Surprise! It’s IBM i Technology Refresh Time
September 13, 2021 Alex Woodie
IBM surprised the midrange world last week by announcing Technology Refreshes (TRs) for IBM i 7.3 and 7.4, which became generally available on Friday. The fall TRs, which typically are announced in October, brought support for the new Power10-based Power E1080 server in addition to a slew of enhancements to the operating system and surrounding IBM i products.
The big piece of news with the new TRs – IBM i TR 7.3 TR11 and 7.4 TR5 – is support for servers based on IBM’s speedy new Power10 processor, which is the first Power chip based on its 7 nanometer process. Companies that want to use one of the new Power10 servers – starting with the high-end Power E1080, which is slated to ship later this month – will have to run 7.3 TR11 or 7.4 TR5. Midrange and entry-level Power10 models, which are expected to be announced later this year and into 2021, will also need one of these two operating systems.
But IBM packed a lot more goodies into these TRs (its fourth TR refresh during the COVID pandemic) that will interest the bulk of IBM i shops (that is, the 99.9 percent of us who aren’t immediately adopting the big new enterprise-class machine). We’ll give you a general overview of these goodies in this story, to be followed with more detailed stories on specific items.
At the top of the list of TR enhancements is a total refresh of IBM i Navigator, the primary utility that administrators use to monitor and manage IBM i systems. With this release, IBM completely overhauled Navigator from the ground up, rewriting it in Angular and Prime, and basing it entirely on SQL Services.
“It’s become a strategic item for us to be able to manage our system via [SQL] services, and now that Navigator is built on top of those, we are eating our own cooking,” IBM i Architect Steve Will told IT Jungle in a briefing.
“But we’re also making it easier for Navigator to do something that our clients have wanted for a long time, which is to have Navigator manage multiple IBM i images within one screen, one pane of glass, one browser interface,” he said.
Not all functions that are available in green screen command or that were supported in the heritage version of Navigator are available in the new product, which IBM calls “New Nav.” But the new Navigator is IBM’s strategic direction going forward, and any new functionality will go into it, while the heritage Navigator product is stabilized, according to IBM i Product Manager Alison Butterill.
“Over time we are going to move to the newer version of the Navigator,” Butterill said. “That’s where we’d like clients to move to. It certainly is going to address a lot of the concerns that people have had over time. And we will gradually phase out the older version as you can imagine, because the heritage version, for example, has multiple tabs to manage multiple systems.”
Speaking of SQL services, IBM has added 14 new SQL scripts for specific tasks, which IBM used to call SQL Services but today has taken to calling IBM i Services. Twelve of these new IBM i Services target the audit journal and are designed to help IBM i professionals get more useful data out of the audit journal.
IBM also enhanced a number of existing IBM i Services. That includes QSYS2.NVME_INFO, which is “basically like a fuel gauge for your NVMe devices,” Will said during a Web presentation last week hosted by COMMON, which you can pull up at this link.
The IBM i Service that goes by the name QSYS2.SECURITY_INFO was also spruced up. “We have added more information to the SECURITY_INFO service so you can get more information…about how your security is configured,” Will said.
There’s are a slew of new Db2 Services (which are SQL services that target the database) delivered these two TRs. According to the IBM Support webpage, the 11 new Db2 Services it delivered enable SQL developers to use REST to serve HTTP requests to read and write data from the database. “The services provide the same capabilities as the SYSTOOLS HTTP functions without the overhead of creating a JVM,” IBM said on its IBM Support webpage.
IBM Access Client Solutions (ACS), the Java-based client that runs on any Web browser, is also seeing some action with 7.3 TR11 and 7.4 TR5. Better memory management should generate improved user satisfaction when working with Run SQL Scripts in ACS version 126.96.36.199. There are also new examples that customers can take and customize, “making it easy to be successful with SQL and IBM i Services,” the company said.
The most exciting new ACS features, though, are the new commit and rollback options, which complement new controls and indicators on the ACS screen that changes to the database have not yet been completed.
“People have started making quick changes to their database using Run SQL Scripts, but sometimes they get into the middle of transaction [and don’t finish it],” Will said. “[Now] you have an easy, iconic way to commit a change that been made via ACS or roll it back. You have a visual flag on the screen that shows you’re in the middle of a transaction. You have not committed this yet. Before you leave this screen do you want to make sure that you commit it?”
Did somebody say “open source”? Because IBM has brough a ton of new open source to IBM i with the new TRs, including: Node.js version 16; Python version 3.9; a refresh of the GNU Compiler Collection (GCC); the Source Forge tn5250 project; the dos2unix utility; hexdump; Ghostscript; Free TDS; new bash built-ins; and last (but definitely not least) the chron scheduler.
But wait, there’s more! (There always is!) IBM has updated its Cloud Storage Solutions for i offering, which enables users to backup their IBM i data to object stores running in the cloud. IBM now officially supports Amazon Web Services’ uber popular Simple Storage Service (S3), as well as the S3-compatible Google Cloud Storage (GCS) object store. This comes in addition to support for the IBM Cloud, and in addition to support for IBM Spectrum, which we told you about earlier this year.
IBM also promises that it has bolstered performance with its Cloud Storage Solutions (5733-ICC) by increasing the maximum size of objects and improving the performance for sending objects to the cloud.
Do you identify as an IBM i developer? Or perhaps you know somebody who does? Either way, you’ll be happy to know that IBM has bolstered both of its core development offerings, including the Rational Developer for i (RDi) IDE and Rational Developer Studio for i (RDS), also known as “the compilers.”
With RDi 188.8.131.52, IBM has delivered what it’s calling “a new user experience” aimed at green screen developers that’s designed to provide “an easier transition as they move to the desktop tools experience.” A number of other mostly small tweaks – many of which were requested by IBM i users through IBM’s Request for Enhancement (RFE) program – adorn the new release. You can see the full list of RDi enhancements here.
IBM has bolstered RDS with a pair of new RPG functions, including support for %FIELDS for the SORTA operation for a data structure array. IBM says this new capability “enables programmers to sort a data structure by more than one subfield.” It also added a new behavior to the DEBUG(*CONSTANTS) function that allows named constants to be evaluated in the bugger. (IBM also announced new %MAXARR and %MINARR built-in array functions, but these look suspiciously like what it already announced earlier this year.)
Besides the new cryptographic coprocessor 4769 (which ships September 30 and is really more of a hardware thing), that’s it for IBM i 7.3 TR11 and 7.4 TR5. The TRs ostensibly became available on September 10, but some PTFs may not have shipped.
Well, that’s it for now. Stay tuned for future issues, where we’ll dive into the particulars of the TRs. In the meantime, for more information, check out the IBM i Technology Updates wiki at https://www.ibm.com/support/pages/node/1119129. You can find the official IBM announcement letter for IBM i 7.3 TR11 in PDF format here and you can find the official IBM announcement letter for IBM i 7.4 TR5 in PDF format here.