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Back when ebusiness was young and the AS400 had just become the iseries - Nick Litten is IBM-i, AS400 iSeries RPG Programmer and Nerd

Back when ebusiness was young and the AS400 had just become the iseries

iSeries

Jan 27

I found this old email tucked away in a dark, damp corner of my old desktop. Covered in cobwebs, sticky with splashes of Jolt Cola and sticky bits of snickers bars it raised a wry smile when I read it. A quick cut/paste later and here it is. I sent this to some of my AS400 team members when on site for a client in London. A big German bank who’s name rhymes with… erm… Rezner.. Schnesdnu… erm… well it doesnt rhyme with anything actually.

Anyway, this was my first visit to the Annual News400 conference back in 2000. I had a fantastic time and was in full geek delight for the entire week:


So, I attended the News/400 International Conference in Vail, Colorado, last week.

The conference clearly highlighted IBM’s commitment to e-Business and brought some revolutionary announcements from IBMs top AS/400 Architects. Future direction for the AS/400, programming languages and web development were enlightening (to say the least!). The bulk of this email has been plagiarised from presentations and the News/400 website but will hopefully give you a taste of the exciting developments that will affect us all. So, grab a cup of coffee and read on……

Frank Soltis (the AS/400 Architect – and accredited ‘father’ of the AS/400) led off with a speech focused on IBM strategies and future direction. Unlike previous presentations by Frank focusing on hardware, Frank focused on IBMs investment in the AS/400 and its future: Did you know that IBM is investing more money in the development of AS/400 hardware and software than in the entire history of the AS/400? Frank explained that the AS/400 is the most profitable operation within IBM. He also explained that IBMs resource (MONEY) is allocated to organizations within IBM based on that units profitability. He pointed out that is not the case for marketing however. He indicated that the AS/400 Model 840 (24 way) is the most powerful computer on the planet! It is faster than IBMs largest SMP S390 Mainframe based on overall performance and throughput, not just CPU speed. IBM has implemented not only a super fast CPU in the new 8xx line of AS/400s, but also an entirely new IO subsystem (giving up to 10 times the throughput of the older 7xx models).

JAVA? JAVA? JAVA? Well, for a couple of years now, IBM has been pushing JAVA as the *only* development language of the future. It seems that at the current moment, Sun Microsystems is no longer IBMs best buddy and JAVA is no longer the end-all solution to developing the worlds systems! According to Frank Soltis, IBMs strategies have changed to take a more realistic approach integrating native languages such as RPG, COBOL, C++, etc. with JAVA to build the best solution! JAVA remains a very important part of IBMs offering and direction, but I think that they realise that the migration time to move to Java is likely to be a number of years for most AS/400 shops.

A key thread from IBM through the conference was a very specific direction to design your applications so that you separate presentation logic from business logic or business rules!

LPAR for the poor! V4R4 introduced logical portioning to the AS/400. V4R4’s LPAR allowed users of 7xx machines with multiple processors to partition their machines into multiple logical machines. This required adding additional devices and disk to the machine to accommodate partitioning. While there were some technical enhancements in V4R5, the next release of OS/400 (V5???) will bring LPAR to everyone, including machines with a single processor. The new LPAR will allow up to 4 logical partitions per physical processor. Virtual Partitioning may have some technical limitations. It will allow everyone to take advantage of this technology. LPAR is the basis LINUX on the AS/400. LINUX will run as both a standalone operating system in a partition or as a PASE based application under OS/400. The same applies to Linux. So, on one physical AS/400, you could have three separate logical machines running OS/400, UNIX and LINUX!

Extreme Development Tools You can no longer buy RPG! Got your attention? Thats how Phil Coultard, IBMs AS/400 Languages and development tools architect (from IBMs Toronto lab) started out his presentation! IBM has changed its position on the AS/400 from deployment machine to development and deployment machine! With the release following V4R5 (V5R0??) you will no longer have to buy RPG or any other compiler! All of IBMs compilers, RPG, COBOL, C, C++ will be bundled into your software subscription along with a new development toolset for these languages and JAVA! The bundling of the C compiler is extremely significant to database users. As you may have found out, IBM introduced SQL native language stored procedures back at V4R1 of OS/400. Unfortunately, you had to have a C compiler installed on your machine to use them. Apparently you use SQL to create your stored procedure language definition and IBM generates a C program under the covers. Now, everyone can use SQL Stored Procedure Language. One Extreme Development Tool For All! The current pricing for development tools was pretty extreme! In fact with $1500 per seat for CODE/400 and Visual RPG, or $3000 per seat for VisualAge for JAVA enterprise, $3000 Per seat for VisualAge C++ or $400 per seat for Websphere Studio, it was unlikely that anyone other than very serious software companies were going to make the investment in these products. IBM has changed all of that! Shipping with the release following V4R5 (V5R1???) IBM will ship a single unified development tool set called WebSphere Development Tools. This product along with the compilers will be bundled into your OS/400 subscription. If you dont have a subscription, you better get one or you will pay a significant penalty for not having a software subscription. Included in the Websphere Development Toolkit will be a single PC based user interface that lets you select the language you wish to work with. It will then wrapper CODE/400 for RPG and COBOL, VisualAge for JAVA, and the WebSphere Studio for AS/400. It even includes Aldon Affinity – a change management package. These tools are designed to be installed on your AS/400 and loaded to the PC from the AS/400. PTFs or enhancements may be installed on the AS/400 and users notified of upgrades. If you have ever attempted to work with CODE/400 or Visual Age, you will quickly appreciate this bundled AS/400 centric approach! There will also be CDs provided for those who dont wish to install directly from the AS/400. This is probably the most interesting announcement I heard all week – Code/400 could mean the end of all green screen application development tools on the AS/400. It allows you to store source on any machine on the network, and even allows you perform offline compiles – basically a syntax check but of course you will now be able to sit on the train and write (and *pseudo* compile) your CL, RPG, JAVA, C++, etc. programs. I’m that is what you have all been waiting to do for years!! 😎

It gets even better! At present, Visual Age for Java and the Websphere Studio are cross platform tools built and tested by IBM on Windows/NT or Windows/2000! If you can get them to work with the AS/400 it is with only the greatest difficulty! IBM had made the statement that the AS/400 was a deployment platform! You were supposed to develop JAVA and C++ applications on a Windows/NT machine and deploy the tested application to the AS/400. These new products still take advantage of cross-platform technologies developed by IBMs software division, BUT, they are packaged and customized to the AS/400 now by the AS/400 developers at IBMs Toronto Lab! This means that when you select PUBLISH in WebSphere Studio, the product will understand what an AS/400 is and where to put the objects necessary to publish to an AS/400!

Visual Age Now Lean and Mean! A significant problem with the VisualAge product line was the fact that it was originally developed in the SmallTalk language! While SmallTalk was a great introductory language to Object Oriented programming it was a real dog in terms of performance and chewed up huge amounts of PC memory and disk! The new WebSphere Development Tools are completely re-written by the Toronto lab and are now extremely efficient – or so we’re told! Wizards and Training Ok, so IBM introduces a new toolset! How do you learn it? How do you use it? Well, IBM legal has given the AS/400 development labs clearance to use the word WIZARD and boy do they ever use it! You will find Wizards to help do everything. You can create JAVA Beans, and much, much more! Is RPG Dead? Not hardly! In fact IBM will release a new version of RPG (they didn’tt say what it was called, but I would guess RPG-V)! Phil Coultard indicated that there are more enhancements in this new release than IBM has ever put in a single new release of RPG! Phil only spoke about one huge enhancement, the CF spec which is intended to replace the C spec (leaving the C spec intact for compatibility). The F in CF stands for FREEFORM! Yes, finally after all these years, RPG goes freeform! No more rows and columns! After all that the emphasis is still heavily on the side of Java. One interesting snippet that I got from Phil, is that you can use the Visual Age for RPG product to import your old RPG code and then perform an upgrade to RPG/V-Age format. This can then be exported directly in Java language!!! Amazing! I suspect that the generated code will not be very *pretty*, due to the differences between procedural (RPG) and Object Oriented (Java) coding practises, but this could well be a useful tool for standardising on the old legacy reports/batch routines that we all have sitting around on our systems. One little warning – Phil said that he WOUDLNT use this technique on programs using DSPF’s for processes like SFL’s etc.. apparently SFL handling is completely different within Java and just will not convert well.

So, you will still have to read that Java manual that you bought last Christmas and then filed away after reading only the first chapter….. The downside? If you can call it that, SEU, SDA, RLU, are all stabilized and will not support the many new features of the languages as they are upgraded in coming months. CODE/400 is the only tool to be used for Application development on the AS/400. SEU is DEAD! Read that carefully, DEAD, KAPUT, GONE! You must use the free PC based WebSphere Development Tools and for RPG you must use CODE/400 which is part of the package. IBM is currently shipping a new TCP/IP version of CODE/400 that installs cleanly and runs very efficiently. It also allows developers to work off-line! You are guaranteed 100% clean compiles when you finally invoke the compiler on the AS/400 and create an object on the AS/400! It also includes significant enhancements to the debugger and a state of the art replacement for SDA (screen development assistant) and RLU (report layout utility). SDA and RLU have not had a single enhancement for 5 years! You may have noticed that DDS has introduced many new screen handling keywords, or AFP keywords for printing. The old green screen tools do not support them. SEU will not support the CF specification or any of the new enhancements to RPG! So get a life, get a PC, and get with the program!

This new WebSphere Development Tools offering is truly EXTREME! Effective immediately, IBM is shipping an AS/400 installed version of CODE/400 for $300 per seat if you cant wait until the release after V4R5! It is shipped on the honour system. You get one copy of the software that you install on the AS/400. You then download and install the number of seats you purchased. IBM is not using the License Manager to enforce the number of seats so you are on the honour system! CODE/400 includes Visual RPG that builds client side applications that may be generated in its own compiled object form or generated as JAVA applications. Training IBM has not only developed a new toolset, but has invested heavily in classroom and self-study materials including web based materials to help you make the transition to the new toolset! Circle your Wagons! Apache is coming to the AS/400. Not the pure open source version of Apache found out on www.apache.org, but rather super-charged fully threaded version of Apache written specifically for the AS/400! Since IBM is not releasing source code and since it is significantly enhanced over the official version it is now going to be called the IBM HTTP Server Based on Apache. Apache has an interesting history. The University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana developed the NCSA webserver and published it as a freeware open-source project. They subsequently ceased further work on the project. A group of the original researchers and others picked up where others left off and renamed the server APACHE (which evolved from A PATCHY SERVER based on the number of patches that were integrated into the code. IBM has agreed not to port the numerous security holes and exposures, has added multi-threading support for superb performance, and is providing a gui based user interface instead of the brain numbing config file maintained with a text editor! IBM is not only providing high performance web based configuration tools, but is also providing migration tools to help you move your current HTTP Servers to Apache based server. Both the current HTTP Server and the new HTTP Server based on Apache will be shipped at no charge as part of the HTTP Server 5769-DG1 optional free product offering.

Web Face Your Applications (Screen scraping on the fly!) IBM has announced and will embark on an extensive open beta program late summer with general availability later this year for their FREE new Webfacing tool. The Web Facing tool will read DDS files and convert them to JAVA Servlets and JSP files. Servlets are the executable code to manage the presentation and JSP’s are files containing the generated HTML. Unlike other utilities on the market, IBM is plugging the webfacing tool into the work station manager and intercepts before the 5250 DataStream is created. This provides a significant performance advantage. A message that came loud and clear from all IBM presenters is that IBM strongly recommends migrating applications to a web based interface and that users need to separate presentation logic from business logic. This approached is based on the vast array of tools that they will be providing to support XML, WAP, WML, VML (in support of Cell Phones, PDA’s, and Voice interface units), in addition to your web browser. Change Control Part of this announcement is a commitment to providing standards based source and object change control by adopting the new WEBDAV standard.

WEBDAV is a change control standard currently adopted by Microsoft and other major development tools vendors. IBM is working with all of its major change control partners including Aldon, MKS, and others to integrate their toolset into IBM’s new integrated Websphere Development Tools. This integration will support any language you wish to develop with (RPG to JAVA) and enable vendors to easily support the new tools. e-XTREME OS for the Extreme Machine Bill Rapp, AS/400 e-Business Architect clearly defined IBM’s view of applications on the AS/400 and the tools that IBM is bringing to the market to support you with the most robust set of hardware and software available. The key theme of Bill’s presentation once again was separating business logic from presentation logic. Bill indicated that IBM’s research clearly indicates growth in hand held portable devices. The main stay of the user interface is the browser.

IBM’s new versions of servers and tools will help you seamlessly support these new and rapidly growing devices. Facilities like device detection by the browser will automatically support the generation of WAP (Wireless Application Protocol) and WML (Wireless Markup Language), or even the new and emerging VML (voice markup language). You can webenable your 5250 applications using the new WebFacing Tool, or develop new applications using JAVA Servlets and JAVA Beans, or Net.Data.

Net.Data Lives!

Contrary to the prognostications of some folks, IBM will not only continue to develop and enhance Net.Data, but strongly recommend it as a quick, easy, high performance alternative to CGI programming. If you do not wish to deploy your user-interfaces via JAVA, use Net.Data. IBM uses Net.Data extensively for developing and deploying their own internal user-interfaces (for us). Bill indicates that IBM strongly recommends Net.Data over native language CGI! RPG is stronger than Ever! A key change in IBM strategy indicated by Bill and his presentation is that RPG stronger than ever! IBM strongly recommends avoidance of native RPG CGI programs, but recommends Net.Data and JAVA as the user presentation layer with RPG providing the robust business logic. Don’t use it for the user-interface however. You can support both JAVA servlets as well as JAVA applications (which do not require a browser and run native on virtually any client). So, writing EJB’s in Java which encapsulate existing RPG routines for the main business logic and then use Net.Data or JSP’s for the GUI is the future. And the Future is NOW!

Absolute Availability and Reliability An extremely important part of the e-Business environment is non-interruptible service. We all know how reliable the AS/400 is, but there are still times where you must take a machine off-line for a planned outage during software or hardware upgrades. Well, now with "High Availability Web Serving", you can use LPAR or multiple REAL machines to stay up 24 x 7 365 days per year! Coupled with load balancing and virtual IP, you can run multiple AS/400 systems and take one off line without losing a single transaction. When you complete your maintenance and bring the second machine on-line, the systems will synch up immediately. This new facility built-in to OS/400 coupled with a data replication facility provides a virtually failsafe environment.

Rent an Application? Dick Kiscaden, former head of Partner World for Developer’s AS/400 organization is now heading up the AS/400’s ASP (application service provider) program. Dick and his team have all ready succeeded in gathering a rather impressive array of vendors who now rent applications and provide Internet based service bureau functions via the AS/400 ASP program. See what IBM is done by visiting the ASP Prime Solution Center

And Finally…… These announcements are just the tip of the iceberg!

IBM’s investment in the AS/400 will surface throughout the remainder of 2000 and well into 2001 with the most significant set of enhancements to AS/400 hardware and software we have seen in the history of the machine. Since 1994, IBM has gradually been making changes to the hardware and software necessary to position the AS/400 as the world’s choice for e-Business (which the future of all business computing).

By the summer of 2001, your head will be spinning as the folks in the AS/400 development labs fulfil this prophecy!

If you need to know more I suggest you get your surfing hat on and go and check out the IBM and News400 websites. I am happy to discuss any of these points in more detail (over a couple of pints, of course). I am waiting for my copy of Code/400 to arrive, as soon as it does I will arrange a little demo. e-Business is here to stay!

I honestly believe that we now have the strongest e-business platform in the world. We just need to learn how to use it properly.

Nick

Global Business Support IT (AS/400 Technologies)

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About the Author

IBM i Software Developer, Digital Dad, AS400 Anarchist, RPG Modernizer, Alpha Nerd and Passionate Eater of Cheese and Biscuits. Nick Litten Dot Com is a mixture of blog posts that can be sometimes serious, frequently playful and probably down-right pointless all in the space of a day. Enjoy your stay, feel free to comment and in the words of the most interesting man in the world: Stay thirsty my friend.