IBM i Open Source Business Architect Lays Out A Plan
January 18, 2017 Dan Burger
Enterprise level application development is no place for open source languages. Can you believe it? That was once the widely accepted truth. Jiminy Crickets! Things have changed. The number of the stable open source distributions available with comprehensive support and maintenance goes well beyond common knowledge. Industry giants, successful SMB players, and mom and pop businesses are finding good reasons to use open source. Even IBM uses open source for internal business reasons.
There are reasons for you to do the same.
Before you recoil and brace for a “mind your own business and I’ll mind mine” retaliation against open source, observe what’s happening compared to what your information technology is doing for your business and possibly to your business. Is it holding you back or moving you forward? Are you only seeing costs when you should be looking for savings? These are simple questions, but they should be asked and answered frequently.
“During the past two years one of the biggest areas of new development and one of the areas that affect how app dev is going to be done is open source,” says Steve Will, an open source advocate who also happens to be the chief architect for the IBM i operating system. “The number of people talking about open source on i has grown tremendously.”
It’s a good story. And it’s a true story, too. But percentage growth looks best when comparisons begin with small numbers. Just a couple of years ago, the number of IBM i pros interested in open source probably wouldn’t fill a school bus. But now a single IBM i OSS (open source software) LinkedIn group has more than 650 members, and there are other indicators of increasing IBM i open source enthusiasm. Twenty-nine open source-related sessions are on the online session guide for the COMMON Annual Meeting and Exposition scheduled for May 7-10 in Orlando, Florida. That’s close to 10 percent of the total conference educational sessions without even accounting for the Linux sessions, which by the way, seem to be fewer than the number of Linux sessions at the 2016 conference.
During Will’s nine-plus years as IBM i chief architect the emphasis on open source has steadily increased. Late last year, he chose Jesse Gorzinski to fill a new position called business architect for IBM i open source. The business architect title reflects the focus on aligning technology with business IBM’s business as well as IBM’s customers’ and partners’ businesses. Open source software was formerly part of the technology load carried by Tim Rowe, the IBM i business architect for application development and systems management.
“The strategy of the platform is to embrace more open source,” Will says. “It made sense to break off open source from traditional application development and Jesse has skills in the open source area.”
Gorzinski is also the co-chair of the IBM i ISV Advisory Council.
“Today the options are across the board whether talking about servers (the Apache HTTP server, for example) or (development) languages,” Gorzinski says. “The languages are the biggest noise makers. They are driving a lot of interest. We have clients and business partners looking for ways leverage these languages to do their stuff.” He singled out the modernization of RPG, C, or COBOL investments using Web services, mobile, and other Web technologies.
“There are cases where we see growth in RPG development because of the new ways we can leverage RPG with open source,” he says. “The things people want to do with their modernization efforts are typically aligned very well with what the open source languages and frameworks offer.”
To its credit, IBM has delivered the integration pieces from Node.js and Python that allow quick ways to talk with DB2. And on the skill side of things, Gorzinski sees IBM i shops increasing their investments in a larger application development strategy that modernizes RPG applications and the surrounding app dev tools.
“Just about anybody can be an IBM i developer these days. That’s a huge part of the business proposition of these languages. There are college kids graduating with these open source skills,” he says. “I am hearing from people who are writing applications on IBM i that would not have been doing so if the open source language options were not available. Ruby, Python, PHP, Node and modern RPG are languages that non-RPG developers can understand.”
Gorzinski says there are three key pieces in the IBM i open source roadmap.
The first is to continue to expand open source technology that can be used on the platform, especially where it makes the most sense for IBM i business. The second is to further enable clients and partners to extend and use these technologies. That would most likely include more integration pieces, more educational opportunities, and a high level of collaboration with ISVs. The third key is continually growing the IBM i open source community.
IBM is doing its part in the community by listening, observing, participating, and establishing priorities.
Unwilling to expose too much of his playbook, Gorzinski says there will soon be new deliveries related to Git (version control), Perl, and SQLite.
Although the current IBM i development community seems more oriented to RPG developers learning new development languages than it does toward young developers with open source skills but little or no IBM i skills, Gorzinski describes it as a mix of classic RPG developers who see the value that open source brings and developers who are new to IBM i but are learning to write code for that system.
In some ways, open source development is reminiscent of when Java first made inroads into IBM AS/400 development. Java was the “outside development community” then. Now they are insiders looking at the new group of outsiders.
“I see Java developers being pulled to the new open source languages just like they were previously pulled to Java,” Gorzinski says. “Back in the day, Java had an open source-style community that really bloomed. Java and RPG integration was a big thing. Graphing, reporting and Web stuff all available by integrating with Java. Now the languages that are blooming are PHP, Ruby, Node, and Python.”
“One of the reasons Java became big was because businesses saw there were more and more Java developers and they wanted to apply those skills to their businesses,” Will says. “Now we are in an environment where those same businesses are looking to apply the newest developers and development skills. The Java community, like the RPG community, grew from business needs.
We won’t see 100 percent of the Java community embracing new tools and learning how to use them, but a lot of them are.”
The future of businesses programming will not rely on a single language. Decisions on which languages to use will be based on options that are best suited for the task and that have value based on low maintenance and ease of support.