ARCAD’s Deal with IBM for DevOps In Merlin Is Exclusive
September 20, 2023 Alex Woodie
When IBM launched Merlin in 2022, it touted the browser-based environment as a new way to deliver functionality to the IBM i installed base and potentially to distribute third-party solutions. But right now, the only third-party vendor IBM is working with when it comes to Merlin is ARCAD Software, which has exclusive rights to supply the DevOps components within Merlin, according to executives with both companies.
IBM introduced Merlin with great fanfare in May 2022 as a potentially transformative technology. Not only was Merlin the first browser-based integrated development environment (IDE) from IBM, providing an alternative to the powerful but resource-draining Rational Developer for IBM i (RDi) product, but Merlin also contained a full suite of integrated lifecycle management and DevOps tooling to help IBM i shops change the way they manage code. The fact that IBM bundled the VSCode-based IDE, Git, Jenkins, and DevOps connective tissue for IBM i within a Red Hat Open Shift container managed via Kubernetes just added to Merlin’s mystique as a next-gen offering.
IBM tapped its longtime partner ARCAD Software to provide the IBM i DevOps components for Merlin. Specifically, ARCAD provided the IBM i integration for Git (for source code management) and the IBM i integration for Jenkins (for continuous integration-continuous deployment, or CI/CD). Merlin also features an RPG conversion tool from ARCAD called Transformer, which IBM renamed Converter for Merlin.
No other providers of lifecycle management software will be allowed to work with Merlin, according to ARCAD Software CEO Phillipe Magne, who characterized the deal between ARCAD and IBM for IBM i lifecycle management tooling as exclusive.
“It’s by default exclusivity, because we have provided tons of technologies within Merlin,” Magne told IT Jungle in an interview this month. “We are quite supportive of the success of Merlin on a worldwide basis, I would say. So therefore, for sure, in fact, it’s by default exclusivity, to a certain extent.”
The contract that ARCAD and IBM have for Merlin is an addendum to the original contract that ARCAD and IBM formed back in 2013 during the Rational era, Magne added.
There has been some confusion on the matter of whether or not other vendors would be invited in to work with Merlin, as at least one provider of third-party change management tools for IBM i has told IT Jungle that they were preparing to work with Merlin.
“IBM never gave us the impression that the platform that they were creating for Merlin was exclusive,” said Mary Langen, vice president of operations and marketing for Midrange Dynamics North America. “As far as we know, IBM was working with other providers.”
Some of the confusion could be due to IBM statements regarding what Merlin can do now versus what Merlin might do in the future. During the POWERUp 2022 conference in New Orleans, several IBMers talked about how Merlin could essentially become a vehicle for delivering additional IBM i functionality beyond change management.
“When we think about Merlin, bigger picture, we’re creating a suite of tools to do more than just app modernization,” IBM i Business Architect Tim Rowe said during a session at POWERUp. “We had to start somewhere. We’re looking at adding a bunch of other things: app catalog, PTF management, security development, security compliance. There’s a lot of other options that are available to help customer manage both their system as well as their application modernization lifestyle stuff.”
IBM i CTO and Distinguished Scientist Steve Will reiterated those points during his POWERUp 2022 session.
“We took the opportunity to create ourselves a framework so we could have a graphical UI and an engine that wasn’t just targeted at doing these tools but targeted at doing any kind of tool that an IBM i client might want in the future,” Will said in May 2022. “Initially everything that comes from us will be built into this framework and come from us. At some point in the future, we open this up. We can plug other stuff in. It’s not on the immediate horizon. But we can look at doing that.”
We have not reached the point where Merlin has been opened up to other vendors, for change management or for any other components. While IBM i Product Manager Alison Butterill wouldn’t go as far as to call the arrangement with ARCAD “exclusive,” it is clear that IBM has no interest in replicating that type of arrangement with anyone else at this point.
“We have a contract in place with ARCAD,” Butterill said in an interview with IT Jungle this month. “We don’t intend to go and recruit other vendors and have a contract or any kind of an arrangement with them the way we do with ARCAD.”
IBM got everything it needed for lifecycle management from ARCAD, so there’s no point in duplicating the effort with another vendor, Butterill added.
“The reason we partnered with ARCAD is they have the suite of tools, the complete suite, that we needed to fill out the portfolio,” she said. “We have no reason to go looking for additional partners in that space.”
While it doesn’t appear that MDNA will be inking a deal to have its software distributed by IBM in Merlin anytime soon, there’s nothing stopping the company from integrating into some of the components that Merlin supports, including Git, according to Will.
“Other vendors have used whatever code repositories that they have developed over time, and as I look around at the marketplace, it seems like more and more of them are trying to use this sort of standard Git thing,” he said. “So, it’s certainly possible a person could put a repository in there that is connected to the repositories that Merlin is taking advantage of. But that doesn’t mean that they’re integrated into our product. It means that they are using a portion of it.”
Similarly, work that ARCAD has done within Merlin could also potentially be piggybacked on by other vendors, said Andrew Ireland, ARCAD’s global alliances and DevSecOps business manager.
“We’ve also pushed out to things like Code for i, which is open source,” Ireland said. “That’s something that we were going to do from Merlin. It will be in a future Merlin release.”
While MDNA isn’t participating in Merlin, which IBM said has sold hundreds of licenses since it was first launched, it is working to integrate with VSCode. IBM i shops can work with ILE languages in VSCode using Code for IBM i, the VSCode plug-in spearheaded by Liam Allan before he joined IBM in 2022. Code for IBM i has been downloaded nearly 22,000 times, according to the Visual Studio Marketplace, and appears to have quite a bit of momentum.
MDNA, which represents Switzerland-based Midrange Dynamics in the North American market from its office in Peterborough, New Hampshire-based, has worked with IBM on VSCode and will continue working on that front, Langen said.
“For several years now, our customers have leveraged our industry standard REST APIs to manage cross-platform pipelines, so exclusivity [with Merlin] will not affect our future direction,” she said.