Open Source CMS No Stranger on IBM i
August 16, 2011 Alex Woodie
There are a lot of options available to IBM i shops looking for a software package that allows them to run a website on their favorite box. But one class of tools that seems to be gaining lots of traction these days is the group of open source, PHP-based content management systems (CMS). The big three in this category include Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress, and you might be surprised to learn about some of the prominent IBM i industry websites that are using these systems.
The rise of the open source CMS on the IBM i server is directly tied to the increasing prominence of PHP as a Web application programming language, and the hard work that Zend Technology and IBM have done to make PHP a fully vetted and integrated environment on the platform.
The work of these partners opened the door to running all sorts of packaged enterprise applications, such as SugarCRM. We hear a lot about SugarCRM, since it’s a profit-making software company with a big marketing budget and a modern management style. The popular PHP-based CRM system was even made into an official IBM i Solution Edition, putting it on a podium alongside the world’s largest ERP vendors.
But there’s a lot of IBM i-PHP activity occurring below the marketing radar, where a fast and free download of an open source product trumps official IBM ordering forms. This is where you discover that today’s IBM i pros are increasingly willing to experiment with the open source model, which eschews paid hand-holding in favor of volunteerism and sharing what worked.
And although there are no IBM i Solution Editions for Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress, IBM i pros at some point realized there’s nothing stopping them from running these popular LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP)-based applications on their IBM i servers. All that’s required is Zend’s PHP environment and the MySQL database, which can be obtained at very low costs.
These CMS systems provide the basic underpinnings required to publish and manage a website. WordPress is generally regarded as the easiest (but most limited) of the three to use, while Drupal seems to get credit for advanced functionality (as well as the associated complexity). Joomla seems falls somewhere in the middle.
Focus on Joomla
Two members of the Joomla community–Ryan Ozimek, president of Open Source Matters, a not-for-profit organization created to help the Joomla project, and Mark Dexter, a member of the Joomla Production Leadership Team, recently briefed IT Jungle on the state of open source CMS, and the recent enhancements to Joomla.
The Joomla project is focused on providing a relatively small set of core functionality that’s handled by the CMS, such as managing users, files, menus, language encoding, search functions, archiving, and (most importantly) page appearance. The core CMS comes out of the box with the capacity to run polls, enable voting, handle links, use RSS newsfeeds, share postings with friends via email, and manage banners (ads or otherwise).
Advanced functionality–such as a payment system for an ecommerce website–is handled by add-ons written by third parties. “Most real-life sites will need more stuff, such as events, calendars, forums, or ecommerce functionality. That’s where the extensions community comes in,” Dexter says.
More than 8,000 Joomla extensions are currently available, and nearly one-quarter of them work with Joomla version 1.6, a major revision released six months ago. Extensions can be found at the Joomla extensions directory, while Joomla services offered by for-profit companies can be found elsewhere.
Joomla is becoming quite popular at the moment. While WordPress has a much bigger footprint (owning to its focus on blogging), Joomla accounts for nearly 3 percent of the world’s websites, according to Ozimek. “We’ve got a new release cycle, and we’re seeing a lot of good energy moving forward with Joomla, and we’re really excited to see where we’re going,” he says. In July, Joomla announced version 1.7, which separates the Joomla CMS from the Joomla Platform application framework, and also institutes a new six-month release cycle.
Open source CMS is not just for hobbyists anymore, as many of the world’s biggest companies run open source CMS. Joomla counts International House of Pancakes and a major Citibank website as Joomla-run websites. In the IBM i world, COMMON’s website at www.common.org and the Wisconsin Midrange Computer Professional Association’s website at www.wmcpa.org are hosted on Joomla running on IBM i backends. The Young i Professional’s website at www.youngiprofessionals.com is done with Joomla. You’ll also find instructions for loading Joomla onto IBM i on the YiPS site.
“We’re targeting ease of use on the one hand, but delivering scalable and powerful functionality on the other hand,” Dexter says. “We don’t think we have to do one or the other. Joomla sites are running websites for everything from small churches and mom and pop stores up to companies like McDonalds and eBay. It’s a full spectrum of users.”
Integration with MySQL is a blessing and a curse for Joomla. On the one hand, the capability to integrate DB2/400 data with Joomla’s data housed in MySQL via the DB2 Storage Engine from IBM can be used for all sorts of good stuff–such as serving as a backup. One the other hand, support issues loom. Oracle‘s decision to end support for MySQL on IBM i late last year has put the kibosh on some IBM i professionals’ plans to give Joomla on IBM i a shot.
But the open source CMS kimono has been opened, and the software is getting more sophisticated every day. In the end, IBM i shops will likely find a pre-built package that suits them.