AURA Launches Alternative PHP Server Stack for IBM i
January 16, 2012 Alex Woodie
AURA Equipments today launched iAMP Server, a free collection of software for running PHP workloads on the IBM i server. iAMP is composed of binaries for several products, including PHP, the standard Apache Web server, and the MySQL database. AURA says it developed iAMP, which runs primarily in the PASE AIX runtime, to provide IBM i shops with a standards-based alternative to Zend Technologies‘ PHP solutions for the platform.
iAMP Server is a collection of mostly open source software that includes Apache’s HTTP server version 2.2.21, MySQL version 5.1.59, and PHP version 5.3.8. AURA’s proprietary Easycom software is also part of iAMP Server, although it requires the user to purchase a separate license. The software is pre-compiled to work with IBM i libraries and the binaries are packaged into a single download, which is free and available from the AURA website. Technical support subscriptions start at $1,500 per year.
It’s notable that the Web server in iAMP Server is the latest distribution of the standard Apache Web Server and not the version that IBM modifies and bundles with the IBM i operating system. The version of the Apache Web server that’s included in IBM i is based on an older release of the software that doesn’t include all the latest features and security fixes, AURA CEO Sylvain Rubele says.
Similarly, the version of PHP that AURA uses in iAMP Server is based on the latest release of the open source server-side scripting language, including most PHP extensions. This is different than the version that Zend prepares for IBM i, which does not include standard PHP extensions that are frequently used in the Windows and Linux world, including database access, optimizers, code caching, and debuggers, Rubele says.
As for the MySQL database, it appears that AURA will become the second company providing professional technical support for the open source database running on IBM i. That’s something that it’s owner, Oracle, dropped more than a year ago. Zend, of course, has created its own “drop in replacement” of the MySQL database for IBM i, called DBi, which should be available soon.
Competition for Zend?
It’s no secret that there’s no love lost between Zend and AURA, which had been business partners for five years before December 31, when Zend stopped distributing AURA’s Easycom software with its PHP stack for IBM i. Zend replaced Easycom with its own open source XML Toolkit, which became available in late December with Zend Server for IBM i version 5.6.
But Rubele assures IT Jungle that iAMP Server wasn’t created merely out of spite for his old business partner. While Rubele maintains that Zend’s public comments on the lack of capabilities in Easycom aren’t true, he says AURA created iAMP Server to address real technological and business needs in the market that aren’t being adequately served by Zend and IBM.
For starters, iAMP Server becomes the second supported IBM i-focused PHP stack, which is important for customers who are concerned about being locked into one vendor who may decide to raise rates, Rubele says. “Until now, IBM i is the only platform where only one provider exists for PHP,” he says. “When you go to Linux, you can find many distributions of PHP. So maybe we’re just the first alternative to Zend, and maybe someone else will come out [with another PHP distribution] on this platform.”
iAMP Server provides a standard distribution of xAMP stack, and works just like standard PHP stacks do on Linux (LAMP) and Windows (WAMP), AURA says. “We’re respecting all the standards,” Rubele says. “The solution runs in PASE on IBM i just like it does on any other platform. It was our goal that everything [works just] like any other Unix compatible platform.”
The fact that iAMP Server includes a standard distribution of the Apache Web server–and not the IBM HTTP Server (Powered by Apache) that IBM includes with IBM i–is a big reason for launching the bundle, Rubele says.
“We are providing our own binary for the Apache Server,” he says. “It provides better integration between Apache and PHP extensions or any other extensions that someone would like to have on IBM i. . . It means there are no restrictions on the extensions that we can connect with. Any software that’s providing PHP extensions, we’ll be able to compile and provide the PHP extensions on our PHP module.”
For example, Zend provides its own code optimizers and debuggers as part of its PHP distribution for IBM i, Rubele says. The iAMP Server, on the other hand, includes standard debuggers and optimizers that are commonly used. The Zend package is not closed when it comes to extensions, but the fact that iAMP Server comes with some of the most commonly used extensions could make it a better fit for some customers.
Rubele also cites security benefits. Because it’s based on the latest Apache code, iAMP Server’s Web server provides all the latest features and security patches, which aren’t always available in the IBM HTTP Server (the one that’s Powered by Apache).
Rubele says he has been contacted by several IBM i shops on i5/OS V5R4 who are flummoxed by the fact that the latest release of the IBM HTTP Server (powered by Apache) isn’t available on their OS release, but only newer releases of the i OS. “Some customers just don’t want to use IBM’s HTTP server because it is not up to date regarding security,” Rubele says.
AURA business partner Chris Hird, of Shield Advanced Solutions, says iAMP Server is easier to install than the Zend package. He says it takes about five minutes to load iAMP Server, which uses a Wyse bootstrapper onto an IBM i server from a Windows PC. “It is very efficient and easy to install,” he says.
“There’s nothing wrong with Zend Server,” says Hird, who will be providing technical support for iAMP Server for North American customers. “I’ve been using it since it first came out. But a lot of people have shown a lot of confusion on how to manage a PHP environment on the IBM i. . . . Sometimes, something very simple is a better solution for smaller customers who just want something sugared in and installed, and don’t want to understand lots of complex configuration requirements.”
Going forward, AURA plans to keep iAMP Server up to date with the latest release of PHP, Apache, MySQL, and extensions. The plan isn’t to provide an IBM i compilation of every point release of these open source products, but to get binaries for the bigger releases that contain new functionality. Security fixes will receive priority treatment from AURA. There’s also the possibility of supporting other popular Web languages in iAMP Server, such as Perl, AURA says.
iAMP Server should be available for download soon from the AURA website, www.easycom-aura.com.