Move Over DB2, Here Comes Zend DBi

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Customers waiting for a solution from IBM to support their PHP applications running on IBM i can breathe a sigh of relief.


Most of the estimated 1,000 PHP developers at ZendCon this year were excited about Zend Technologies' new cloud platform (PaaS)——that allows developers to collaboratively develop and then host applications online from a choice of hosting platforms. Who needs a server when you have the cloud?


IBM i users, however, were more interested in the new XML Toolkit coming down the pipeline this fall as part of Zend Server for IBM i 5.5 that will be released to GA by year end. And the cloud—well, who really needs it when you have a machine running IBM i?


"Show me the IBM i customers who want to deploy on the cloud!" challenged Mac Devine, IBM distinguished engineer and CTO for Global Technical Services' Cloud Portfolio when I asked him during a media briefing at ZendCon if IBM were hosting a SmartCloud development platform for IBM i. According to Devine, he could deploy an IBM i cloud development platform in practically no time. The reason it hasn't been done? There's no demand for it, Devine says.


"The IBM customers who are interested in the cloud right now generally are running AIX," Devine told me. The companies running AIX tend to be larger firms with distributed operations, which apparently see the cloud as a way to consolidate operations or collaborate. While a few third-party vendors are offering IBM i development services online, it may be awhile before IBM joins that list. Nevertheless, if and when the demand arrives, IBM will be there on the cloud for its IBM i customers, says Devine.


Meanwhile, RPG developers-turned-PHP-aficionados stuck pretty close to the room at ZendCon where PHP evangelist Mike Pavlak, Zend solution consultant, had staked out territory for IBM i training on a number of topics including Zend's new PHP toolkit. The open-source toolkit, to ship as part of Zend Server for IBM 5.5 when Server moves out of beta later this quarter, consists of two components: XML Service and Toolkit Service.


The package replaces the current PHP Toolkit for IBM i that Zend bundled with Zend Core back in 2006 after partnering with AURA Equipments of France. AURA continues to offer its proprietary EasyCom for PHP toolkit for IBM i customers with a host of new features. Zend and IBM, however, decided the toolkit should have more, or different, features and that it should be open source—and so it is.


IBM i users of the current toolkit needn't worry about compatibility or applications not working with the release of the new toolkit, says Zend. "For any application, it will continue to run," says Kent Mitchell, Zend's Director of Product Management. "For new projects, people may want to adopt this newer technology and eventually migrate over, but there is no reason to think existing apps will be negatively impacted; they simply won't be."


The XML Service portion of Zend's new toolkit was actually written by Tony Cairns, a senior IBM programmer in Rochester, who was on hand for the IBM i track at the Zend conference, explaining just how flexible the new toolkit really is. He said it is so powerful that he woke up in a cold sweat after posting it to the Young i Professionals site after he realized that someone with misguided intentions might damage the host machine. He has since locked it down, but visitors can see a demo of XML Service, which basically is open-source RPG code that enables Web XML scripting calls of System i resources. Developers can make program calls, invoke operating system functions, and provide SQL access.


"It's really not a question of what can you do with it," says Cairns. "It's a question of what can't you do with it."


IBM will begin shipping Zend Server for IBM i 5.5 with all licensed machines as it has for some time with earlier versions of Zend Server. The new Server will offer key application deployment and IT automation features designed to help bridge the gap between development and operations. It also will support rapid application delivery and auto-scaling of enterprise PHP applications.


Earlier this year, PHP users were concerned about the announcement by Oracle that it would no longer build—or support—MySQL for IBM i. Open-source MySQL for i is another product that is bundled with Zend Server. Running MySQL on IBM i is necessary in order to utilize the IBM DB2 storage engine that allows open-source applications to store and retrieve data from DB2. Bypassing MySQL so all data resides in DB2 is particularly useful if existing data is to be used with a new open-source application, such as Sugar CRM, which happens to be an IBM Solution Edition selection.


The lack of Oracle support is no longer a problem for PHP users on IBM i. Zend and IBM have agreed upon a solution whereby Zend will build and support a version of the MySQL open-source database. Because of trademark issues, however, the now branched database will be called Zend DBi. It's the MySQL code base built to run on IBM i and will ship with Zend Server 5.5. The migration path is still being worked out, and users may have to uninstall the old database and reinstall the newer one to take advantage of the supported version. Nevertheless, Zend's Mitchell says it can, and will, be done with "no loss of data."


"I think IBM i customers running PHP applications will breathe a deep sigh of relief, and I expect there will be a very positive reaction to the news," says Alison Butterill, IBM application development offering manager. "It has probably taken a little longer than people had hoped it would, but we now have a great solution, and it allows our customers to continue to develop in PHP," Butterill says. Zend will continue to be the point of contact for support on Zend DBi and will be responsible for all patches, upgrades, and regression testing, Mitchell said.


With the latest version of Zend Server, Zend will continue to provide the first year of basic support at no charge. Some customers may want to purchase a more comprehensive Gold or Platinum support package from Zend, depending on their needs. That first year of support is also free for IBM i customers who download Zend Studio for IBM i, an Eclipse-based IDE for developing PHP applications. IBM i customers get that for free as well and can download it here.

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