Most Innovative IBM i Products: A FHS Year in Review
December 9, 2014 Alex Woodie
Where will IBM i products go in 2015? They will likely look a lot like 2014, which was heavy on mobile and Web development technologies, open standards, and security. Let’s take a stroll through the Four Hundred Stuff (FHS) archive, now 13-years strong, and recount the top new, improved, or innovative IBM i products that we saw over the past 12 months, from a purely non-objective, editorially biased, seat-of-one’s pants standpoint.
January: Open Display Files
The year started with looksoftware (now Fresche Legacy) unveiling an offering based on the Open Display File (ODF) standard. IBM‘s Rational Open Access: RPG Edition (ROA) technology, you will recall, provides an exceptionally powerful way to create Web- or mobile-based interfaces for RPG applications. The problem, as look and other see it, is that ROA still requires customers to mess around with DDS code. ODF, which is based on XML and defined by the Open Access Metadata Open Standard (OAMOS), breaks that DDS requirement and sets RPG developers free to use modern tools and technologies, backers say.
DB2 is heralded as the IBM i platform’s biggest strength. But is it possible to improve on it? Christopher Burns, a developer for GEMKO Information Group, thinks that it is, and to prove it he set out to create Inuendo, which is an associative database that run on IBM i. Instead of storing data in a traditional relational schema and then building virtual access paths to them with indexes, Inuendo’s associative model dramatically simplifies the approach with a much leaner model that pairs the power of SQL with a small number of tables to hold data and metadata. Burns says this approach greatly simplifies database access and will enable applications to grow without the need to carry non-strategic legacy baggage in the database. Burns hosts the Inuendo project at inuendo.us.
Attachmate may have been late to the mobile party, but it sought to make up a lot of ground this March with the introduction of its TouchUX mobile interface with its Reflection for IBM suite. The software, which uses the Xen Receiver emulation software from Citrix, gives users access to TN5250 or TN3270 emulation sessions from an Android or iOS tablet, including a full-function keyboard that gives users access to function keys. The March launch also included SmartUX controls that allow IBM i and mainframe shops to customize their screens, a la HLLAPIs and VBA scripts.
April: Heartbleed Patches
IBM i shops got a rude awakening in April, when IBM issued Power Systems firmware patches to address the newly discovered Heartbleed vulnerability in OpenSSL, which left passwords unencrypted. It wasn’t the only security problem to hit open source security tools this year, as the POODLE vulnerability in SSL 3.0 would make the rounds several months later.
May: Universal Display Files
June: UBD SCSI Express
It was a slow month for IBM i product news, but the summer doldrums were broken up with the Electronic Storage launch of Universal Backup Device SCSI Express. While the company has sold UBD appliances that allows IBM i shops to turn low-cost X86 servers into Fibre Channel-connected backup devices, the launch of UBD SCSI Express opened the door for smaller shops with older SCSI-connected machines to jump into the tape-removal sweepstakes.
July: IBM Connections
After making a 2013 commitment to support IBM i with its flagship business social media software, IBM followed through with the delivery of IBM Connections 5 this summer. The software is designed to let teams of users collaborate through Web spaces, blogs, wikis, forums, and shared libraries (file syncs). The software sports hooks into the Lotus email, contacts, and calendar software and also is supported on a variety of mobile devices.
IBM i ISVs that are paranoid about access control were given the chance this month to incorporate Townsend Security ‘s new Alliance Two Factor Authentication (2FA) product into their own products following the launch of Townsend’s 2FA partner program. The IBM i-based software incorporates another layer of access security by requiring users to correctly enter a unique PIN code that is sent to their enrolled smart phones via SMS messaging. Considering the number of massive data breaches that occurred over the past year, more IBM i shops should be paranoid about security.
Many IBM i programmers call the Rational Developer for i (RDi) environment home. And while RDi does a lot of things well, there’s always room for improvement. That’s where the free iSphere plug-in comes in. Originally developed by Frank Hildebrandt of Task Force IT-Consulting, the product fills in several RDi gaps in the areas of searching and editing files, binding directories, and viewing spooled files. “I love iSphere,” declared Jon Paris.
IBM made an excellent move many years ago when it worked with Zend Technologies to bring support for PHP to the IBM i platform. There’s a chance that support for Node.js in IBM i 7.1 and 7.2 could have a similar impact. Essentially a framework designed to take some of the complexity out of building and running scalable, data-intensive Web applications, Node.js is one of the hottest Web development technologies at the moment, and has a lot of IBM i pros excited.
November: IFS Replication
The rise of “big data” has impacted many aspects of businesses. For IBM i shops, the biggest impact may be in the size of their IFS. To ensure that their high availability setups are sufficiently able to handle increasing IFS volumes, Maxava announced in November that it made its IFS replication engine multi-threaded. Few customers have maxed out their single-threaded IFS replicators, but the writing was on the wall.
December: RBAC for i
The consequences of lax security controls were on full display in 2014, which featured a number of high-profile data breaches at Target, Staples, Home Depot, JPMorgan Chase, and other companies. One of the ways that administrators can improve security is by adopting role-based access control (RBAC) methodologies. IBM i security vendor PowerTech shipped a major update of its RBAC tool, called PowerAdmin, that enables administrators to use templates to manage users according to their roles, instead of setting access rights individually.
It’s been a great year for IBM i product development. IT Jungle wishes all the IBM i developers a RESTful holiday before starting fresh in 2015.