Original Refocuses on IBM i Test Automation
May 1, 2019 Alex Woodie
Original Software never left the IBM i software market, though it might have seemed that way to some people. But thanks to a new website devoted to exploring issues, challenges, and solutions on the topic of IBM i test automation, the British software company is redoubling its efforts around the midrange platform.
“We really never un-engaged with it, to be fair,” says Original Software COO George Wilson says of IBM i. “We’ve kind of widened the radar a bit. That was probably 15 years ago. We didn’t want to limit ourselves to the IBM midrange marketplace. What we’ve just done recently is we’ve got all this cool stuff for IBM i, and we don’t really give it the presence it deserves.”
To give it a media platform for talking about the IBM i platform, Original created a website called i400quality.com. Visitors can find information about IBM i test automation as well as Original’s solution in the space, the TestBench Suite.
The new website has been well received, Wilson says. “I think it’s one of those things,” he says. “The IBM i marketplace is so firmly established and the people we know have been there a long time. But people are really excited to hear new things.”
Test automation is a tough business, on IBM i as well as off. For starters, fewer companies seem to be doing custom development work. And among those that are, a stubborn pride can prevent folks from looking for bugs. Original must overcome that resistance to automation if it’s going to succeed in making a sale.
Recent data privacy laws, like the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), are helping Original sell more software, both in the European Union where GDPR was passed, but also in the United States, Wilson says.
“Data is a major area for many of our users,” he tells IT Jungle. “It’s one of the most used capabilities of TestBench, its ability to extract a subject and scramble and then undue database changes, to put it back the way it was before.”
While the United States trails the EU in terms of implementing painful laws around data privacy, U.S. companies are just as liable for mishandling the private data of EU citizens as any other company around the world. In Original’s case, most of the data privacy concerns revolve around the tendency for companies to use live data for testing purposes, which is increasingly frowned upon.
“The U.S. is used to that in terms of HIPAA, and maybe slightly catching up to the fact that using live data for testing is not the best place to be,” Wilson says. “People say, ‘Look can we have a standard [approach to data obfuscation]. We need to use credit cards or Social Security numbers or Danish personal IDs in a way because there are certain rules associated with those.’ We have data scrambling, obfuscation routines in the system. There are all those capabilities in there where we can add extra off the shelf functionally.”
While there isn’t a ton of net-new development taking place on IBM i, there is a lot of application modernization occurring at the moment, and that’s one way that Original can get into the game.
When beginning any development project that will involve making changes to production systems – whether it’s a modernization project or anything else – it’s critically important to document the current state the system. However, too many organizations forget this important step, which can lead to problems down the road.
“I think one of the places that we’ve had great success for our clients is in gaining that understanding. That’s a common challenge,” Wilson says. “You have this big monolithic system, and nobody actually really quite knows how it comes up, if I pull a string over here, something moves over there.”
Original’s software helps to document how changes in any part of an application triggers downstream changes somewhere else. “That’s essential knowledge if you want to modify it, or adapt it, or re-engineer it,” he continues. “If you don’t know what it does now, it’s very hard to re-engineer it and not have any gaps.”
Open source languages like Python, PHP, and Node.js are growing in popularity among IBM i developers, and they’re all being used for application modernization and re-engineering projects on IBM i. From Original’s point of view, however, it doesn’t really matter what languages or technologies are being used on IBM i, since its software attacks the testing challenge from an application object point of view, Wilson says.
Similarly, Original can work with many different development styles and methodologies – from classic waterfall methods to modern agile and continuous integration (CI) approaches.
“We find that people end up with different systems trying to manage those different styles of activity, and they lose that overall visibility,” Wilson says. “So we’re able to manage all that in one place, regardless of the technology or methodology.”
Original continues to update its core software, too. The company recently updated its support for IBM’s WebSphere MQ (what was called MQ Series in a previous epoch). It can be difficult to see what’s actually happening in a production MQ environment, as messages move quickly and are processed quickly too. By implementing some a client component, Original is able to get visibility in those elusive messages to determine if everything is working correctly.
There’s not a huge backlog of IBM i customer requirements in the Original development lab these days. But thanks to its considerable install base and its reputation as a preeminent provider of automated testing solutions on the IBM i platform, the product is far from static.
“Periodically we sit back and think, ‘Oh we must have covered it all by now.’ But give it a couple months and somebody point out something we haven’t done,” Wilson says. “There’s no shortage of requests and desires.”