Fall 2023 IBM i Tech Refresh Brings Something For Everyone
October 11, 2023 Alex Woodie
As expected, IBM yesterday unveiled its fall Technology Refresh (TR) for IBM i, with updates starting to become available on November 17. IBM announced no new products as part of the fall 2023 TR cycle, but it did spread the love around by giving just about everybody something to cheer about in IBM i 7.5 TR3 and 7.4 TR9.
Lots of different products that make up the IBM i environment will see some pretty meaningful enhancements with this release. If you spend a lot of time in Navigator for i or ACS, you will see new stuff. We haven’t had a TR without a database enhancement, and 7.5 TR3 and 7.4 TR9 won’t break that streak. IBM has a handful of new SQL-based IBM i Services to talk about, as well as new Db2 for i Services (also SQL-based). New RPG opcodes are in the mix. If you love SYSTOOLS, well, these might be your favorite TRs of all time.
“There’s a wide variety of content we’re delivering in all kinds of different places,” says IBM’s Alison Butterill, the IBM i product manager. “There’s something for everybody. If you’re a printing fanatic, it’s there. If you’re an RPG programmer, it’s there. If you love RDi, there’s stuff in there. There’s stuff in Power HA and Db2 Mirror and BRMS. Across the board – it’s pretty extensive. Even though there’s not a new product, there’s lots of tidbits for everybody.”
Pressed to identify the most significant of the many enhancements in IBM i 7.5 TR3 and 7.4 TR9, Butterill pointed to the new database features and additions to SYSTOOLS. The first new database feature mentioned by Scott Forstie, the business architect for Db2 for i, was the new built-in function for using AES 256 encryption.
“We had ways to use SQL to encrypt and decrypt data,” he says. “Now we have a much more powerful encryption scalar function.”
A new CLOB-based scalar function for encoding and decoding HTML for SQL-based RESTful services has been added to the database. IBM already provided for encoding and decoding HTML binary large objects (BLOBs) for REST services, and with this release extends that to character large objects (CLOBs).
Another favorite of Forstie’s was the addition to the DUMP_PLAN_CACHE procedure. This procedure, which can be used to capture deep detail for SQL statements in the SQL plan cache, now has a new filter that allows the user to capture detail just for certain SQL statements.
“For the database engineer, [it brings] easier ways to automate interactions with the SQL plan cache, to get some insights into what what’s happening with the plan cache, what sort of queries are the most expensive, and why are they the most expensive,” he says.
One of the many new IBM i Services – which are SQL-based functions that accomplish a variety of tasks and are replacements for CL commands and APIs across the operating system – is a new table function that returns details about a pending transaction based on data from the journals.
“Work commitment definition is the CL command that’s tried and true,” Forstie says. “Instead of [that CL command], you’ll be able to use DB_TRANSACTION_JOURNAL_INFO. It will show you all the journals that are participating in those transactions, and it tells you where it’s at, the percentage rollback.”
It will be useful for gauging the progress of a transaction rollback in the database, Forstie says. For example, if commitment control is turned on, and a database transaction does not complete, the transaction needs to be unwound or rolled back. The new IBM i Service will tell you how long that rollback will take.
“You want the ability to have a defined point of transactional integrity,” he says. “’Oh look, it’s going to be two minutes or two hours or two days.’”
Numerous additions have been made to SYSTOOLS, that collection of SQL-based tools for Db2 for i. At the top of Forstie’s list are GENERATE_SPREADSHEET, a new scalar function for creating a spreadsheet on either an existing database file or by providing an SQL query; and SEND_EMAIL, another new scalar function that streamlines the process of sending an email with an attachment from the IFS.
“A lot of people need spreadsheets,” Forstie says. “And the corollary to that is, as soon as they have a spreadsheet, what do they want to do?”
Navigator and ACS
“We have a number of things happening in Navigator,” Butterill says. “Our group of trusted advisors has been working with us to try and get the priority sequence of all the things that we wanted to bring into Navigator.”
The new TRs bring new table filtering capabilities to Navigator, enhanced DNS support, and new IFS functions. The printing functionality has been bolstered, along with the work management capabilities. On the security front, new features have been added for tracking system values, the audit journal, and job groups.
IBM is also shipping a new release of IBM i Access Client Solutions. ACS version 126.96.36.199 brings new capabilities to the popular Run SQL Scripts, new “insert from example” options, and syntax compatibility with the latest SQL standard, among other capabilities.
HA and DR
Certain licensed program products (LPPs) have been bolstered with this TR cycle, including PowerHA. IBM has a new job tracking features that will provide automated tracking for certain job queues; better visibility of jobs at the time of failure, and simpler resubmission of failed jobs during a recovery.
The IBM backup utility, Backup, Recovery, and Media Services (BRMS), gained several new features, including a new IASP history synchronization function for HA environments; a new procedure understanding the BRMS functional authority of users; and better integration with VTL devices connected over iSCSI.
Db2 Mirror for i, the continuous availability solution, gains several new features, including a new “Health Center” section of the GUI that gives admins new views into the product; as well as updates on the usage of mirrored data queues and resynchronization.
Last but not least are enhancements to developer tools. Rational Developer for i (RDi) 188.8.131.52 gains several mostly minor tweaks to clean up the screen, as well as better control over the iDoc templates to help developers document their programs.
RPG developers will be happy to know there are a few new items in Rational Development Studio for i (RDS), including support for qualified name constraints with a new enumeration definition type, DCL-ENUM; as well as new string built-in functions %LEFT and %RIGHT to return the leftmost or rightmost characters from a string.
IBM is also promoting several enhancements to Code for IBM i, the VS Code plug-in developed by Liam Allan (now an IBMer), which has become extremely popular over the past two years. In addition to the new database extension for Code for i that we covered in Monday’s issue of The Four Hundred, IBM is promoting several other enhancements, including: improved support for RPG, CL, COBOL, and SQL within Git; batch debut support; improved support for CL, and the capability to run CL commands from the IDE without compiling, among other new features.
In determining what features to bring into the new release, IBM leaned heavily on its various advisory councils. It also went straight to the IBM i users themselves and pulled dozens of feature requests from the IBM Ideas Portal.
What will be remembered from this release, and what will eventually be forgotten? That’s not easy to say, Butterill says.
“In every new Technology Refresh, in every new release, it’s hard to predict which of these things is going to drive a particular person,” she says. “We may have people that go ‘Oh my, you updated the printing capability and I can put it on a remote output queue!’ And that will be the thing that overwhelms on this release.’ Or I’ve been waiting for enumeration in RPG for 15 years.’ Okay, then we did it.”