Busy Signals Coming From PowerRuby
August 11, 2014 Dan Burger
It has been almost a year since we found out about a company called PowerRuby, a coming together of the open source Ruby on Rails development environment and the IBM Power Systems user community. “There’s something special going on with Ruby and Rails,” we were told by one of the brightest young minds in the IBM i community, Aaron Bartell. Notable IBM i evangelists Steve Will, Alison Butterill, Jon Paris, and others eagerly encouraged IBM i developers to try it.
A lot has happened for PowerRuby, although you might shake your head after reading the beta test site on www.powerruby.com has attracted the attention of approximately 60 IBM i enthusiasts willing to explore Ruby and Rails. That may not sound like business is booming, but read on before you jump to conclusions.
The port of the Ruby language and the Ruby on Rails framework to IBM i 7.2 was just completed on June 7. Bartell and Don Denoncourt, a veteran IBM i developer, consultant, author, and educator, led the porting efforts. The tire kicking has just begun.
Most of the early feedback from beta users related to difficulties setting up development environments and that was often pegged to the unfamiliar PASE/QSH command line. Some feedback exposed bugs in the install routines, which resulted in frequent updates. That kept things busy. Meanwhile, Bartell, in particular, has been on a mission to introduce Ruby and Rails to the IBM i community through articles in trade publications and sessions at local user group meetings and conferences such as COMMON and the RPG & DB2 Summit.
As with any technology that takes people into new territory, the uncertainty creates a nervousness that can digress into paralysis. Solving the how-to-get-started question can be the great inhibitor, according to Anthony Avison, CEO of PowerRuby, who is one of the co-founders along with Bartell. Avison’s company, Dancerace, has funded PowerRuby and owns and controls the interests and intellectual property of the project. Dancerace is based in the UK.
Research and development of the IBM i Ruby/Rails materials has been expanded and is now centered in the UK.
“This raises the status and solidarity of the PowerRuby project very considerably, with a full-time team working to support the commercial versions of the language and framework,” Avison says. “The most technically senior person from the PowerRuby team, Andrea Ribuoli, is working now full-time with the UK team.
A development ‘sandbox’ available to IBM i users shares the PowerRuby UK facilities with a Power8-based server farm, which is expected to go live in the fall.
“We understand IBM has no immediate intention to put the IBM i OS onto their Power servers in SoftLayer, so it falls to private enterprises such as us to pioneer this,” Avison says. “IBM is committed to open source for the future, and has provided resources to us as they did to Zend for PHP on IBM i.”
Avison expects IBM’s support going forward and says his company is seeking partnerships to enhance this cooperation.
“Some optimization work on DB2 adapters and drivers remains,” Avison says, “but it is possible with no material restrictions to run Ruby programs and Rails Web applications on the IBM i extremely well. There is nothing â€˜magicalâ€™ going on in terms of performance, and Iâ€™d say if performance was the sole thing someone was looking at, then thereâ€™s not much difference between a Rails application running on IBM i and the same application running on a similarly configured IBM PowerLinux server.”
The IBM i advantage comes from the system’s resiliency, the integrated DB2 database, the object security model, and the scalability. There are also the operating simplicities associated with work management and single level storage. Early adopters, Avison predicts, are most likely to be “IBM i users who fully appreciate the platform/OS and want to redevelop applications that are currently ‘legacy’ RPG or COBOL. That is not our only market, but it’s an obvious one.”