IBM i Tech Refresh Arrives; JSON And Perl In Spotlight
October 11, 2016 Dan Burger
After the release of IBM i 7.3 this past spring, we’ve traveled six months down the road and it’s already time for a Technology Refresh. That’s TR 1 for the fresh-faced 7.3 and TR 5 for i 7.2, which was hatched in May 2014. For the record, let’s also note that i 7.1 debuted in April 2010 and the Technology Refresh program is now six years old. Here’s the latest stuff from the TR pipeline.
As always, there are added features to appreciate in this latest TR. After all, the software is guided by requests from the IBM i advisory councils such as the Large User Group, COMMON user groups from around the world, plus the independent software vendors, value added resellers, and system integrators. However, this list of upgrades seems a little lighter than most. There are pieces that fit into the roadmap, which is the intent of the TR program, but this time around nothing stands out as a clear cut winner of the holy cow award.
Database and support for another open source programming language and development environment top the list. Emphasis in these areas is not new, but it continues to grow, which is a good sign. A TR without a database enhancement would be a shock. It has the largest development staff and budget. Open source is the best route to introduce IBM i to the young guns of programming.
Let’s start with database and JSON support, which becomes available November 11.
This is not the first step for JSON support. DB2 JSON store got the ball rolling and that’s led to the introduction in this TR of JSON_TABLE user-defined table function, which developers will use to convert JSON documents into relational data and make them consumable in a single query.
The goal is greater developer productivity–writing fewer lines of code. This ties in with the data-centric programming approach we’ve heard so much about. The simple description is that data-centric development allows the database to do more work keeping track of and securing the data.
JSON is already being consumed, so why use SQL as a technique? The concept of set-at-a-time programming is more productive than single-record programming.
The thing to think about is what important data you have in JSON documents. Most companies are investing in data, which comes in many forms. JSON has new capabilities to interrelate with traditional relational data. This is the same discussion that we had a few years back with XML as a document type that interrelates to relational data.
The next step is to allow the database to publish JSON. We can expect that in a future TR, along with additional JSON query support, however, no time table has been established at this point.
“This method of consuming JSON is part of an industry-wide standard, there are other ways that are not standards-based,” says Scott Forstie, the DB2 for i business architect. “The feedback we’ve gotten from partners, prior to announcing the table function has been positive.”
JASON_TABLE is supported by IBM i 7.2 and 7.3, with no plans for support at i 7.1 or earlier.
Database enhancement go beyond JSON support. A full list was not provided, but we do know a new bundle of SQL-based IBM i services has been added. One example is a History Log Info query used in systems management and that many of the existing services received performance upgrades. It’s also been revealed that the database parser now permits users to see more application information that allows impact analysis.
All the database enhancements become available November 11 and are supported by IBM i 7.2 and 7.3.
Open Source Expansion
Perl is the next logical piece for IBM i to support. We could see this one coming. It’s used for scripting purposes and is a key component to building out the open source ecosystem.
“It’s important that open source on i works like open source everywhere else,” says Tim Rowe, IBM i business architect for application development and systems management.
A benefit to IBM i support for Perl is the connection it provides to college graduates who come to the job market pre-loaded with Java, PHP, Python, and Perl programming skills. It’s yet another link to modern IT.
Perl 5 runs on more than 100 platforms ranging from smartphones to mainframes. It is being used for rapid prototyping and large scale development projects. Those who program using Perl are known as Perl Mongers. There are currently 255 Perl monger groups around the world.
This TR announcement also signals support for Node.js V6 coming sometime this winter. It will accompany Node versions 1 and 4 that are already supported on i. Two IBM i application development vendors, Profound Logic and BCD, have Node.js development projects under way.
The IBM i open source community has gained some early momentum based on the membership of a group called IBM i OSS that has more than 400 members and the activity on Litmis Spaces, where access to preconfigured, turn-key IBM i open source environments in the cloud can be found. Other sources include a wiki page, an open source mailing list, and an informational hub.
This could have been a TR headliner, but its release is more like a tech preview. IBM i Backup to the Cloud comes under the umbrella of IBM availability products and at press time we were unable to connect with Steve Finnes, IBM’s product offering manager for PowerHA.
What we have learned is that at this early stage, IBM i Backup to the Cloud is being developed to provide an alternative to saving data to tape. Currently it is set up to backup data to the IBM SoftLayer cloud and it has size limitations until it is run through client testing. It can be tied to BRMS if the customer wishes. Eventually it could be used by MSPs to build their own cloud solutions and it has the potential to link to public clouds such as AWS or Azure.
Details were also scarce for container support for storage devices. What we do know is that this involves the capability to use USB drives with IBM i servers. One working example would be loading PTFs onto a USB drive from a PC, then transferring that drive to a Power System server where the PTFs would be applied.
Several of the official announcements that are taking place at this Technology Refresh have been covered in previous issues of The Four Hundred. You can find our report on Rational Developer for i V9.5.1 support for Mac OS X here; the latest features added to IBM i Access Client Solutions can be found here; and the details of the new PowerHA Hyperswap capabilities can be found here.
We’ll be back next week with more details as they become available.