Merlin Subscriptions Picking Up, IBM and ARCAD Say
September 13, 2023 Alex Woodie
Hundreds of IBM i shops have adopted Merlin since it was released last year, according to IBM and ARCAD, which jointly developed the development and code management tool. The addition of a subscription offering in early 2023 significantly bolstered sales activity, the companies say.
“In this last six months or so, we have really seen it tick up, which is exactly what we are expecting,” says IBM i Product Manager Alison Butterill, on the Merlin adoption curve.
Sales were a bit slow coming out of the gate for Merlin, the novel, browser-based environment for application development and change management on IBM i that IBM launched in May 2022. Part of the reason for that is the IBM i community has never seen anything like Merlin, which is an amalgam of technology from IBM, ARCAD Software, and the open source community that runs in a containerized Red Hat Open Shift environment.
IBM doesn’t expect the IBM i installed base to beat doors down to get their hands on the latest technology. The new-technology-adoption pattern that for holds for the midrange is one of thoughtful investigation followed by hands-on testing followed by a methodical rollout.
“Typically, what we see when we introduce new technology,” Butterill says, “is it’s usually a 12-month period where people are going ‘Do I? Don’t I? I need to know more information. I need to go to COMMON and see it in in real life. I need to play with it in a lab. I need to get online and try it out, or a sandbox’ before they actually make the decision to acquire an entitlement.”
Before IBM rolled out the new subscription offering for Merlin (which officially is known as IBM i Modernization Engine for Lifecycle Integration) in February, there was a lot of tire-kicking going on. Some IBM i shops took advantage of a special three-month license from IBM to implement a proof of concept (POC) for Merlin. ARCAD, which has its own sales and marketing effort dedicated to Merlin, also has a no-cost sandbox offering that runs in the IBM Cloud and allows IBM i shops to play around with it for up to four weeks.
IBM knew going in that the need for a Kubernetes-based Open Shift environment would be an obstacle for some IBM i shops. Kubernetes is a foreign technology in the IBM i world. The Google-developed container management system doesn’t run on, in, or under IBM i (it can next to it in a partition on Power, but that’s about as close as it gets).
But as ARCAD worked with Merlin customers, it found that the biggest stumbling block is something else entirely, according to Andrew Ireland, ARCAD’s global alliances manager DevSecOps business manager.
“The biggest learning curve quite often is Git itself,” Ireland says.
With Merlin running in the IBM Cloud, there’s a minimal amount of configuration required, either for the sandbox or for customers accessing Merlin via a subscription. Users don’t have to fuss around with Kubernetes, which is a challenging technology to manage. All that prospective Merlin customers need to work in a sandbox environment is a user ID provided by ARCAD.
“Because it’s browser-based, they don’t need anything on their laptop,” Ireland says. “The key thing though is, because they’re quite often learning things like Git, which is new – and DevOps is for a lot of developers a new concept – they do require that handholding, and that’s what we do with them. We make sure that they don’t get stuck, and we explain the basic concepts.”
When customers make the decision to adopt Merlin, they have the option of running the Open Shift environment themselves or running Merlin in a private cloud environment. Butterill says there are a few service providers who are running Merlin for customers in a hosted environment, which eliminates the need for IBM i customers to get up to speed on Kubernetes.
While Kubernetes has its own learning curve, IBM i shops that haven’t had a containerized environment before should recognize that they will eventually need to learn it if they’re going to use Merlin, says IBM i CTO, Chief Architect, and Distinguished Scientist Steve Will.
“So many IBM i clients haven’t had to have a containerized environment at all, and now they’re going to have to learn that,” he says. “It’s not like it’s going to stop them from doing it, though, because they see the value of what they’re going to get. And then again, once you get past doing it one time, like anything, it’s pretty easy to continue using it. Then it becomes the actual use of the product.”
IBM and ARCAD have done quite a bit of education and training around Merlin, containerization, and DevOps. IBM has run a handful of “guided tours” on the product, as well as a set of jumpstart training courses. The folks at ARCAD have also done their share of training. This weeks’ IBM Tech Xchange conference also has a lab and a session on Merlin.
Browser-based development seems to be the favored approach at this point, and Merlin is the number one option for that from IBM. There are other options for browser-based development on IBM i, including the open source VS Code for IBM i originally developed by Liam Allan as well as MiWorkplace from Remain Software.
But the fact that Merlin combines not only a VS Code-based coding experience, but also brings a host of pre-integrated tools for application modernization and change management from ARCAD, it would seem that Merlin has other things going for it, too. When the IBM i Technology Refresh (TR) announcements are unveiled next month, it will be interesting to see what IBM is doing to keep Merlin’s momentum up.