Jenkins Gets Closer IBM i Hooks, Courtesy Of ARCAD
September 14, 2020 Alex Woodie
For some time, IBM i shops have been behind the curve when it comes to using modern DevOps and continuous integration/continuous delivery (CI/CD) technologies and techniques. ARCAD Software has been working to close that gap through its work with Git and Jenkins, and thanks to its new integration with an enterprise version of Jenkins from CloudBees, the gap is pretty much closed — at least from a technology point of view.
Jenkins, if you don’t know yet, is a popular open source project that allows DevOps professionals to build, test, and deploy their software as part of a CI/CD pipeline. The software has become a defacto standard, and is often used alongside Git, the popular version control system, to manage the operational tasks that must be completed after developers finish up work on the source code, including compiling the code; running unit, functional, and security checks; and ultimately deploying the software into production.
ARCAD Software was an early proponent of Git and today supports Git in its DevOps tools for IBM i. ARCAD has also been a supporter of Jenkins and today offers a plug-in that connects open source Jenkins-based CI/CD pipelines to IBM i.
The original plug-in offered basic connectivity between IBM i and open source Jenkins, according to Scott Heinlein, a DevOps consultant with ARCAD.
“Jenkins on its own can’t operate on IBM i at all,” Heinlein says. “It can be installed on the IFS, but it doesn’t know anything about libraries or IBM i commands or things like that. So the ARCAD plug-ins allows you to run your builds, to trigger them from Jenkins.”
There are differences between how IBM i developers work and how developers in the open systems world work, Heinlein says. For instance, open systems folk typically use Jenkins to build an entire application, whereas in the IBM i world, developers may want to update just a single object and its dependencies. ARCAD helps to smooth over these differences and bring these two worlds together with its Jenkins plug-in.
Now through its work with CloudBees, the commercial vendor behind Jenkins, ARCAD has delivered enhanced plug-ins that work with the enterprise version of Jenkins, called CloudBees CI. These enhanced plug-ins deliver even more DevOps benefits to ARCAD customers, Heinlein says.
“When you’re using CloudBees CI, it’s more of an upgraded version of Jenkins,” the DevOps expert says. “When you run a build, it can run any of several build agents. It improves the speed of the build because you have the management overlay, and it also makes it easier to set up new build paths and deployment paths.”
It’s all about giving IBM i shops access to the same modern DevOps tools that their open systems brethren have already adopted and are already using to build CI/CD pipelines, says Philippe Magne, ARCAD CEO.
“The holy grail for DevOps leaders is to unify CI/CD tooling across all development technologies in order to boost release management productivity and reduce time to value. CloudBees orchestration solutions based on Jenkins have emerged as de facto standard in this domain,” Magne says. “However, many RPG and COBOL applications are still managed separately using native tooling and have been slow to benefit from accelerated, continuous delivery techniques. The goal of the ARCAD CloudBees CI plugins is to provide that missing IBM i technology layer needed to automate the most important DevOps tasks including application build, source code quality and security checks, unit and functional testing and ultimately application deployment, on premise or cloud.”
With the new CloudBees CI plug-ins in place, ARCAD has several other products that fit nicely into its customers’ new CI/CD pipelines. This includes:
- ARCAD Builder, which compiles the RPG or COBOL source code on the IBM i server.
- ARCAD iUnit, which automates the creation, execution, and management of unit tests for IBM i applications.
- ARCAD CodeChecker, which provides code quality enforcement and security checks for RPG and CL and soon COBOL.
- ARCAD Verifier, which delivers functional regression testing for RPG and COBOL applications.
- ARCAD DROPS, which automates the deployment of applications and data across cloud and on-prem deployment targets.
With Jenkins, CloudBees CI, and ARCAD automating these tasks, it eliminates the need for IBM i professionals to manually move the code anymore. “It’s all part of the pipeline happening behind the scenes,” Heinlein tells IT Jungle. “All the developer has to do is push their source code, and ARCAD kind of takes over the rest.”
There’s another major difference between the DevOps experience when working with ARCAD’s plug-in for open source Jenkins versus the plug-in for CloudBees CI, according to Heinlein: the elimination of a command-line tool on all of the other build agents in a Jenkins environment.
Jenkins needs visibility into all of the servers involved in the CI/CD pipeline, so ARCAD’s IBM i customers had to install the command-line tool on all of the other servers involve in the CI/CD pipeline (typically Wintel and Lintel machines). This was a considerable pain for ARCAD customers, considering that enterprise shops could have hundreds of build agents, which are often running in the cloud.
“So now with our plug-in, we no longer have that requirement anymore, so it makes it lot easier for the initial set up and management,” Heinlein says. “Customers using i will likely have hundreds of these build agents. They don’t want to spend time installing these tools on each one of them, so that requirement no longer exists.”
Essentially, the new CloudBees CI plug-in brings the IBM i server up to par with the rest of the IT department’s DevOps capabilities and expectations, says Andrew Ireland, global alliances manager for ARCAD.
“If you think about the enterprise level architecture for some of our customers, they might have 500 Wintel/Linux type servers siting around the organization and maybe three or four IBM i’s that are fairly significant,” Ireland says. “When they do a deployment build, they want to orchestrate all of those as a single action, and if something happens, roll them all back as a single action.
At the end of the day, the open systems world is driving DevOps standards, and it’s vital for IBM i shops to keep up (not only for the productivity benefits, which are real, but also for ensuring a smooth transition to a new generation of developers). ARCAD’s goal in all of this is to make the process of moving to modern DevOps less painful and more beneficial than it might otherwise be, and the new plug-ins for CloudBees CI is a big part of that.
IBM i shops now have all the necessary tools at their disposal to have a modern application development strategy, Magne says. “RPG free form is a modern language. RDi is a modern development environment. Git is de facto standard for managing source code. It’s good for managing multiple projects at the same time, with very good, very efficient merge capabilities. Jenkins for automating the process,” he says.
ARCAD has done a lot of work to bring DevOps tools and techniques to IBM i. And with the delivery of the CloudBees CI plug-ins, much of that work is now complete. The answer now becomes: Will IBM i shops pick up the ball and run with it? That has yet to be decided.
“In terms of the tools and technology, we’re definitely there today. We have a complete DevOps pipeline, going from build to test to deployment,” Ireland says. “But a lot of the things that companies struggle with are unrelated to the tools. The culture shift to DevOps can be a big deal for the IBM i community because it’s a lot different from anything they’ve experienced so far.”
To get DevOps going, an IBM i shop ideally will have a respected individual leading the charge, says Magne. Once these individuals establish the culture as a necessary prerequisite for maintaining applications on IBM i, then the adoption of modern DevOps tooling will follow, he says.
“We are bringing a new way of working, which is becoming a standard because it’s coming from the open systems world,” Magne continues. “A company that would not embrace DevOps strategy will face difficulty. I’m not talking short term, five to 10 years. But who’s going to maintain my application after 10 years? We are assured that the DevOps movement is the answer.”
To learn more about ARCAD’s solution range for DevOps on IBM i, visit https://www.