C keeping the nation’s good flowing, the bank accounts balanced, the insurance covered, and patients’ records safe.
What you will likely see are new solutions focusing on collaboration and managing content. For starters, the customer relationship management software from SugarCRM, which was written in PHP and has been a popular application among early PHP adopters on the System i, according to Johnson. Other PHP-MySQL applications are focused on portals, wikis, and blogs.
Johnson acknowledges this will be a change for the true-blue channel. “They’re different applications than what solutions providers deliver on i5/OS. From a customer’s perceptive, they’re different kind of applications,” he says.
Considering the slowing sales of i5/OS servers, bringing in thousands of fresh new applications couldn’t hurt.
The New Oracle
Paola Lubet, vice president of marketing and business development at Cupertino, California-based Solid Information Technology, applauded the move.
“This is great news for somebody like us who provides storage engine,” she says. “It brings more credibility for MySQL when you get the support of a company like IBM. People who had been thinking about MySQL a second-tier database. [But] if IBM is thinking it can get more applications on the iSeries of computers, that it goes to MySQL for this, then it means something in the marketplace.”
Lubert, who spent many years at Oracle before joining Solid, remembers the launch of the AS/400 with a certain degree of fondness. “The AS/400 was first server with an operating system that, instead of a file system, had a database,” she says. “It was a sweet approach for small and mid-size businesses, and it has been very, very successful. IBM has other hardware platforms that are growing faster. But they have a huge installed base of small and mid-size businesses that have a lot of applications that are using that. Now, to get more applications developed with more of the modern architecture, they decided to make the data store that is basically in DB2 for the iSeries accessible also through the MySQL interfaces.”
When Oracle’s dominance of the databases market was threatened with Microsoft‘s upstart SQL Server-Windows NT combination in the mid-1990s, Lubert remembers feeling somewhat insulated from the change. Now she sees the same thing happening in regard to MySQL and development languages that have been around since the middle of last century.
“One of the major challenges they [Microsoft] had was it was very difficult to find programmers and DBAs that could manage SQL Server. But you didn’t have any problem finding somebody to manage Oracle,” she says. “Here it’s the other way around. It’s hard to find a COBOL programmer. But across the world you can find MySQL experts.”