IBM i Tech Refreshes Bring New Features to Explore
October 7, 2015 Dan Burger
The IBM software engineers have prepared another batch of IBM i-centric accomplishments that will be rolled out next month as IBM i 7.1 Technology Refresh (TR) 11 and IBM i 7.2 TR 3. Application development, systems management, and database upgrades are all lined up at the innovation dispenser and this is what is being dished out. Companies with the mind to modernize their RPG development, incorporate some open source languages, and do more with the Apache Web server should pay attention.
Although it’s not part of the Technology Refresh, there are also upgrades to the IBM i Access Client Solutions that are coming during this same timeframe. We’re including the ACS highlights in this article, along with the systems management advancements, while dedicating separate articles in future issues of The Four Hundred to hardware and database topics, plus any assorted and sundry items that are found.
Tim Rowe, Big Blue’s IBM i business architect for application development and systems management, will be your tour guide today. Rowe, who is presenting sessions at the COMMON Fall Conference this week, has a lot of time and energy poured into the Tech Refreshes and the ACS development.
Free-form RPG continues to get a lot of attention, at least among the more progressive members of the IBM i community. What’s widely considered as full support for free-form RPG was delivered in TR9 for 7.1 and TR1 for 7.2, which became available just about a year ago.
Free-form RPG has been around with limited support for many years. Just as the support was limited, so was the interest. The IBM i development team seems much more interested in modernizing the language now and interest from the IBM i community is picking up. There’s a significant benefit in code that appears the way it is logically implemented. For one thing, it far easier to read than code that doesn’t follow established procedure. For another, it makes a lot more sense to non-RPG programmers who want to integrate it into their applications.
In the current TR, we have a historical marker: the removal of the 80-column format restrictions. We saw this coming with the RDi 9.5 announcement, which IT Jungle reported a few weeks ago.
The 80-column data format, a remnant of the punch-card past, is no longer binding, even though the majority of RPG developers have formatting habits that are tied to the familiar format designed specifically for green-screen display.
Also gone is the no-coding zone in the first seven columns when using free-form code.
Rowe points out that without the 80-column format, RPG can be formatted in a very similar manner to other languages. It also allows programmers to leverage the IFS directories to store RPG source code, Rowe says.
IBM i 7.1 and 7.2 support the free-format RPG enhancements.
Although it is largely unseen and unacknowledged, the IBM i open source development community is making some noise. It’s the platform’s vital connection to the current IT environment and the future. A GCC (GNU Compiler Collection) compiler and open source tool kit is the latest proof that IBM i can sing and dance on the modern development stage.
“This is a toolkit that open source developers need to do open source development on i,” Rowe says. “It provides the C compiler that is leveraged in that open source community. It brings with it a bunch of the toolkit and components such as Git, .zip, .tar, bash, Python 2.7, and others.”
Why should you care? What can you do with that?
“If you were trying to grab an open source package and get it running on IBM i, you found most of the components leverage C or C++ and are compiled under GCC. This compiler on IBM i allows that compiled code to work on IBM i pretty much unchanged,” Rowe says.
Prior to this, IBM i only offered the PASE-based XLT compiler. However, internally IBM used the GCC compiler to deliver node.js and Python on IBM i. In its favor, the XLT compiler is built for the Power processing chip, which provides optimizations that can be beneficial when using native code.
“We are seeing a lot more interest in the open source space,” Rowe says. “Companies are looking at creating different components of applications under some of these technologies. What’s being put into production, however, is hard to tell.
“Since node.js was delivered more than a year ago, I’ve had all sorts of developers in the IBM i community asking questions about when can we get more components. And attendance at sessions during conferences is up.”
As a side note, Rowe says COMMON will be hosting an IBM i open source conference December 2 and 3 in Chicago. Among the topics will be building applications using Ruby, Python, and node.js; compiling open source software on IBM i; and accessing IBM i objects. Additional information can be found at this link.
The widely used open source Apache Server is getting WebSockets support, a performance upgrade that will only be available to organizations that have upgraded to IBM i 7.2. WebSockets support comes into play when back end servers are pinged from websites. Without the support, requests that travel from browser to Web server and back to browser again are navigating firewalls and other restrictions to the flow of data. WebSockets create an open pipe so the requests can travel at a much higher speed.
Rowe estimates that thousands of IBM i shops are using the HTTP Server Power by Apache. With this TR, the server is updated to Apache level 2.4.12. Also on the enhancement list is the Web Admin GUI, which now includes a wizard for configuring SSL for the Liberty-based IBM i Integrated Application Server.
Access Client Solutions
Rowe’s job is somewhat like being a systems management chief mechanic. He’s involved at the customer level as well as the design and development level. He’s particularly fond of delivering conveniences to the Access Client Solutions that help convince users of the i Access for Windows product to migrate. IBM has a ton of products that have been around for years and are no longer being enhanced, but people keep using them. The green-screen development tools SEU and PDM come to mind. So does Query/400. Access for Windows is in that same boat.
The replacement products have yet to get the traction that IBM wishes they would. I call that a marketing failure, but the replacement products at the time of their introduction were less than stellar and that has added to the migration resistance as well.
In the case of ACS, enhancements are continual but are just getting to a place where the product should have been several years ago. Progress is progress, however. And here we have more steps in the right direction. SQL is playing a big role.
Rowe says “the big new thing” in systems management is the full support for Run SQL Scripts feature within ACS. It’s a feature that was in i Access for Windows and is just now being brought to ACS.
The difference in the ACS version is that when it is verifying SQL statements the new support includes color coding, which distinguish what’s going on between key words and content from a visualization perspective. It is also possible to verify line items and there are search capabilities in the new editor that did not exist in i Access for Windows.
“Sometimes data sets can be ridiculously large. That makes them difficult to interrogate and review,” Rowe says. “The large data sets are now much easier to review.”
SQL Services have been getting repeated attention during the past several TRs. This TR has new services that boost the SQL capability to access and process information on the IBM i and are alternatives to IBM i commands and APIs. Rowe points out that SQL can be used to sort, massage, and filter large quantities of data faster and with less time spent writing code. The new services pertain to object locks, system status, output queues, TCP/IP network status, system activity, license information, and media library status.
The SQL Services require IBM i 7.1 or 7.2.
ASC, due to the nature of the plumbing that it uses to talk to the IBM i OS, allows all the enhancements that have been added to the 5250 emulator in the Tech Refreshes to work on unsupported versions of the operating system. That includes i 6.1 and earlier. Just don’t call IBM and ask for support.
The target date for delivering ACS enhancements is December 5.
The TR3 GA date is November 20.
The majority of IBM i shops are running the 7.1 version of the operating system, but the next most common OS is 6.1, which is no longer supported as of this month. So as more of those users upgrade, we’ll see the overall percentages of 7.2 rise.
For more information on the Technology Refresh, see the IBM announcement letter.