IBM Accelerates New Nav Development Following Log4j Issue
February 23, 2022 Alex Woodie
When IBM launched the new version of Navigator for i last fall, executives figured they had time to fill out the new product’s functionality as customers gradually adopted it. But those plans were upended when Log4j rendered the old version vulnerable to a serious security flaw, and now IBM finds itself needing to accelerate the build out of New Nav while simultaneously ramping up promotion and outreach.
IBM launched the new version of Navigator for i back in September 2021, when it announced the latest Technology Refreshes (TRs) for IBM i 7.3 and 7.4. New Nav, as the product is called, marks a significant departure from the older version (Old Nav) both in terms of how it works and the underlying technology it uses. But the fact that it’s only available for customers on current releases puts users in a bit of a bind.
New Nav is also based largely upon the SQL services that Db2 for i Business Architect Scott Forstie and his team in Rochester, Minnesota, have been rolling out over the past few years. The SQL services (sometimes called IBM i services) are slowly replacing the CL commands and APIs that have been the main ways that users interacted with the system and accessed system resources. There are hundreds of SQL services at this point, with many more in the pipeline.
On the functionality front, New Nav is a work in progress. New Nav offers better functionality in a number of areas. But there are gaps in functionality that will force users to use Old Nav, or resort to using CL commands in the 5250 interface or working with APIs.
There are a lot of things to like in New Nav. For example, New Nav allows users to monitor and manage multiple IBM i systems or LPARs from a single screen, which is something that you couldn’t do in Old Nav without opening multiple tabs.
This has been a feature that IBM i users have complained about for years, says Tim Rowe, the IBM business architect for IBM i development tools, who was one of the main drivers of the product’s development.
“That was one of the things our customers let us know they didn’t like,” Rowe says. “That was a huge focus from a design point when we put together this new interface. It really is intended to be a dashboard where you can have all of your systems easily accessible to easily manage, to go back and for between systems. [We added] some live multi system, multi-metric monitoring capabilities that just weren’t possible in previous solutions.”
There are many little things that are included in New Nav that weren’t in the older product. For example, New Nav supports reporting on product licensing and gives users more information about whether encryption is required for a file share.
Admins can also now easily pull up a dashboard showing them a list of disabled user IDs, which wasn’t something that was easy to do before, Rowe says. “Those are some of the things that are net new and that are pain points for our systems management folks,” he tells IT Jungle. “They asked for it and we gave it to them.”
One feature that could be a plus or a minus (depending on how you view it) is the nature of the New Nav interface itself. In short, it’s entirely customizable by the user, allowing them to configure their dashboards according to what they want to see. Users can drag and drop the elements that they want to see on their screen. This could take some getting used to on the part of users who are accustomed to the Old Nav way of doing things.
In the Active Jobs dashboard, New Nav offers 120 percent more metrics to the user than Old Nav, Rowe says.
“If you looked at what was avail be in the Old Nav, you probably had in the neighborhood of 35 or 40 metrics that could be returned,” he says. “In New Nav, we’ve got 100 and something. There’s tons and tons of new metrics that are available.”
There are some metrics that were never available in the past, giving users the ability to have a highly tailored view into what’s going on with their IBM i jobs. “This is super customizable because customers can go and add their own metrics,” Rowe says. “They can even add their own application metrics, which is potentially very interesting.”
As previously stated, New Nav depends on SQL services behind the scenes to grab the system values and other data that it needs. But because the strategic SQL services build-out isn’t complete, New Nav itself resorts to using CL commands or APIs for some things. And in other areas, there are some areas that New Nav just hasn’t gotten to, even if there are CL commands and APIs available, such as the Advanced Job Scheduler and BRMS.
Another big area that New Nav is currently deficient in is message monitoring, Rowe says. “There was just not enough time and resources to get that one in for that GA” last September, he says. “But we’re very close to being able to add something like that. That’s our priority because it’s one of the important things that our adminstrators use. They’ve let us know we need that one. That’s one of the priority things.”
New Nav is clearly the strategic GUI for IBM i administrators, and the future for the product looks bright. In the coming months, you can expect to see more outreach from IBM promoting New Nav and encouraging IBM i customers to adopt it, according to IBM i Product Manager Alison Butterill.
“Log4j certainly put a new wrinkle in it,” Butterill says. “We had laid out a plan about how we’re going to push New Nav out. We just moved those plans farther up. So it’s working with those community groups right at the moment.”
IBM is doing New Nav outreach with the IBM i media (ahem) and working with the various advisory councils associated with user groups, like COMMON and COMMON Europe. “We’re working with them right now,” Butterill says.
There are still a couple of sticking points, however. For starters, New Nav only works with IBM i 7.3 and 7.4, and IBM has made it clear that it won’t be supporting New Nav on older releases, like IBM i 7.1 and 7.2, which are used by 10 percent and 8 percent of IBM i users, per the latest HelpSystems IBM i Marketplace Study.
IBM also says it won’t be patching the Log4j flaw on Old Nav, which continues to run on currently supported releases of IBM i as well as those that IBM is no longer supporting. That gives users on older, unsupported releases a couple of options, Butterill says.
“You can turn off Old Nav and still work with the tools – BRMS, Job Scheduler. A lot of the system tools that are there, you can call them from the green screen. You can work with them just fine. You might lose a little bit of the functionality but you can do that,” she says.
“So that’s an option,” Butterill continues. “Or an option is to upgrade to 7.3 or 7.4 so you can start using the New Navigator.”
It’s not difficult to tell which of those solutions IBM favors.