Top 5 New IBM i Features to Check Out Now That Fall TRs Are GA
December 7, 2022 Alex Woodie
All of the new features that IBM unveiled earlier this fall with the Technology Refreshes for IBM i 7.4 and 7.5 (as well as another stealth “non-TR” TR for 7.3) are now generally available. Some of them shipped before December 2, but pretty much all of them are now GA. With so much enterprise computing goodness ready to download, what will you adopt first?
We know it’s not Christmas yet. But with so many new features, it can be hard to figure out what to do first. While everybody has their own computing priorities, we have our own ideas for what constitute progress. So with that in mind, here is IT Jungle’s officially unofficial list of the top five new IBM i features from the Fall 2022 TRs you should definitely check out now:
Security Features Galore
Security can be a tough sell. After all, your customers are already counting on you to not compromising their vital information or get yourself hacked. Fulfilling that basic requirement is always job number one, but companies haven’t always done that well. But thanks to the new security features in 7.5 TR1 and 7.4 TR7, IBM is making securing the server and its data just a little bit easier.
The security enhancements are spread across several cars in the IBM i freight train. There’s the improved support for audit journals in IBM’s new Navigator, which will allow administrators to check on user activity without resorting to the old Navigator, which itself is unsafe to use (remember: IBM hasn’t, and won’t, patch old Nav, which includes a vulnerable version of Log4j).
Other security upgrades in the Fall 2022 batch of TRs include use of improved and more secure protocols in Integrated Web Services Server (IWS). Users storing sensitive data on self-encrypting NVMe drives can now use a password to protect the encryption key. IBM also bolstered the Common Cryptographic Architecture (CCA) Cryptographic Service Provider (CSP).
Watson Geospatial Functions in the DB
There’s a time and place for everything. For the former, there are temporal tables, which IBM added to Db2 for i in 2016. For the latter, there are new geospatial functions from the Watson group that Business Architect for Db2 for i Scott Forstie and his team added with 7.5 TR1 and 7.4 TR7.
The new geospatial functions give developers the ability to do interesting things with geographic data, i.e., latitude/longitude readings, as well as lines and polygons created from that data. To get started, you need to have user-defined geospatial data in your database. Once you have that ready, then you can start playing with the full array of 49 new geospatial functions that IBM has shipped, which you can read about here.
So, what can you actually do? For starters, you can compute distance between two points to provide more accurate delivery estimates for your customers. Another real-time use case involves creating geofences around certain physical points, which can trigger certain actions to automatically occur when, say, a user with a data-emitting smart phone crosses one (be sure to get consent to collect that data first, though!).
There are also historical and batch use cases, such as an insurance company calculating a record of tornado strikes for a certain property, or a coffee chain choosing the best place to build a new retail outlet (or you could put one on every block–just to be sure).
A Debugger for Merlin (and Other IDEs)
When IBM unveiled Merlin earlier this year, it marked a pivotal point for IBM’s approach to development tools. Instead of promoting Rational Developer for IBM i (RDi) as the sole IBM-sanctioned development environment, IBM now was promoting a Web-based IDE based on VS Code as a lightweight alternative.
There was just one problem: There was no debugger for Merlin. It was a minor case of IBM putting the cart before the horse, since there were other important aspects to Merlin, including the integrated DevOps functionality, courtesy of ARCAD Software. Besides, IBM assured us that it had a working plugin for the official IBM i Debugger, which lives in the ILE language compilers sold via Rational Development Studio for i (RDS), that would work with Merlin.
That plugin is now officially available with 7.5 TR1 and 7.4 TR7, which gives developers the ability to not only write ILE programs using Merlin, but to debug them too. But wait! Decoupling the debugger also opens up the gates for using other IDEs with IBM i too, including many that are built atop Microsoft’s VS Code. The one that immediately comes to mind is Code for IBM i, the increasingly popular open source offering from Liam Allan, who now is an IBMer.
Database and SQL Updates
Every Tech Refresh sports some updates to the database and its SQL functionality, and IBM i 7.5 TR1 and 7.4 TR7 are no exception. In fact, Forstie counted 30 new SQL services and more than 15 enhanced services in the latest release. “There’s something for everybody,” he says.
Upon reflection, Forstie identified SELF, or SQL Error Logging Facility, as one of the highlights of the latest upgrade cycle. SELF provides a database mechanism to capture details about what specific errors or warnings are happening in SQL statements, and can be used as a replacement for traditional SQL Performance Monitors, he says.
Database engineers often like to get their hands dirty with data. With 7.5 TR1 and 7.4 TR7, they can manually move rows in the database using SQL without requiring the database to do a lot of extra work with the new aptly named QSYS2.REPLICATION_OVERRIDE function. There are many other new features and functions, which you can read about here.
RDi and RPG
While not technically part of IBM i, IBM packages up enhancements and updates for RDi on the same general release schedule as it does for the TRs. With the latest release of RDi – as well as the enhancements to the RPG compilers in RDS that are in the TRs – IBM is providing new features that should please ILE developers who swear by IBM’s full-featured IDE.
Among the enhancements that IBM is shipping with RDi 184.108.40.206 includes support for compiler errors generated for CRTPGM and CRTSRVPGM. It also gets support for the new RPG functionality (see below), as well as support for JTOpen 11.0 and the Java 8 JVM.
RDi users will also get a new LPEX filter for subroutines and procedures; a couple of preference changes for context assist and the default insertion mode; a new left-hand indicator in outline mode; displaying the file name in hover text for record formats; and several other enhancements.
IBM also delivered several new features in the RPG language itself, via RDS. There are new string manipulation capabilities, and new built-in-function (BIFs) for working with strings too. There’s also a new prototyped-parameter option for string or pointer parameters.
So, what new features announced back in early October have yet to be made available? The updates for the software-based high availability product, PowerHA SystemMirror for i, naturally.