How The Latest TRs Bolster The Core IBM i OS
October 7, 2020 Alex Woodie
Yesterday was Technology Refresh (TR) day for IBM and its IBM i operating system, and Big Blue didn’t disappoint. The company unveiled new releases of IBM i 7.4 and 7.3 that bring a slew of new capabilities to the core operating system as well as surrounding offerings like Db2 Mirror, ACS, and RDi. In this article, we’ll look at enhancements to the core OS and related key features.
During a COMMON webcast Tuesday, IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will touched broadly on a number of enhancements that soon will be available in the TRs. Most of the new capabilities will be delivered on November 13 for both versions of the operating system, with the exception of Db2 Mirror, which is a 7.4-only affair.
One of the notable changes going forward is that SQL services — those useful SQL-based scripts that have proliferated like rabbits in recent iterations of the operating system — will henceforth be referred to as “IBM i services” in 7.3 TR9 and 7.4 TR3 and future OSes.
According to Will, the change was made to reflect the ongoing evolution of how people interact with the system. In other words, they are going mainstream and becoming a core element of the OS itself, and no longer relegated to being a feature of the integrated database.
“[They] were initially called SQL services, because SQL is the technology that you use to get at them. But it’s really trying to create services around many of the functions that are on IBM i that in the past you’d have to go either to a CL command or to a screen that was only available via a [green] screen,” Will said in his COMMON Webcast Tuesday. “The SQL services that we’ve been building and building and building has become a very large portfolio of services that provide you views of things on the operating system, allowing you to innovate using SQL and not necessarily have to work directly with green screen CL commands.”
The new TRs bring no fewer than 29 new SQL services — er, IBM i services — to go along with hundreds of existing services. It also brings a range of updates to the Db2 database. IBM’s Db2 for i architect Scott Forstie will discuss these IBM i services in greater depth during a COMMON webcast tomorrow, and we’ll bring you news of those enhancements in a future issue of this newsletter.
IBM is also bundling a slew of open source enhancements into these releases, even though the company has already announced them and, in most cases, made the new open source software available for download via RPM. Jesse Gorzinski, IBM’s business architect for open source, is providing an update today during a COMMON webcast, which you can view here.
Webcasts are hot during these COVID times, but Web services and APIs might be even hotter. To that end, IBM is improving how the Integrated Web Server (IWS) responds to Web service requests coming from the outside world.
With the new release, IBM is giving customers more control over the security configuration associated with that IWS and how it handles requests, which could be over SOAP or REST protocols. Specifically, the IWS can now integrate with third-party security services using JAI, and authenticate connections using JSON Web Tokens, or JWTs, according to IBM.
“It’s not that they were insecure before,” Will said. “What people have requested of us is to make it possible to have a third-party security server get connected in there so they can have more specific control from a third-party about whether these Web services should come in and who they should get run under and so on.”
IBM i professionals who have been frustrated when trying to move large IBM i objects from one system to another will appreciate the new ObjectConnect over TCP/IP commands introduced in IBM i 7.4 TR3 (they will not be supported in 7.3).
The new commands will allow users to share IBM i objects across any two IBM i systems that are connected over TCP/IP, and the connection will be encrypted with TLS. The new ObjectConnect command adds to existing ObjectConnect commands that either require SNA Enterprise Extender or require two LPARs to be on the same server, which isn’t that helpful. It also uses less disk space than FTP commands, Will said.
Tape media duplications will also speed up in 7.3 and 7.4, according to Will. That could also help reduce wear and tear on tape drives and tape media by reducing the number of passes over the tape head. IBM is also making an effort to speed up IPLs (or initial program load, for the uninitiated), Will promised.
“We have this continuous effort to make sure that our IPL time improves over time,” Will said. “It gets to be a little difficult to do that, because as we add more integrated function into IBM i, sometimes we end up adding some things to the IPL time, while we’re also trying to reduce the IPL time. In any case, there’s a significant effort in both 7.3 and 7.4 that is now being rolled out into the recent Technology Refresh that we’re announcing today that will help in many IPL time improvements.”
IBM i 7.3 will also now be able to generate a Universal Unique Identifier that is compatible with the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF)’s version 4 UUID specification. IBM had already shipped that capability in 7.4.
Db2 Web Query, the business intelligence tool based on technology OEMed from Information Builders, is also getting an update. In December, IBM will ship Db2 Web Query version 2.3, which will bring machine learning capabilities to the BI tool. As always, Will encouraged IBM i customers to use the EZ-Install tool, whether they’re installing Db2 Web Query for the first time or upgrading to the latest release. We’ll bring you more info on this release when it becomes available.
Access Client Solutions (ACS) is the defacto standard GUI for interacting with IBM i, and so of course it’s getting some love with the latest TRs. IBM is getting ready to ship ACS version 18.104.22.168, which will ship in December.
One of the niftier new enhancements in ACS is the ability to pull up Content Assist hints by pressing the spacebar and CTRL buttons simultaneously. Will predicted that this feature will be much-used by the IBM i community.
“If you’re a longtime IBM i user, you might think of this as the GUI version of F4 for commands,” Will said. “It’s so much more powerful than that though, because it looks at all the different options that you could have for the SQL that you’re building . . . It helps you to converge and get preferences that you can carry over from one script to another so you don’t have to set them each time you’re doing it.”
Similarly, IBM is providing some powerful time-saving features when using ACS to access the IFS. In short, IBM has done some things to really speed up how quickly the IFS contents are populated on the screen.
“This allows you to get thousands of objects that are in a particular directory or just from the root in seconds,” Will said. “And with some of the advancements that we made in the prior Technology Refresh to allow you to subset which part of IFS you want to look at — these two things combined can make using IFS and ACS as fast as you can imagine, really.”
If freaky-fast IFS screens don’t tickle your fancy, then perhaps multi-file upload in ACS 22.214.171.124 will. “The ability to do a multi-file upload is really something that a lot of our clients have asked us to be able to do,” Will said.
Still not impressed? How does having the IBM i Access ODBC driver available on Mac OS and IBM i sound? “As you create application packages, IBM i Access can be used in those places while using the same ODBC driver no matter where you are,” Will explained.
IBM didn’t ignore application development and language upgrades with these TRs. On the RPG front, it added several enhancements, including %LIST built-in function, FOR-EACH Opcode, and other new capabilities, which Tim Rowe, IBM’s architect for application development and system management products, will talk about in tomorrow’s COMMON Webcast.
Db2 Mirror, the continuous availability offering unveiled in 2019, has also been updated. As has PowerHA, the collection of logical replication and storage-based replication offerings. We’ll cover these enhancements, as well as updates to BRMS, in a future issue of this newsletter.
As previously mentioned, IBM’s architects are providing deep-dives on specific topics related to the IBM i TRs. You can sign up for all three presentations here. You can also access the announcement letter for IBM i 7.3 TR9 at this link and find the one for IBM i 7.4 TR3 here (PDF).