New IBM i Technology Refreshes Announced; Available Mid-March
February 14, 2018 Dan Burger
IBM yesterday announced that Technology Refresh 8 (TR8) for IBM i 7.2 and TR4 for IBM i 7.3 will provide support for Power9 hardware, enhancements for RPG, security enhancements, and a variety of new capabilities for licensed products. The support for Power9 will be covered elsewhere in this issue of The Four Hundred. Here, we’ll provide an overview of the IBM i operating system, licensed programs, and software.
When TR enhancements include RPG, I like to begin there. Application developers using Rational Development Studio should take note of the new operation code referred to as DATA-INTO, which adds the capability to parse structured data into an RPG variable.
When XML was introduced to RPG and IBM i, RPG added a keyword called XML-INTO. This made it easy to parse, read and use XML data in RPG. DATA-INTO is a variation of that idea that handles JSON. This is the next step toward better management of data in RPG programs. Easier for RPG to interact with what’s already in Db2 for i.
Consider this an evolution to the JSON support that gradually has been added to the OS during the past several years.
“We’ve reached the point where JSON can be used just like XML in production workloads,” IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will told IT Jungle on announcement day. “It can now be loaded into a table just like XML.”
The chief architect referred to this as the completion of the core infrastructure for JSON support, but followed that up with the indication that more JSON enhancements will be added in subsequent TRs and OS releases. Previously, JSON-related enhancements were relegated to test environments where programmers could become familiar with it, but it was not fully capable of production duties.
Web developers and the system administrators who use Integrated Web Services should take note of several enhancements. The most important is a security feature that allows Web services to run under the authenticated user. Previously, the user needed to be specified when the Web service was deployed.
Integrated Web Services also added VarChar support, which is used to define VarChar fields that determine the amount of data that was passed or is to be returned. It also simplifies the detection of and determination of lengths of fields.
System admins should appreciate the Web service redeploy feature that’s used when updating the services engine for updates to the service.
Because of enhancements to the client transport support of the Integrated Web Services, the client has the capability to retrieve SOAP defined error fault specifications from RPG programs. If an error occurs in a Web service, the fault message is defined in the SOAP specifications. Each fault message can include XML that describes the specific error condition.
As is the norm, Access Client Solutions (ACS) enhancements get noted in the TR announcements. The ACS development team works closely with teams specializing in database, open source, and language runtime development.
The Db2 team was specifically involved with the ACS capabilities to get to the SQL services that have been introduced within the past several years. Access to the SQL services have been troublesome in the past, so this latest upgrade concentrated on simpler access.
Reduced complexity is often a benefit of software enhancements. Pull examples of SQL services code that can be used as is or modified for more specific uses. IBM has made many database enhancements through the years. Some of those enhancements needed enhancements to make them easier to consume.
ACS also enhanced the view of permissions on every folder and file, an enhancement for security management that was requested by ACS users.
“ACS is a much bigger product than it was in the Client Access days,” IBM Senior Product Offering Manager Alison Butterill noted during the briefing with IT Jungle. “The ACS development team and the database team work together. And the database team is also working with open source and language runtime development teams. All those team collaborate.”
The database-specific enhancements in ACS include: the sorting for Show Statements found within the SQL Performance Center; support for Properties, Start/End, and Swap Receivers has been added to the Journal section; and a new legend has been included to help the user better understand what is being viewed within Visual Explain.
Other upgrades include: Backup, Recovery and Media Services for i (BRMS) 7.2 and later is enhanced with cloud remote system restore, which is the capability to restore virtual backup media from a cloud location to an alternate location on a system other than the originating system (Note, however, that storing data in the cloud requires IBM Cloud Storage Solutions for i). IBM Access for Web is now capable of running on the latest versions of WebSphere Application Server V9. In addition to USB flash drive as a means to make IBM i installations easier, RDX media is now also supported. And Mac users will be glad to know downloading to an IBM i partition or a Windows PC is supported.
In respect to the pending loss of standard support for IBM i 7.1 and the process of upgrading operating systems, the IBMers had this advice:
“My forward-look into Power9 I/O and other capabilities tells me a customer will get more value from an OS upgrade to 7.3 compared to 7.2,” Will said. “If a customer is thinking about moving up from 7.1, sometime in the next year or two or three, and move to a Power9 box, it will be a far better idea to move to 7.3. Of course, Power9 support will cover 7.2 and 7.3.
“In the future,” Will continues, “I see IBM using TRs to make enhancements better, faster and with more capabilities on 7.3 than 7.2. I am encouraging anyone who is moving from 7.1 to move to 7.3.”
According to the HelpSystems IBM i Marketplace Survey, the adoption of 7.3 has picked up significantly during the past year. When the data was collected in the fall of 2017, 15.6 percent of those taking the survey were running 7.3.
“I think we are seeing a slightly different trend than the historical trends involving OS adoption,” Butterill said. “We’ve changed the dependency of the OS on the hardware. Shops no longer have to plan the upgrade of OS and hardware at the same time. We’re on a slightly different curve now.”
The general availability of the TR enhancements is March 16.