Rocket Rolls Out IBM i Modernization Bundle
March 6, 2023 Alex Woodie
Rocket Software last week unveiled a new collection of tools designed to help IBM i shops elevate their game across multiple IT disciplines. Dubbed the Rocket Modernization Suite for IBM i, the new bundle brings together existing Rocket offerings in the DevOps, APIs, test automation, HA/DR, terminal emulation, and Web-enablement spaces. It’s all about lowering the barrier to adopting Rocket tools and improving customer productivity when they do, the company says.
Like other software vendors in the space, Rocket Software has accumulated somewhat of a disparate collection of tools for the IBM i server. The Massachusetts vendor started its IBM i journey with the acquisition of Seagull Software and its screen-scraper and Web and mobile-enablement tools, now called Rocket Modern Experience. Then it added Datamirror’s iCluster high availability and disaster recovery tools, via a deal with IBM. It acquired Aldon’s change management tools for IBM i (now called Rocket DevOps), as well as the BlueZone emulator (Rocket Terminal Emulator. Along the way, it developed several brand new tools for IBM i.
The goal with Rocket Modernization Suite for IBM i is to bring all of those tools together in a more cohesive manner that benefits customers and better serves their overall modernization goals, according to Puneet Kohli, who was recently promoted to the position of president of the Application Modernization Business Unit, where the IBM i product sit.
“The real beauty of this launch is we put together a complete picture to say ‘This is what an IBM i portfolio from Rocket looks like, and this is how it helps the customer who is modernizing the i ecosystem on their end,’” he says.
Some Rocket customers have classic modernization requirements, insofar as they want to upgrade their greenscreen applications with Web and mobile interfaces, or even a Windows fat client. The Rocket Modern Experience, which is descended from Seagull’s JWalk and LegaSuite offerings, can provide that GUI upgrade.
It’s not uncommon for IBM i shops to have applications with 20,000 to 30,000 screens in their ERP and related systems. Not every 5250 screen needs to be upgraded with a sleek HTML interface, however. To figure out which screens an organization uses most, Rocket developed its own power tool, dubbed Rocket Process Insights, which it released in September 2021. That, too, is part of the new modernization suite.
But in many cases, customers’ modernization needs go beyond simply beautifying the look-and-feel of an IBM i application or even upgrading the RPG logic, Kohli says. For instance, the need to integrate IBM i applications with applications running on other platforms, such as ERP systems from SAP and other vendors, is also a form of modernization. Rocket API, which can automatically generate a REST API from a given applications, was developed in-house and released in June 2017 to provide that integration capability for shops without deep RPG knowledge.
Developer-heavy organizations can also benefit from the use of more modern code management techniques and technologies. So that puts Rocket DevOps into the modernization bucket.
“They’ve got applications running on i, they’ve got RPG code, they need to manage their RPG. So they need some DevOps capabilities,” Kohli says. “There are open source tools out there that even the i ecosystem needs to integrate with, and we made it easier for us to be able to integrate with JIRA, with Jenkins and with Git, and that’s part of this launch.”
Rocket added automated testing capabilities to its DevOps offering a year ago. Rocket DevOps Test helps manage the test scripts that developers create to ensure their programs run as designed, and also helps to ensure the security of data sets used in tests. As you might have guessed, testing also falls into the modernization rubric for Rocket.
Organizations running in the modern manner also don’t put up with unnecessary downtime, so high availability and disaster recovery are also a component of modernization.
“They obviously need HA/DR,” Kohli says. “We take a very pragmatic approach to HA/DR [with iCluster]. Not tons of bells and whistles, per se, but things that you really need. You need access to data when you need access to data. When a disaster strikes, you should be able to very quickly get access to it.”
Rocket has already built hooks that unite some of these products at a technical level. Developers who use Rocket Modern Experience to create new GUIs, for instance, can have their work automatically tracked with Rocket DevOps. Test scripts used to test the new applications can also be tracked with Rocket DevOps Test.
The company is currently working to create a common user experience across all of the seven products. According to Kohli, it’s being developed in the Carbon, which is IBM’s open source design system. All of the user interfaces will have a common look and feel, which will make it easier for users to adopt other Rocket products, he says.
There’s one product element missing from Rocket’s modernization journey: a development tool. The company has no plans to develop its own IDE, as others in the IBM i ecosystem have done (like its competitor, Remain Software, and its lightweight code editor, MiWorkplace).
Rocket’s tools are well-integrated into IBM’s Eclipse-based IDEs, with Rational Developer for IBM i (RDi) being chief among them. But Rocket is also increasingly seeing customers want to work in Web-based VSCode environments, which it is also supporting. Rocket’s tools work with Code for IBM i, the plug-in developed by Liam Allan.
The Rocket products do not currently work with IBM Merlin, which also offers a VSCode development tool, Kohli says. But the company is in talks with IBM and Rocket’s products, such as Rocket DevOps, could be integrated at some point in the future, he says.
IBM Merlin, of course, launched last year with built-in support for Rocket’s competitor, ARCAD Software and its DevOps tools. That clearly didn’t please Rocket and other providers of DevOps tools for IBM i, but IBM i CTO Steve Will said IBM may open Merlin up to other providers in the future.
“We are getting the sense they’re open to that,” Kohli says. “I think it would be good for the ecosystem anyway. I think the customers would appreciate that.”
Bundling is in the air these days, as Merlin clearly shows. Rocket sensed that customers are receptive to the bundling message too. In some cases, multiple departments within the same organizations were engaging Rocket separately, so having a single bundle helps drive more efficiency into customer engagement for Rocket (and vendor engagement for customers).
In some cases, customers that already have one Rocket product may see some savings by adopting the new Rocket bundle, according to Kohli.
“We have over 2,000 customers who are running one of these products on their i platform and that’s a huge opportunity for us to go in and talk to them about the capability of other products,” he says. “We felt that it was time for us to really talk about the IBM i ecosystem and bring these together.”