Here’s What’s In the Latest IBM i Technology Refreshes
April 15, 2020 Alex Woodie
As expected, IBM today officially unveiled its spring Technology Refreshes for IBM i. Among the goodies that will become available for IBM i 7.4 TR2 or IBM i 7.3 TR8 (or both) are enhancements to Db2 Mirror, a new approach to tape library virtualization, improvements to open source, and new features and functionality around Db2, RPG, RDi, and security, too.
Months ago, IBM execs circled April 14 on their calendars as the day for the big IBM 7.4 TR2 and IBM i 7.3 TR8 reveal, with the idea that the following week’s POWERUp conference in Atlanta, Georgia (now canceled, but with a new event scheduled for the end of August in Tampa, Florida) would provide an excellent venue for the IBM i experts from the Rochester and Toronto labs to educate the IBM i community on the content of the announcements.
Obviously, the novel coronavirus had other plans. Despite COVID-19 locking up most Americans (and much of the rest of the globe) in their homes on an indefinite staycation, IBM is doing its best to stick to its regular schedule for IBM i announcements, which is a commendable thing to do, if only for the temporary sense of normalcy it provides.
IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will and IBM’s Product offering Manager Alison Butterill briefed IT Jungle last week on the news. Will, by the way, is hosting a webcast on the COMMON website about the new TRs, with IBM executive Steve Sibley today at 10 a.m. Central Time.
Support for internal disk in Db2 Mirror leads the pack of enhancements for IBM 7.4 TR2 (Db2 Mirror is not available for IBM i 7.3). When Db2 Mirror was unveiled in 2019, it was restricted to IBM i shops that used storage area networks (SANs) to store their data. The interest in Db2 Mirror was greater than IBM had anticipated among small and medium-sized shops, which typically do not have SANs. So IBM did the work to broaden the storage support with Db2 Mirror for 7.4 TR2. We’ll have more in-depth coverage of this feature in a future issue of The Four Hundred.
Another interesting piece of storage news is a new virtualized method for connecting multiple partitions to a single tape library. IBM i shops could get this by adopting the Virtual Input Output Server (VIOS). But VIOS isn’t the most popular technology among smaller IBM i shops (to put it kindly), so IBM once again took the initiative to remedy that situation with a more native approach that leverages what’s effectively a new tape library driver. Stay tuned for more on that.
The new TRs bring multiple enhancements on the security front, particularly for IBM i 7.3 TR8. Specifically, IBM i 7.3 TR8 gets support for TLS version 1.3, which previously was only supported on IBM i 7.4. The new digital certificate manager interface that had previously been available only on IBM i 7.4 also is now available on IBM i 7.3 TR8.
“Usually we’re talking about things we put in 7.4 and 7.3 at the same time, but this is a pretty big deal for the security administrator on the platform,” Will said. “As soon as our clients started seeing the new 7.4 interface, they said ‘This is so much easier. Please target back to 7.3 as well.’ We found that that wasn’t going to be that much effort. And in fact, that made life so much easier for the folks who are doing that management.”
Rational Developer for i (RDi), while not part of the IBM i operating system, traditionally gets updated around the same time as the TRs come out. In this case, RDi version 18.104.22.168 will deliver a new capability to create stored procedures by simply highlighting a segment of RPG code and clicking a few buttons. IBM is also adding new real-time SQL validation and formatting assistance, as well as new parameters for setting breakpoints during debugging.
RPG gains several new functions, according to Butterill, including a built-in function for obtaining a unique value for a timestamp. Programmers can also gain a new way to access the number of keys in a keyed data structure, she says. Finally, enhancements have also been made to qualified names in the Like DS keyword.
On the open source front, IBM is delivering a new technique for IBM i shops to tap into open source updates on RPM without exposing the IBM i server to the Internet. RPM, of course, is the new software distribution method that replaces the old 5733-OPS and has become the only way to get tools like Python, Git, Node.js, and other open source software that runs on IBM i. According to Will, the method leverages “tunneling technology” that allows users to pass open source updates from RPM to the IBM i server by way of another client that is connected to the network.
Db2 also gets several new enhancements, services, and built-in functions with IBM 7.4 TR2 and IBM i 7.3 TR8. This includes the INTERPRET built-in function that transforms data from IBM i internal data types, as well as new COMPARE_FILE tool that compares files object attributes and data (or both) for files on a single IBM i server or against a remote database (works with IBM i 7.4 only).
For several years now, IBM has been adding SQL services to the Db2 for i database that function as alternatives to traditional APIs and CL commands. IBM continues that tradition with the addition of several new SQL services, including the IFS_OBJECT_PRIVILEGES function, which functions similar to the OBJECT_PROVILEGES function for the database. In fact, Will counted them up and determined there are, in fact, 28 new SQL services in this release, he says.
Last but not least are enhancements to Db2 Web Query, the business intelligence and analytics tool offered by IBM. IBM has updated the EZ-Install Package, which is designed to simplify the product’s installation for first-time users and also function as a demonstration unit for business partners. This release also includes a new report auto-generation feature.
Most of the enhancements in with IBM 7.4 TR2 and IBM i 7.3 TR8 are set to become available on May 15, although some will not be available until June. Stay tuned to future issues of The Four Hundred for details on the latest TRs.