Going Rogue with Open Source Support on IBM i
May 17, 2017 Alex Woodie
The number of IBM i shops adopting open source software (OSS) is on the uptick as companies strive to innovate more with fewer resources. However, the prospect of obtaining technical support for OSS tech looms as a major barrier to adoption. One potential option comes through custom support packages from Rogue Wave Software.
While Rogue Wave Software isn’t strictly an OSS company, it’s no stranger to the paradigm either. Even before it its 2016 acquisition of Zend, which built a PHP business for IBM i shops, the company was quite active on the open source front. Considering that 70 percent of developers report using open source code in their applications, the need for OSS support will only increase.
Rogue Wave is setting itself up as the company that IBM i shops – as well as Linux and Windows shops – turn to for OSS support. “We are that vendor,” Rogue’s Amy Anderson told IT Jungle at last week’s COMMON conference in Orlando, Florida.
Before acquiring Zend and its successful PHP-on-IBM i business, Rogue Wave bought a company called Open Logic that provided second- and third-level technical support for IBM‘s OSS support operation. That offering is now rebranded under the Rogue Wave Open Source Support name.
Under the deal with IBM, Rogue Wave will write custom support contracts to support the use of about 300 open source packages at customer sites, although only 30 to 50 of them are “every day” OSS tools that IT pros are familiar with.
While IBM provides front-line support through its 24/7 call centers around the world, Rogue Wave makes its solution architects available for those really tough-to-crack OSS problems. “It’s a really nice combination because IBM has incredible breadth and we have incredible depth,” Anderson says. “For an IBM i customer, there’s a higher level of comfort. Not only am I getting all my support in one place, but I’m also calling into an organization that I’ve worked with and I trust.”
Python Coils Around i
IBM i shops will be able to get support for a range of OSS products they use, including development languages like PHP, Ruby, and Node.js, as well as databases like MariaDB; message queues like ActiveMQ; virtualization environments like Docker; and operating systems like CentOS.
Most of this OSS tech lives in the Linux and Windows worlds, but it’s creeping into the IBM i community too. “It’s primarily an X86 exercise right now,” Anderson says. “But I tell you, after this week, I’m feeling we’ve got to go a little faster. The demand is ramping up faster than [we expected]. The IBM i crowd is not known for being first movers, but the ramp-up of interest in open source on this platform is surprising me.”
Mike Pavlak, who is best known as Zend’s PHP-on-IBM i guru, is branching out into Python. His COMMON session on Python on IBM i attracted more than 30 people, which surprised him.
Pavlak offered his view on what’s driving the surge in Python on the platform. “Open source languages all have their own purpose,” he says. “PHP is great for Web enabling applications. Python is great because it can elegantly access the C-level constructs of the operating system easily. It’s a general purpose language so it’s easy to adopt. It’s kind of like Basic back in the day, but also has a very sophisticated object-oriented model. And when you’re working in the world of open source, a lot of the plumbing that people are using to glue things together is already written in Python.”
While some developers are using languages like PHP, Python, Ruby, and Node.js to write new apps for IBM i, Pavlak says, IBM was also motivated to get these languages on the platform to enable all the existing PHP, Python, Ruby, and Node.js apps supported here. “That’s why IBM is bringing all these languages” to the box, he says. “It’s not because customers want to do new development. It’s because there’s a lot of stuff out there that they can bring to the platform and that helps the customer be more productive.”
Down With OPC
It’s not necessarily pre-built apps, but the building blocks written in OSS languages that are key. This is the core driver behind the OPC (other people’s code) phenomenon.
“One of the things we’re discovering is people should not write applications any more from scratch if they don’t have to,” Pavlak says. “If I’m a PHP programmer and there’s something over here I need but it’s written in Python, am I going to rewrite that in PHP? Is that smart? No.”
And therein lies the rub. When a company starts rolling its own apps using these pre-cast OSS building blocks – as any company looking for a computing edge is prone to do these days – it will eventually need technical support.
That’s where Rogue Wave’s custom support contracts come in. “When there’s a customer that says ‘I’ve got this piece of code in Python and this piece of code in PHP and something else in the middle – we’ll take the whole thing and write a contract to support all of those different packages,” Anderson says.
Rogue Wave will write a contract to support any combination of OSS tech for IBM i shops, or any shop for that matter. “What we see are a lot of customer who start using [OSS tech] and say ‘We’ll self-support, it’s fine, we’ll go to forums, no big,'” Anderson says. “Then at some point they get to some production level and say, ‘Eh, we really want somebody else to do this.’ We’re set up to do that really well.”