A Change Of Heart: IBM i Shops More Willing To Share
March 7, 2016 Dan Burger
On the road from the AS/400 to IBM i, there have been many changes. One of the biggest has been the evolution from being a fortress that locked out all “outsiders” to allowing the system to interact with other systems. I don’t doubt there are some one-dimensional IBM i shops, but sharing data, once punishable by death, now occurs without beads of sweat and loss of sleep . . . most of the time.
The IBM i platform has a strong record of being directly accessible to other platforms, especially within the Windows realm, Mike Sansoterra points out. Sansoterra is the author of numerous tech articles published at IT Jungle and other IBM i-oriented publications. He wrote his first article about accessing AS/400 data in real time from SQL Server 7.0 using linked servers and the Client Access ODBC driver in 2000. Realizing that writing is no way to make a living, he works as a DB2 for i developer so he and his family can eat and keep a roof over their heads.
“IBM has done a terrific job of providing developers with industry standard tools including an ODBC driver, JDBC driver, .NET managed provider and multiple OLE DB providers,” he says. “These data access connectors allow the IBM i to be accessible to most ETL tools (extract, transform and load), integration products (such as BizTalk), and database servers that support remote access–SQL Server linked servers, Oracle database link, DB2 for Windows OLE DB table function, and others.”
There are a lot of developers who would agree with Sansoterra. For another system to gain access to IBM i data, it’s not that hard after you free yourself from the inclination that only bad things come from sharing data. Talk with people who have done it, and horror stories are few and far between. The leading cause for bad results is probably because the person calling the shots doesn’t know one of the databases all that well. The lesson to be remembered is that if you’re going for a walk in the dark, it helps to have a flashlight. Failures due to a lack of training throw cold water on the idea of data sharing, but largely the resistance to data sharing has faded.
Companies are much more comfortable moving data back and forward between IBM i and other platforms compared to just five years ago, says Giacomo Lorenzin, managing director of HiT Software, a company that specializes in cross-platform data sharing. Its DBMoto software uses change data capture (CDC) technology to perform real-time incremental replications from the source database to the target database. In synchronization mode, DBMoto performs bi-directional mirroring between source and target systems. DBMoto also offers multi-server synchronization for moving data among three or more systems. DBMoto supports all the major relational databases, including DB2 for i, DB2 for LUW, SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, Informix, SAP‘s own Sybase, and others.
“Of course, we are seeing primarily companies that are open to the idea. They have an interest in moving data. Some companies come to us because they want to replicate data from one IBM i machine to another, but certainly not the majority. The majority are moving data to SQL Servers. Some are moving data to MySQL and some use DB2 LUW as the target for data residing in DB2 for i,” Lorenzin says.
Since HiT was acquired by BackOffice Associates in 2010, it is working with much larger companies than before the acquisition. Quite a few are in the Fortune 1000 and even the Fortune 500 categories. These companies obviously have more databases and more platforms. And, therefore, a greater need for data sharing.
However, Lorenzin says, the willingness to share data is not solely the desire of large enterprises. Finding SQL servers in IBM i shops is very likely regardless of the size of the company.
“We see the IBM i in a lot of these large companies. Many companies running SAP, sometimes on IBM i, but more often on Oracle. They want to consolidate data for BI and reporting from IBM i as well as SAP/Oracle,” he says.
Lorenzin estimates that 75 percent of its customer base moves data back and forth between DB2 for i and other target databases. Bi-directional capabilities are where he believes HiT has an advantage over IBM’s tools, which are not noted for moving data from other databases to DB2 for i. We’ll get to that topic in more detail in a future issue of The Four Hundred.
When I talked with Sansoterra, we kept the conversation focused on what IBM has done to enhance access to DB2 for i data.
“Along the way IBM has added features to some of these products like XA transaction support (allowing cross platform transactions), data compression, and a variety of optimizations that can make intra-company data transfers hum,” he says.
If there’s a stumbling block to using these technologies, he says it’s training, even though training with the IBM components is minimal. He points a finger at IBM i shops that clumsily implement older technologies like FTP and file transfer utilities to handle the task of delivering IBM i data to other internal systems.
“The task of publishing IBM i data over the internet to a business partner is a different story,” Sansoterra cautions. “There are many competing approaches to remotely share data and business logic (SOAP Web services, REST APIs, OData, and others), but fortunately there are free and low-cost Java libraries that simplify the task. Further, IBM has done a reasonable job of integrating some of these technologies with the ILE programming languages–RPG, COBOL, C–using the Integrated Web Services (IWS) product.” (Here’s a link for those of you who are developers like Sansoterra.)
Training, once again, is Sansoterra’s recommendation before attempting internet data sharing. Java, security, and various Web technology skills will be required.
Sometimes these data sharing discussions go in the direction of minimizing the importance of the IBM i.
The companies that talk with us still want to use their IBM i as their main data source or sometimes for a specific vertical application. But they want to deploy BI tools that do not work on i. Lorenzin says HiT loses a couple of IBM i customers each year, but it can’t be pinned on data sharing. Most ISVs would probably have a similar story to tell.
“I think the IBM i community is still very much alive,” Lorenzin says. “Saying that it is growing is maybe too strong a word, but we don’t see IBM i companies disappearing. We see the same thing applicable to Oracle. We live in a world where you don’t just buy one system. Bridging two or three systems is important for software companies today.”