IBM i 7.2 Available May 2
May 5, 2014 Dan Burger
When IBM flexes its brain muscles, heads turn. The competition that was posing for the crowd while working out with the light weights quietly leaves the gym. Friday was one of those days. A few select Power8-based servers, the first of larger lineup of what IBM is calling the “scale-out” machines, are ready to rip. And for the IBM i advocacy, the latest release of the operating system–available May 2–is showing off for the first time.
COMMON hosted a webinar on April 28 that officially introduced the news, which was a great opportunity for COMMON to increase its visibility. IBM i executives–Alison Butterill, IBM i product offering manager; Mark Olson, Power Systems product offering manager; and Steve Will, chief architect for IBM i–spread the word as much as possible within a one-hour limit. COMMON, which May 4 opens the doors on its Annual Meeting and Exposition in Orlando, Florida, has timely in-depth sessions on the new releases. And the IBM booth in the exhibit hall will be running a non-stop show-and-tell from Sunday evening through Tuesday afternoon.
On the hardware side, IBM has unveiled five new boxes with two of them ready for i. The machine most IBM i shops will eventually want to know about, the P05, is not among the first Power8 peeks. What is available for a closer look today are the Power S814 (P10 class) and Power S824 (P20 class) general-purpose machines. Both of these machines can run IBM i in addition to AIX 6.1 and 7.1 as well as Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6.5 and SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 11 SP3. Power8 machines are supported by the IBM i 7.1 and 7.2 releases.
IT Jungle‘s hardware man, Timothy Pricket Morgan, already has dibs on the nuts and bolts of the first round of Power 8 server details. If you haven’t rolled up your sleeves on the first of the Power8 announcements, let TPM take you on a guided tour in his article at this link. More details will follow as we analyze the new machines.
Switching over to IBM i operating system mode, the first thing to know is the new 7.2 OS runs on Power6 and Power6+ systems, Power7 and Power7+ machines, and the new Power8 servers. And you can count on all of the Technology Refreshes that have been introduced for 7.1 to be available in 7.2.
As we run our eyes over IBM i 7.2, the first stopping point is the DB2 for i database, which once again is the first place to look for enhancements. Integration continues to be the key word in all database discussions, and IBM really barks about the importance of designing and developing business applications with a data-centric approach. When you see the word integration, think SQL. Within the IBM i community, the evolution of data access via SQL has accelerated and is coming close to qualifying as mainstream.
“There is a lot of investment in many different areas of DB2, which is the core of the operating system,” says Will, who would love to convert all the i advocates to SQL. “Most of what you do on this platform is keyed around how you use the database and how you create applications.”
If this is a topic that you’d like to understand better, try downloading the IBM i Modernization Redbook, which is available in an early draft format. It covers a lot of database modernization territory as well as application modernization.
When data access is the topic, data security should be part of the conversation. That’s why we’ll be hearing a lot about row and column access control. You might as well add RCAC to your acronym decoder ring right now.
RCAC is another level of control for object-level security that limits users to only the data required for their work. It’s complementary to the table-level security in DB2 and it sits on top of DB2. Where this comes into play is when the person who designs and implements the control policies at your company also has access to the data. That’s not a good thing when the point is to restrict access to data.
Two significant points to know about RCAC is that data is protected regardless of how the table is accessed and no application changes are required. By enforcing security at the database, it removes the duplication of effort that’s traditionally involved each time an application is developed. Some developers forget to code security into applications. But if it’s taken care at the database level, application security problems are not an application developer’s concern any longer.
Trust me; you are going to hear a lot about data-centric application development this year.
New 7.2 procedures designed for data-centric application development include features that use delimiters in SQL statements, set the blocking size for tables, and set values for the SQL client special registers. There are also new procedures for working with indexes. You’ll find interfaces to monitor and work with SQL in jobs on a single system or to compare constraint and routine information across systems.
System management is another priority item for IBM i 7.2. The managing of memory, workloads and security top the list. To begin with, the temporary storage on the system has been improved to enable the tracking storage leaks when temporary storage is being used. That’s a pretty good pain reliever.
IBM Navigator for i–which first appeared in a browser-based version when IBM i 6.1 was introduced but was not very good–is adding more Web-based features and attention to usability and performance gets more scrutiny. If you haven’t looked at Navigator for i in a year or more, it’s turned the corner in terms of improved features and functions.
Most recently, for instance, there’s the added capability to create monitors for many system performance attributes and to watch for message alerts. Also of note is the load-and-apply-PTFs feature for a local server or a group of systems.
IBM i has a strong reputation for collecting system info that can predict when performance is affected by different parts of the operating system. This was enhanced with 7.1 and has significant new features again in 7.2.
Navigator is designed to manage and compare PTFs among multiple systems, while also monitoring, analyzing, and predicting workload impacts on those systems. And the tool known as Performance Data Investigator has expanded its monitoring, detection, and adjustment capabilities using collection data as a base for determining future workloads. Other highlights here include PTF support for viewing PTFs and PTF groups installed on a partition and installing, removing and cleaning PTFs from the GUI. Comparing and updating PTFs via the Web console is yet another convenience.
“Some customers have stayed with PC-based Navigator because they needed specific views into how the database was being used. That feature was not part of the Web-based Navigator. Now it is,” Will noted.
Batch model is another enhancement that administrators should take note of. It uses data collected while applications are running and provides an interface that models possible changes and the effects of those changes on an application. The effect of changing disk configuration on an application is one example. For admins who move to 7.2, the capability to access collection services from IBM i 6.1 and 7.1 is part of the deal.
Users who want mobile access are creating a big demand in IBM i shops. The software vendor community is churning out mobile products that interface with RPG- and COBOL-based applications in great numbers. Meanwhile, IBM is delivering its own mobile interfaces for system admins who can manage and monitor from phones and tablets. IBM i 7.2 is not a showcase for mobile features, but IBM has contributed some important technologies during the past several years. RPG Open Access, mobile services, and XML server updates have made some considerable contributions, leaving this OS upgrade without a mobile story to tell.
However, Will promised a Web-mobile interface for managing systems coming soon. Web-based IBM i management capabilities have been available, but not from Web-enabled phones and tablets. Seems reasonable, based on the chief architect’s blatant hinting, that we’ll see this real soon. It will be browser-based technology and therefore not tied to a particular mobile platform. For companies that already have virtual private networks in place, this should be a quick and easy deployment.
A few more items worth mentioning are the new Apache 2.4 Web server and the integrated WebSphere application server. Both are faster and boast better compliance. WAS is now based on the open source Liberty 8.5 template. Also on the open source topic, you’ll find 7.2 support for SAMBA, the open source file server system that allows compatibility with Windows clients and servers.
There are a couple of areas where 7.2 losses some luster because the technology refreshed stole the shine.
One of those is RPG, where free-form RPG enhancements at TR7 stirred up the development community just a bit. According to Will, free-form RPG was originally planned for a 7.2 coming out party, but took its bow as the headliner in TR7 with 7.1 compatibility rather than being part of the 7.2 showcase and potentially having users make the jump to 7.2 in order to get that free form functionality. So 7.2 gets to toot the RPG horn for its enhancements to time stamps and character sets–good features but not the kind of thing that will elicit “remember when” questions a few years from now.
Cloud and virtualization topics are also slim with the 7.2 intro. Again, the TR program made bigger splashes with features like live partition mobility and network install capabilities in Technology Refreshes.
There will be additional coverage of Power8 and IBM i 7.2 in IT Jungle newsletters in the weeks ahead, so stay on board. You can also find details at two IBM websites: the Knowledge Center and developerWorks.