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CA Plex Could Be the Best Development Tool of All, Reader Says



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After reviewing our choice of the top 10 development tools, one reader speaks up in favor of CA's under-promoted rapid application development tool.

Written by Chris Smith

Whenever you publish a wrap-up article listing industry products, you often get reactions from readers that range from very positive to mildly negative. There are those who pipe up and say, "Hey, you forgot one!" Or, occasionally, vendors will let you know that they were pleased by how their company or product was represented. And some readers express gratitude for the information presented that helps them make decisions. Once in awhile, someone will stick up for someone else, and that's what happened after our last "Power i Forecast: Top 10 Development Tools" article.


"You missed the best one," wrote Steve W. from New Zealand, "probably due to…[poor] marketing by CA." Steve says the premiere IDE in his toolkit is CA Plex, formerly Obsydian from Synon and now owned by CA Technologies, which has invested in its development and sells it through its channel partners. "It is a model-driven application generator like LANSA but much more integrated with a data model," Steve says. "Check out what it can do; it is extremely powerful!"


Steve is right. CA Plex is alive and well, as is its sister application development tool, CA 2E, now at r8.6. CA hosted a successful annual user conference in Chicago in 2011 dubbed CA 2E/Plex Worldwide Developer Conference. The company is planning another one this fall that likely will be near CA headquarters in Islandia, New York. Among the differences between CA Plex and CA 2E are that CA Plex employs a Windows-based visual IDE with GUI screen designers and generates RPG III and IV, Java, C++, and C# server  code, with options for .NET Framework client integration and EJB support. CA 2E generates RPG III and IV, COBOL, and COBOL ILE. It too uses a WYSIWYG panel designer to customize the 5250 screen layouts of the application.


While the IBM i platform persists, its applications running tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of businesses worldwide, CA says IBM i skills "are perceived to be diminishing." Whether that perception is true or not remains to be seen, but most would agree at least that there isn't a huge upsurge in new RPG programmers. Yet organizations continue to seek IBM i experts, notes CA, and those with CA 2E and CA Plex experience are highly prized in many parts of the world.


Since Steve brought CA Plex to our attention, and because it is somewhat more versatile than CA 2E, let's focus on it for the time being. What developers seem to like about CA Plex nowadays is that it does everything. I say "nowadays" because those who were Obsydian users back in the Synon days had a much less robust tool at their disposal. As readers are well aware, CA Technologies, Inc. (formerly CA, Inc. and Computer Associates International) is among the largest independent software corporations in the world. While it offers a small selection of anti-virus and Internet security programs to consumers, its bread and butter is mainframe and distributed computing applications. In 2010, the company posted revenues of $4.4 billion and maintains 150 offices in more than 45 countries. CA has the resources to do whatever it wants to with a tool, and it apparently is committed to maintaining and developing CA Plex and CA 2E, and the results may speak for themselves.


CA Plex is an "architected" rapid application development (ARAD) tool that uses predefined, yet customizable, building blocks called "patterns." The tool is most often used to create and maintain large-scale business applications for multiple platforms, including IBM i, Windows, .NET, and the Azure cloud, as well Java platforms and the Java 2 Platform Enterprise Edition (J2EE) platform. We couldn't find a reference to how much the tool costs, and CA doesn't like to post the figure online, particularly since the company doesn't sell it directly; you have to buy it through a business partner. It's safe to say, however, that it's not inexpensive. Nevertheless, numerous freelance developers do use it and find that it can pay for itself, particularly on big jobs.


Speaking of big jobs, we all know that legacy modernization represents some very ripe fruit for IBM i developers today, and, in my opinion, that trend is likely to accelerate at an ever-increasing pace. MC Press Online ran a news story earlier this month, "Dell Acquisitions Signal Big Step into Global Application Modernization Business," about how Dell is acquiring multiple companies with legacy-system modernization specialties so that it can get its share of what it perceives to be a very large legacy-modernization pie.


CA Plex is a tool useful in the legacy modernization challenge for companies that need to develop and maintain applications on disparate and multiple platforms with key data remaining integrated across these different platforms and computing environments. It has a platform-neutral language editor, a diagrammer, and impact analysis tools. It has a multiple-developer repository with built-in configuration management for storing design models across multiple versions, languages, and platforms. It will generate 100 percent of the desired native code with 5250 host screens, HTML and GUI clients, server programs, and database objects. The modeling environment is appreciated by business users since it puts them on an equal footing with the technical staff when everyone is about to review the planned application's design and development methodology.


According to CA, and enthusiastic users, CA Plex can help provide a clear, yet flexible, modernization path for IBM i development teams using a model-based approach and pattern-driven development. If you need to extend your system to new environments without disrupting the good things that you have going for you now, you should have the means to modernize legacy IBM i applications across platforms on the Web and over a distributed SOA environment using your existing skills. CA says it's common for CA Plex developers to concentrate more on what their application does than on how it does it, and they begin to feel more in the role of a business architect than a mere technical expert.


While there are no free downloads of CA Plex from the CA Web site that I could find, oftentimes business partners will work out a trial for their customers. Check the CA Web site for tips on where to find a CA Plex sales, service, and education partner.

Chris Smith

Chris Smith was the Senior News Editor at MC Press Online from 2007 to 2012 and was responsible for the news content on the company's Web site. Chris has been writing about the IBM midrange industry since 1992 when he signed on with Duke Communications as West Coast Editor of News 3X/400. With a bachelor's from the University of California at Berkeley, where he majored in English and minored in Journalism, and a master's in Journalism from the University of Colorado, Boulder, Chris later studied computer programming and AS/400 operations at Long Beach City College. An award-winning writer with two Maggie Awards, four business books, and a collection of poetry to his credit, Chris began his newspaper career as a reporter in northern California, later worked as night city editor for the Rocky Mountain News in Denver, and went on to edit a national cable television trade magazine. He was Communications Manager for McDonnell Douglas Corp. in Long Beach, Calif., before it merged with Boeing, and oversaw implementation of the company's first IBM desktop publishing system there. An editor for MC Press Online since 2007, Chris has authored some 300 articles on a broad range of topics surrounding the IBM midrange platform that have appeared in the company's eight industry-leading newsletters. He can be reached at