The End is Near for Zend Server Basic PHP
May 20, 2020 Alex Woodie
Zend Server Basic, the free PHP runtime used by thousands of IBM i shops, will cease being offered starting in July 2021. That’s the word from Perforce, the company that now owns Zend and its lineup of PHP tools and technologies. The replacement, of course, is the new community edition of PHP that became available via RPM in late 2019.
Starting in 2006, Zend Technology began to develop a special version of its PHP runtime for IBM i, which was then called i5/OS. This offering, dubbed Zend Core for i5/OS, provided a familiar way for users of the iSeries server (as it was known back then) to partake of the digital bounty that was (and is) the PHP language and the estimated 10,000 software applications that ran on it at the time.
While nobody knows for sure how many IBM i (System i, iSeries, AS/400, etc.) shops adopted Zend Core for i5/OS and its follow-ons and continued to use it to power their PHP applications on the box over the years, the number is almost certainly currently measured in the thousands. Back in 2006, IT Jungle reported that, according to Zend, there had been thousands of downloads of the beta of Zend Core for i5/OS just four months after it was released in March 2006.
Of course, it didn’t hurt that IBM fully sanctioned Zend Core for i5/OS and distributed it on the platform as a licensed program product (LPP) along with the i5/OS operating system and system tools. It also didn’t hurt that iSeries customers were entitled to one year of free technical support from Zend, after which they had to transition to a paid support agreement. PHP was one of the first pieces of open source technology that many iSeries shops had worked with, aside from the HTTP Server (the one powered by Apache). IBM wanted PHP to stick with its iSeries customers, and by and large, it did.
But the open source world of 2020 is a far different place than it was back in 2006. Those developing on IBM i (as the platform has been called since 2008) have a wide number of open source technologies to choose from. On the language-development front, Node.js is the latest popular offering, as well as Python, Ruby, Perl, and others. But it all started back with PHP in 2006.
However, once IBM and Perforce Software (which in 2019 acquired Rogue Wave, which in 2016 acquired Zend Technology) started promoting the new community edition of PHP in late 2019, the writing was on the wall for the Zend Basic Edition, as the free version of Zend’s PHP runtime had since been renamed.
Last month, Perforce made it official when it announced that as of June 30 2020, Zend Basic for IBM i will no longer be distributed with IBM i, and that users must wrap-up their one year of free technical support by June 30, 2021.
“The original roll-out of PHP on the IBM i platform was significant in gaining mind-share in the IBM i community in the areas of modernization and open source adoption,” Erwin Earley, a senior solutions consultant with Zend by Perforce, stated in the blog announcement. “We are looking forward to continuing to partner closely with IBM to help the IBM i community in meeting current and long-term goals.”
Zend would like PHP on IBM i customers to adopt one of its Zend Server editions, including Zend Server Professional and Zend Server Enterprise. Those offerings include more advanced functionality, such as Z-Ray code-tracing function, the XML Toolkit, and a variety of PHP extensions, which can help IBM i shops developing PHP applications.
But a certain percentage of IBM i shops are expected to stick with free PHP, which means transitioning their PHP investments and applications from the Zend Basic distribution to the Community PHP edition that’s distributed via RPM.
IBM i shops today are more comfortable with open source technologies and have developed processes and techniques for working with him. But that wasn’t the case when PHP first came to i5/OS, according to Alan Seiden, a PHP on IBM i expert and principal at Seiden Group.
“It definitely made sense in 2006 to just have the installer set up a working installation,” he says. “But now I think IBM i shops are more sophisticated. They’d like to optimize their installation and even create different environments for different applications, potentially.”
IBM i shops that don’t want to hassle with PHP and want their PHP distribution automated can still get that through a Zend distribution, but IBM i shops that are comfortable with open source will likely gravitate to the Community PHP version that’s distributed via RPM.
“They need a little more knowledge, and they get more freedom as a result,” Seiden says.
Seiden Group recently announced that it’s offering to migrate IBM i shops from the Zend Basic distribution to Community PHP. Stay tuned for a future article in The Four Hundred discussing the details of that offering.