DB2 Enhancements, Free Form RPG, Modernization Top Rowe’s ‘Big Hits’ List
February 2, 2015 Dan Burger
If you build it, they will come. It was a prophecy that came to be in a movie called Field of Dreams, but it’s no guarantee in the world of business computing and software development. Sometimes customers come and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they come, but it’s at a pace that makes tortoise racing seem like speed skating. So I asked a guy who is up to his ears in IBM i software development what he thought were IBM‘s biggest success stories.
The guy I went to was Tim Rowe, IBM i business architect for application development and systems management. We met at the January OCEAN user group meeting in Orange County, California, where Rowe was the guest speaker. It was a gray and overcast 60-degree day, chilly by Southern California standards, but we sat outside during our chat. I wore a sweater, but Rowe, a resident of Rochester, Minnesota, wore only a polo shirt. He’d already experienced 15 degrees below zero back home this winter, he explained. Rowe thought it was warm. I thought it was cold. Everything is relative, we decided.
What about relative successes for IBM software development?
With no particular priority or ranking in mind, Rowe gave me his thoughts on where the biggest impacts have been made. He started with database enhancements and interest in SQL.
Companies that have started down the path of modernization, Rowe acknowledges, and although they often begin a modernization project by making the user interface a priority, the process “opens their eyes to other things–the database being one of those things.” If it’s not an application modernization project that focuses attention on the database, it is company growth that puts pressure on the existing database. The recognition that SQL can be the answer for a database that is growing and projected to keep growing is another instigator of database modernization projects.
“Not everyone is going to completely modernize their databases,” Rowe admits, “but there is a component to that process and a desire to leverage that technology. Many of the projects I am aware of are iterative. Companies pick and choose pieces of the database to modernize over time. It allows them to start with small bites that provide benefit.”
Rowe picked the IBM Lab Services team for DB2 on i as a gauge for determining software success. He calls it one of the most successful teams in all of Lab Services and says they are busy working with customers on database modernization. Companies in the IBM i community are continually going in the direction of SQL, he says, while referring to SQL as the de facto database language for the younger generation of developers who will be taking over for the retiring IBM i specialists.
The database discussion branches into security as Rowe selects row column access control as an enhancement that has stimulated a response from the IBM i customers.
“IBM i has been known as a secure machine, but security needs to be taken to the next level based on industry requirements which is not just having a secure machine and secure objects, but having secure data,” Rowe says. “That’s where row column access control, or RCAC, comes in. I talk with companies that think RCAC is reason enough to move to 7.2.”
Rowe has an application developer’s perspective, but admits to having an interest in data-centric development. He says data security has a lot of people talking.
“In the case of RCAC, pushing security down into the database level is the right way to do it,” he says. Without a requirement to put security into the application layer, it makes application development simpler. It also makes apps easier to maintain, manage, and write in the future.
“It’s a much better control point for managing data access,” he says.
Companies that are dealing with regulatory compliance issues are the first to recognize the benefits of RCAC.
“If a company needs to have data control, how else will it get it? You can make applications that have a level of data control, but it is possibly susceptible to access from some means that is out of your control. System rules apply, but data rules don’t. RCAC enforces data rules at the system level,” he points out.
A good resource for developer’s is the IBM Redbook titled Row and Column Access Support in IBM DB2 for i that can be downloaded from this link.
Another topic that has people in the IBM i community not just talking but actually doing something is Free Form RPG. Although Rowe freely admits he has no actual statistics to back up his opinion, he is confident the adoption rate of Free Form RPG has been good. It’s available to all IBM i users who are running the 7.1 and 7.2 releases, which I believe is more than 50 percent (although I freely admit I have no actual statistics to back up my opinion either).
“Within our community, we normally see customers react to products about a year after they are available. With Free Form RPG, the reaction was occurring within three months,” Rowe notes. “Customer interest is high and they are using it.”
It puts RPG in the category alongside other modern languages and allows programmers who have learned their trade in the past 15 years to understand RPG. The elimination of a column-based structure is undeniably important. The biggest benefit is having code that is no longer a mystery to non-RPG programmers, which means worries about programmer extinction will fade and RPG can continue to be written for tasks that it excels at performing.
“We don’t have metrics on who is using it,” Rowe says, “but as I talk with customers who are using it. The LUG is using it–any company doing active development is using it.”
Rowe believes there are misconceptions and that some programmers are unaware that programs can have sections of both fixed format and free format code and the compiler does not care.
“Using free form does not require developers to throw out the old stuff,” he notes. “They can co-exist. Use can be incremental. And there are tools from ARCAD and Linoma that help make the conversion very easy.”
Also on Rowe’s impromptu list of noteworthy successes is the Liberty Web services runtime engine. This integrated Web application server was a welcomed relief from the previous LWI server, which was in maintenance mode for the past several years. It was the SOAP-based Web services engine since 2009. The Liberty engine, which became available a little more than a year ago, paved the way for REST services (an option to SOAP). REST-based engines have become the industry choice, although Rowe is quick to point out that SOAP-based services are not going away and companies using SOAP services have no cause for alarm. IBM began supporting REST services with the Liberty server just one month ago.
According to Rowe, it was the SOAP-based server users that asked for REST services.
“That’s been a request for four years,” Rowe says while noting there are thousands of IBM i users equipped with SOAP-based engines. “But the Liberty server had to come before REST services.”
The Liberty server has replaced the LWI server on many machines as part of the HTTP PTF group process, Rowe says. He also noted that security and PCI compliance is met with the Liberty server.
The database enhancements, Free Form RPG, and the Liberty server all fit under the huge category of modernization, which in one form or another has captured the awareness of IBM i shops big and small. With Rowe as the project manager, IBM turned out an 800-page modernization Redbook last year, which, Rowe says, has well over 9,000 downloads.
That’s a pretty strong indication of interest in the modernization topic.
“I know that the IBM i community has had a focus in this area over the past few years. It’s nice to see it really taking hold,” Rowe says. “Over the past year, I have been doing lots in the modernization space when it comes to customer events and such. This year–at both the Spring COMMON (April 26-29 in Anaheim, California) as well as our Power Systems Edge conference (May 11-15 in Las Vegas, Nevada) there will be many sessions focused on the various aspects of modernization. In addition, I will be speaking to customers world-wide as will people like Steve Will. Modernization is a consistent theme for all our sessions.”