Mobile Access To IBM i Makes The Grade
May 18, 2015 Dan Burger
When a Technology Refresh gets rolled out, we find all sorts of things rolled in. Some of the items, like those picked by IBM execs Steve Will and Alison Butterill two weeks ago in an IT Jungle story, are the front runners for most valuable enhancements. But the list goes on and opinions vary. Tim Rowe puts the addition of mobile support for IBM i Access for the Web, SQL services, and new REST-based Web services at the top of the list.
A big part of the IBM i reputation is its easy access to its file system, to printers and printer output, the operating system security, and DB2 database. The interfaces and the terminology make sense to anyone familiar with the platform. The IBM i Access software family includes products that access client solutions, Windows, Linux, and Web. And now it includes mobile, as part of the Access for Web products, or it will when it becomes generally available at the end of the month.
“Access for Web was repurposed for mobile users,” Rowe, IBM’s business architect for application development, says. “We now have a mobile interface for managing things like active sessions, printer output, job logs, spool files, message queues, operator messages, and the database.”
The software detects when a mobile device (Android, iOS, or Windows) is being used to access IBM i and it reformats the core data that’s requested and makes it viewable to a mobile device. It has a built-in graphical user interface that until now was not part of IBM i Access for Web.
Access for Web has been around for a long time, but is not considered to be a widely used interface. It’s most common use was to embed Web management into Java applications, when a 5250 emulator was considered useful for a Web application. Although not flashy, it is both functional and fast and it does what a system administrator needs it to do. Its connectivity is through cell service rather than Wi-Fi.
It’s fair to say accessing IBM i resources from smartphones and tablets through IBM i Access for Web is at an introductory level right now. Its capabilities are picked from the low-hanging fruit. Enhancements are expected sooner rather than later as Rowe and the development team extends access to additional business information, applications, and resources across an enterprise.
The current mobile device is a key part of IBM’s strategic direction for system access and management. Its capabilities include:
“More capabilities will be added,” says Rowe, who helped design and develop the upgrades to IBM i Access for Web. “This has been in tech review for a year and ideas keep coming and the product continues to be refined. New items might be added between now the next TR, but they will be announced at next TR.”
Useful enhancements that are highly likely are views of disk status and system activity.
IBM i Access for Web is system based, which means no code runs on the desktop or mobile device. It is implemented using Java Servlets and uses HTTP, HTTPS, and HTML protocols.
Licensing is covered under the Access family of software products. Those who have Client Access licensing, will see and feel no additional charges for the mobile support.
Although Access for Web is at the 7.2 version, it is not tied to IBM i 7.2. It does run on i 7.2, but it also runs on 7.1 and 6.1.
SQL services are another highlight of the Technology Refresh enhancements that Rowe thinks will be noticed by system admins and programmers because of its immediate value.
“An SQL service is a modern and powerful way to access information on the IBM i,” Rowe says. His example of how it can be put to work involves finding system user passwords that are about to expire. “You don’t want a list of all your users and all the info on those users. You just want to know about passwords that are about to expire. Most programmers would write a lot of code to sort and filter that data. With an SQL service, that can be accomplished using one line of code that does the sorting and filtering.”
Another example of services that have been added is to acquire information related to the list of active jobs. The purpose is so specific jobs can be located easily and quickly.
“This is about changing and making it easier to access data on the machine,” he points out. “It’s not just a list that requires manual sorting. It’s finding the specific jobs that are being run the most, for instance.”
The SQL service enhancements are delivered as part of the DB2 PTF group and are available on 7.1 and 7.2.
REST-based Web Services
Rowe is also excited about support for REST-based Web services. The initial support was added in December 2014, but the latest enhancements allow a REST-based Web service over RPG or COBOL programs.
Rest-based services are gaining popularity in IBM i shops after already gaining favored status among most other programmers (non-RPG species).
“Initially SOAP, using XML, was more popular than REST,” Rowe says. “SOAP is a better defined package that describes what is being done. REST is self-describing and uses JSON, which is a lighter weight alternative to XML.
“On i today, more people are using SOAP to create Web services because REST has not been supported for a length of time that allows it to overtake SOAP. Industry-wide REST has become more popular.”
Rowe met with IT Jungle during the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition, where he presented sessions on mobile technologies, IBM i access, REST Web services, Web serving options on IBM i, and the HTTP and Apache servers.