IBM i Gets Some Development Help
August 7, 2017 Dan Burger
Faster, faster, must go faster. In order to pick up the pace of IBM i development, Big Blue has enlisted the support of HelpSystems, with the goal of accelerating enhancements to Rational Developer for i, PowerHA System Mirror for i, and Backup, Recovery and Media Services (BRMS) on i. HelpSystems will take the product enhancement development lead, while working with the existing team in Rochester. IBM will continue to integrate and deliver these products into the IBM i operating system.
The transition is under way. Roadmaps are being discussed. IBM and HelpSystems are building the infrastructure and environments required for co-development.
“We’ve taken over the source code from IBM and we are creating dedicated teams to accelerate the enhancements. We’ve looked at the IBM i roadmap and what IBM wants to accomplish. We will add people to make this happen,” says HelpSystems‘ CEO Chris Heim.
Heim would not say how many people will be devoted to the teams dedicated to each product. He described it as a “significant increase in the investment in these products.”
None of the products on the list have been officially prioritized in terms of the size of the development team or the greater need for product enhancements.
“All the products are on their individual roadmaps, just as they always have been. Nothing changes in that regard,” according to Alison Butterill, product offering manager for IBM i. “We have a list of customer requirements and we have been talking with HelpSystems about the priorities on each of the product roadmaps. Some will take longer to implement than others, but there will be the regular delivery of new features and functions on all four products.”
The release schedule for product enhancements will continue on a twice annual basis, with the promise that with more people working on development there will be more content in each release. Each product has its own release dates when enhancements arrive.
All products will continue to be branded as IBM and IBM will continue to deliver Level 1 support.
“This is not about taking HelpSystems products and enhancing them,” Heim explained. “This is about taking IBM products and working with IBM to enhance them and accelerate the product roadmap.”
HelpSystems will provide Level 3 technical support for the product. IBM will continue to do Level 1 and Level 2 support and the operating system development stays with IBM. Product purchasing will be available through both IBM and HelpSystems.
Taking the development lead on the BRMS product might be the easiest transition for HelpSystems. Four months ago, the company hired veteran Debbie Saugen to head up its new business continuity services offerings.
Saugen was the technical owner of IBM i Backup and Recovery and during the past 18 years she was the IBM i National Lead for IBM Resiliency Services. Since the arrival of the AS/400, she’s been on the front lines of backup and recovery evolution, from testing and design to performing recoveries.
HelpSystems developed and markets its own backup and recovery product called Robot Save, which competes with BRMS. We’ll have to see how the development of these two products falls into place.
In the business continuity arena, HelpSystems has its own high availability product called Robot HA, which uses remote journaling for data replication and has many competitors using similar technology. IBM’s PowerHA is a different beast – a shared storage clustering solution that is hardware based. The fundamental benefits of HA are the same: eliminating a single point of failure, providing a reliable failover to a backup system, and detection of failures as they occur. Tom Huntington, executive vice president of technical solutions at HelpSystems, describes the development of PowerHA and Robot HA as having “a lot of complementary functionality.”
HelpSystems became an HA vendor about ten months ago with the acquisition of Bug Busters Software Engineering.
RDi may be the most important product in this partnership. IBM i developers are notorious for clinging to their green-screen development environments. It’s taking forever to get RDi into the mainstream of IBM i development, although the pace seems to have picked up a notch or two in the past 12 to 24 months. Regardless, modern application development and the adoption of RDi is critical to the future of the platform.
In an interview with IT Jungle a year ago, Edmund Reinhardt, architect for IBM i application development at IBM Canada and the lead developer for RDi, mentioned the delivery of 81 requests for enhancements (RFEs) in the past several years.
HelpSystems’ experience in this area comes primarily from developing several RDi plug-ins, so there is RDi experience on staff. Huntington says HelpSystems will continue to enhance its plug-ins and make it easier for other vendors to plug into RDi. HelpSystems will also enhance the development of Rational Developer for AIX and Linux.
Working with partners on development projects is not a new strategy for IBM.
“Across IBM we have been doing this for 15 to 20 years,” Dexter Henderson, vice president of Power Systems says. “This began on the Power platform about two years ago. It’s been very successful on the mainframe side and software group has been doing it for quite some time. We have not been as aggressive on IBM i, but this is a step in a direction to be more aggressive about providing more features and functions to our clients as we go forward. Every year we develop new features and requirements that we receive from our clients. And we draw the line at some point. This partnership enables us to increase the features and functions we put in the roadmap. It allows us to give our customers a lot more than we have in the past.”