Seiden Group Unveils A PHP Distro For IBM i
January 11, 2021 Alex Woodie
IBM i shops that are looking for PHP alternatives on IBM i may be interested to know that Seiden Group is now distributing and supporting its own PHP distribution. Called CommunityPlus+, the PHP runtime is distributed via RPM, includes a slew of components (including Db2 database connectors), and is available with technical support, if desired.
Seiden Group’s free CommunityPlus+ distribution is a PHP runtime for software written in PHP versions 7.3 and 7.4, with support for PHP 8.0 coming soon. The software runs in the IBM i PASE environment in 64-bit mode, and includes a slew of database drivers, including ibm_db2, PDO_IBM, ODBC, and PDO_ODBC drivers. It includes the PHP Toolkit, as well as mail(), SSH2, LDAP, and Xdebug components.
The software is open source, and binaries for CP+ are available from an RPM repository maintained by Seiden Group. The distribution is maintained by Seiden Group’s Calvin Buckley, although several other Seiden Group employees, including Alan Seiden himself and Stephanie Rabbani, also help with the work.
Seiden Group has been active in the PHP on IBM i community for many years. The Ho-Ho-Kus, New Jersey-based company provides consulting, training, custom development, and support for IBM i shops working with the scripting language.
With the launch of its PHP migration service last May, the company took a leading role in developing and maintaining the native Db2 for i database connector, ibm_db2, which had fallen into disrepair as IBM and Perforce favored IBM’s new universal ODBC driver for PHP that runs equally well across multiple operating systems, including IBM i, Linux, Windows, and Mac OS.
Considering how involved Seiden Group has been in the PHP on IBM i community–and in particular, the work that it has done with maintaining the old database drivers–it’s really not that big of a surprise that Alan Seiden, the company’s principal, would decide to take the next step and launch a full distribution for PHP on IBM i.
“It’s a formalization of what we’ve been doing,” Seiden tells IT Jungle. “We’ve been supporting PHP formally and informally for many years, providing expertise on it as well as developing with PHP. But we hadn’t officially built it for clients.”
The motivation to develop CP+ originated primarily from a desire to replace Zend Server Basic, which is disappearing, Seiden says.
“We installed our PHP for some clients and had some really good results, and it encouraged us to keep going. Even some difficult extensions, we built successfully,” Seiden says. “In a single repository, you get PHP and all the popular extensions. And we configured the INI files the way we typically do in consulting for the best result. So it’s like getting free consulting – it’s all our knowledge distilled in a very solid, reliable distribution.”
CP+ is built from open source, and the package itself is open source too. Anybody is free to download it and use it on their IBM i servers. The company maintains the source code for CP+ on a private GitHub account, and while the public is not free to contribute to it, Seiden Group welcomes input regarding new features, fixes, etc.
In terms of services, Seiden Group offers a setup service for $995, in which the company will prepare a customer’s IBM i server for open source (including configuring either the Apache or Nginx Web server) and install the CP+ distribution of PHP.
It’s selling a CP+ technical support subscription that include hotfix notifications, proactive checkups, access to new modules, and access to the Seiden Group support team. The idea is to proactively keep customers’ CP+ installs running smoothly rather than fixing problems.
“We’ll be talking to them regularly to check on their systems–with their permission–check their logs out, make sure it’s running well, and let them know if they should get an update or an upgrade to PHP,” Seiden says. “We’d rather prevent issues than have to react. I think it’s good for everybody.”
The company also offers what Seiden refers to as “call a friend” support, which he also refers to as “developer support,” whereby customers can get access to a dedicated Slack channel that lets customers ping Seiden Group representatives with questions about how to do things in PHP.
Seiden Group already has a handful of customers using CP+, including Lamps Plus, the Southern California company that designs, manufactures, and sells lights. Kim Gillette, the project lead in Lamps Plus IT’s department, says she decided to give CP+ a try after working with other distributions.
“IBM sent out their notice that they were no longer going to be providing Zend, and we were using Zend,” Gillette tells IT Jungle. “We know Alan. Alan’s been out there for forever. So in just talking with him [and hearing that] he was going to be providing something, [we said], let’s have a little conversation.”
She reached out to Seiden Group, got access to CP+, and installed it before Thanksgiving. Lamps Plus uses PHP to Web-enable the 5250 screens for the back-office RPG applications that manage supply chain operations, as well as accounting. The implementation went fairly smoothly, and the plan was to go live with CP+ early this year.
“They make it pretty smooth,” Gillette says. “I knew I was the guinea pig. I identified something that needed to be looked at. He didn’t have all the database drivers in there. When I found one for SQL Server – he didn’t realize we were talking to multiple systems – they went back to the shop, wrote it, installed it, and then everything works. It was very smooth. They’ve been very supportive.”
Multiple PHP Distros
Seiden’s decision to launch a separate PHP distribution comes after many years of having a single primary PHP distribution from Zend available on IBM i. Beginning in 2006, IBM helped to seed the market for PHP on IBM i by including a copy of Zend Core for i5/OS as a licensed program product with all new sales of System i servers (as the server and OS were called back then), as well as a coupon that gave customers a full year of paid technical support from Zend.
However, the PHP on IBM i situation has been a bit up in the air for the past year. The changes started in December 2019, when Perforce (which acquired Rogue Wave Software, which acquired Zend) announced a new Community PHP version of PHP on IBM i that could be distributed and installed using the modern RPM and YUM methods that become the standard for open source on the platform starting in 2018.
Then in May 2020, IBM announced that starting, starting on June 30, 2020, it would stop including a copy of Zend Server Basic, as the free version of PHP for IBM i was then called, with new IBM i servers. And beginning July 1, 2021, any commitments for the free year of tech support would officially be over.
Seiden Group initially responded by helping IBM i shops move to the new Community PHP version. The company’s migration service included access to the ibm-db2 connector that Seiden has resurrected. The Community PHP distribution only includes the newer ODBC driver from IBM, which is lauded for its cross-platform support and performance. However, with nearly a decade-and-a-half of existing PHP code running on IBM i, the time and effort required to wire the new ODBC driver to work with those existing applications could be extensive for some customers, which is why Seiden Group spend so much time and money to bring the ibm-db2 connector back to life. It now works with PHP 7.3 and 7.4, and thanks to the barrage of over 100 unit tests that Seiden Group runs on the connector, it will likely be ready for PHP 8.0 soon.
With CP+, Seiden Group officially becomes a software vendor, which brings a certain amount of responsibility. Seiden says he is ready for it.
“We didn’t produce our own PHP in the distant past,” he says. “However, we gradually moved in that direction and realized that really it was the right thing to do to formalize that and have a package that we promise to maintain regularly.”