Raz-Lee Claims IBM i Data-Access Breakthrough with DB-Gate
April 3, 2012 Alex Woodie
Raz-Lee Security last week unveiled DB-Gate, a new database connectivity product that gives IBM i applications direct access to other databases using native IBM i SQL commands and procedures. The vendor, which is best known for its security software, claims its new patent-pending product is revolutionary because it accomplishes something that previously was difficult to do without using complicated middleware or proprietary interfaces.
For all the talk of openness and adherence to standards, the IBM i platform is surprisingly shut off when it comes to enabling IBM i applications to have direct, real-time access to foreign databases. It’s not really IBM‘s fault, since IBM has bent over backwards to make IBM i very accessible to other computers–that is, to serve data from DB2/400.
But when you switch things around, and the IBM i application plays the client to another database server, such as Microsoft SQL Server, Oracle, Sybase, MySQL, and Terradata, then things get unexpectedly complicated.
Your first reaction might be, “Aren’t ODBC and JDBC supposed to enable real-time sharing across databases and platforms?” The answer is, yes, they’re supposed to, but they don’t. ODBC only allows data to flow out of DB2/400 to other applications; it doesn’t work the other way around without a layer of middleware. The story with JDBC is better when using a Type 4 JDBC driver, which will enable Java-based IBM i applications to access databases that have a JDBC driver. But that leaves RPG and COBOL apps out of the loop.
There’s the Distributed Relational Database Architecture (DRDA), which gives IBM i apps direct access to the other two versions of DB2–LUW (for Linux, Unix, and Windows) and DB2 for z/OS. And while other database vendors, notably Oracle and Microsoft, have adopted parts of the Open Group‘s DRDA standard, they don’t support the part of DRDA that allow their databases to serve data requests.
The dilemma was addressed in a 2008 white paper by IBMers Kent Milligan and Colin Hendricks, titled “Heterogeneous data access for i5/OS applications.” “Unfortunately, [Microsoft and Oracle] have chosen to only support part of the DRDA standard. They have implemented the specifications that enable them to access data in other databases, but do not support the DRDA specifications that allow DRDA compliant databases (that is, DB2 for i5/OS) to access and update their data. Other methods must be used until all of the database products fully embrace the Open Group DRDA standard.” (Version 3 of the paper is accessible here.)
IBM i shops can address this problem by utilizing batch data transfers via FTP, but this eliminates the real-time capability. Organizations can also use database replication tools, but that creates other problems, consumes lots of resources, and is a poor substitute for streamlined SQL access to other databases. Alternatively, they can develop a client-server application on a third system to access both DB2/400 and the foreign database or databases, but this entails more work and degrades the investment in the IBM i platform.
IBM’s solution to the database access problem is an obscure product called InfoSphere Federation Server. This software, which does not run under IBM i, has been buried by several name changes. It’s been called WebSphere Federation Server, IBM DB2 DataJoiner, IBM DB2 Relational Connect, IBM DB2 Information Integrator, and IBM WebSphere Information Integrator. Several IBM i resident solutions are also available from Information Builders, RJS Software, Attunity, and DataGlider. But these products utilize proprietary SQL interfaces, Milligan and Hendricks say. Oracle also sells a product, called the Oracle Access Manager for AS/400, that addresses the issue, but it only works with Oracle databases and it’s expensive.
That brings us to Raz-Lee’s new DB-Gate. It appears this product accomplishes something no other product has been able to accomplish–namely, its use of standard SQL commands for enabling direct access from all IBM i applications to foreign databases, without the need for bulky middleware or APIs that use IBM’s Call Level Interface (CLI).
DB-Gate uses the basic SQL commands on IBM i, such as STRSQL (Start SQL Interactive Session), STRQM (Start Query Manager), and RUNSQLSTM (Run SQL Statement). Any IBM i language that can work with the CRTSQL (Create SQL) compile command can be connected to foreign databases with DB-Gate.
By all appearances, Raz-Lee has accomplished something notable and unique with DB-Gate. While Raz-Lee is best known for security software, its first foray outside of that niche could be a profitable one. Shmuel Zailer, CEO and CTO at Raz-Lee, says DB-Gate may be “the most important IBM i announcement in a long time.”
“It positions the i on a level equal to all other operating systems as the hub for application-related data requests, ensuring the continued and increasing use of the i in the coming years,” Zailer says in a press release. “DB-Gate opens foreign databases and data sources to full access from the i, which, in the current world of heterogeneous data access and cloud access, is of ever-increasing importance.”
Raz-Lee says the software has the capability to drastically simplify data access in heterogeneous environments. For example, consider a hypothetical company that runs ERP on an IBM i server, CRM on an Oracle-based system, and payroll on a Windows-based system. With DB-Gate, the data in those systems can be integrated from an IBM i perspective. This eliminates the need to move data in batches via FTP or writing a separate .NET or Java program to connect the three systems.
The emphasis on IBM i-based access should play well in organizations that prefer to keep core data processing tasks on their IBM i servers. Raz-Lee has even raised the possibility that DB-Gate could spur the migration of new AIX and Linux workloads to the Power Systems platforms, or at least to the same IBM-based blade or rack. This simplifies integration issues, and also minimizes cabling between servers, which is no trivial matter.
“It will now be easy for an i shop to use existing RPG programmers to write applications which previously required a C programmer to write on a different platform,” Zailer says via email. “This will increase the ‘centrality,’ i.e. relative importance, of the i and its programmers in the enterprise.”
DB-Gate installs on the IBM i server and requires no software to be installed on the target database server. Raz-Lee calls this an agent-less approach. The software uses standard RDBDIRE (relational DB directory entry) for each database or data source. It also supports SSL, uses IBM i authentication, and keeps an audit log. When connecting to other versions of DB2, DB-Gate eliminates the need to create the appropriate *SQLPKG package, the company says.
Raz-Lee has applied for a patent for DB-Gate in the U.S. Pricing was not disclosed, but free trials of DB-Gate version 1.0 are now available. The company is also hosting a webinar about the new product tomorrow, April 11, and April 18 at 10 a.m. EDT. For more information, see the vendor’s website at www.raz-lee.com.