Transforming The Art Of Code And The Face Of IBM i
January 24, 2018 Philippe Magne
(Sponsored Content) ARCAD has been in business for 25 years, and we have done a lot of technical innovation over those years. We started our business with traditional software change management, on the software change management at that time, which is the combination of having a set of tools to manage developer work and then to transfer from development to test to production. At that time, of course, it was only for OS/400 and then IBM i production platforms. There are some customers with many production machines, but the typical case involves two machines: one for development and test, and the other for production.
Now, the situation has evolved. DevOps is core to our business, and I would say that DevOps is more than a simple wave in that it is really transforming the IT organization. This change is a direct consequence of the digital transformation that is happening at every business. Now, people have to deal with multiple, new mobile technologies and this is in parallel with the cloud movement, where people have a mix of private cloud internal infrastructure as well as the public cloud.
The main success of ARCAD at this time is that we have been really able to adapt to this movement in the sense that we have supported multi-platforms for many years, and while DevOps is not that easy to sell to general management, at precisely at this moment general management is aware of DevOps. So this helps open the door. Six months ago, you typed the word “DevOps” into the Google search engine, there were only 18 million pages that referenced it. If you do it today, we are already at 26 million.
We have seen a lot of change in managing software in our two and a half decades. Back in 2003, for instance, IBM acquired Rational, a leader in application lifecycle management, a company that came from the open systems world. The idea was to generalize the tools for each and every platform, including IBM i and System z mainframes. The main product was called Rational Team Concert, which combines a single software repository that houses every asset with all of the related tools for managing the development process and the support of deployment methodologies.
Now, DevOps has come into being, but so far IBM has not made a great success of this, and has in fact sold that business to an Indian company. IBM is not abandoning the Rational business, but at the same time, there has been a major wave around open source tools, particularly Atlassian with JIRA, which did very well with trouble ticketing at first but now has a complete suite for managing any kind of software assets. Atlassian took completely the opposite model from IBM. So on the one side, with Rational, you have one big company that tried to sell to all of the largest customers in the world, but the problem with Rational tools has always been the price, which makes it difficult to get it down into smaller businesses. At the same time, the main competitor, Atlassian, was going completely viral and while there is the impression that it is open source, it is really commercial open source where some of the features require support contracts. The point is, JIRA has a bottom up approach and grassroots support from developers.
In the DevOps area, the position of ARCAD is that even though we have invested so much in Rational Team Concert, we have in only one year done the same thing with those popular open source tools, including our partnership with GitHub. While the Git repository has only a command line interface, GitHub is better for IBM i shops in that it has a social interface, like Facebook. It is also backed by a company with over 600 of its own developers and has over 25 million users.
The future of the IBM i platform is definitely around microservices and having more modular code, which comes hand-in-hand with the DevOps strategy. People are controlling the mean time between a user request and delivery of that software. It is all about changing from having one release per month or per quarter or even per year to having an ongoing flow of changes. We see companies implementing changes three times a day.
This is funny to me because at the same time that I first heard about DevOps, I knew that IBM i shops were already familiar with the process of fulfilling business requests for application changes, so they are already familiar with providing an ongoing flow of changes.
Now, we find ourselves at the cusp of a massive investment in digital transformation, and with DevOps we are right in the middle of that, so it is exciting.
The value that we bring is that we can enter any company in the world, large or small, and not just because of technologies, but also because of the methodologies that come with DevOps and digital transformation. We are right in the middle of the traditional IBM i culture and the open source DevOps culture, and it is not always easy to do the translation between the two. Most of the time, most people have already adopted a certain number of tools from the open source world, and they arrive at the point where they want to generalize their usage for the IBM i platform. What we are trying to do is make the IBM i platform no longer be a pure island unto itself, and it is a big challenge. If we do not succeed in this endeavor, I have doubts about the future of the platform itself.
The idea is to not put all of our eggs in the same basket. But that being said, at this point, from the business perspective, we are still 95 percent IBM i. It is not that easy for a company like ours to be recognized on the outside of IBM i, and we are not the only company in that situation. At the same time, in the IBM i world, we are seeing a lot of consolidation among software vendors.
While it is rare for us to try to do business with a company that does not have some kind of software change management, we know there are still plenty of companies that are doing it manually. For us, the IBM i market is still very important, and we are seeing a lot of success with banks in Canada, Central America, Europe, and Asia – customers like HSBC, which is undergoing a $2 billion DevOps transformation. It is always the same requirements, and we address them with ARCAD for Development, which is the combination of GitHub, Jenkins, JIRA, and either ARCAD for deployment at the end for IBM i or DROPS if IBM i is not there.
You can’t talk about DevOps in the IBM i space without also talking about application and database modernization, of course. Modernization is one of the hottest areas for IBM i shops, but there are multiple approaches for this. The tools from Profound Logic, looksoftware, BCD, and so on are purely in the user interface side of things, and they have done a good job. But I personally think that what they do is not enough in the sense that typically we have more and more requests for the modernization of the database itself. We see database modernization growing faster than user interface modernization right now.
The reason why is digital transformation. If you have mobile applications, and you need to pull data from systems – that is easy. But if you need to push data from mobile devices to the systems, in that case you need to protect the integrity of the data and there is no other way to do that than to modernize the data and move to a full relational database. Of course, we are not talking about a turnkey solution, because moving from a classical physical and logical file up to a relational database is a long-running process, but something that has to be started one day or another. As soon as you have a relational database, you can open it up to any kind of external application without any risk to the data.
We are making great progress on the DevOps front, and were put on the Gartner Magic Quadrant for the first time. We will continue to make a major investment in DevOps because we want to be a leader in this. We will keep our core business in software release automation, because it is the same business we have been doing for the past 25 years, but we have access to funds which we will leverage to get more traction outside of the IBM i market.
There are also very few companies that can address the IBM mainframe market, and only IBM and CA Technologies are addressing DevOps here. So a natural move for us is to enter that mainframe market, and in the future we could move there. IBM i is not just a cash cow, and we continue to invest in it, particularly on the modernization side.
We have a lot of ideas about microservices, and I am quite excited by a transformer CASE tool because we have reached the point where we can fully automate the transformation of Synon shops into RPG free form. I expect to use this tool to ensure the success of RPG free form, and there are a number of very large customers, particularly in the United States, that are Synon shops and the use of Synon is a showstopper preventing the move to DevOps and digital transformation. It is too old and too closed and very difficult. This tool, which is two years in the making, is really a miracle.
This year is also very interesting in that the largest services companies in India are expected to enter into partnerships with us, which is good in that modernization is not just a matter of tools, but also services. If those companies can invest a little bit and address the needs of their IBM i customers, we are going to make a great success of the platform itself. We want these services companies to be in front of us, and we will provide technology to them and then they have to do the job of convincing their customers that they have to modernize their applications and databases. Last year we had 10 new partnerships, and this year I expect to have 20 more. If we can work well with them, we can completely change the face of the IBM i market.
About the author: Philippe Magne is the CEO and Chairman of Arcad Software, a developer of DevOps software for IBM i and other platforms.