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In the Wheelhouse: IBM i Access Client Solutions, Where Have You Been All My Life?

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This week, I'll talk about the brand spanking new and overly awesome IBM i client offering and give you a lesson in risk management from Amazon's recent outage.

 

IBM Releases Technology Preview of IBM i Access Client Solutions

 

IBM released its technology preview of IBM i Access Client Solutions last week. If you remember, I wrote a little teaser about it a few weeks ago. Not much has been written about it yet, so I'm going to break it down for you. If you're maintaining IBM i Access for Windows installations, then keep reading. You're going to like this.

IBM i Access Client Solutions is a lightweight Java-based client that bundles some of the most-often-used components of the much bulkier IBM i Access for Windows into a nice little package.

Here's the full feature list from the accompanying Getting Started document:

  • A full-featured 5250 display emulator based on IBM Rational Host-on-Demand. In addition to all the 5250 display features you are accustomed to when using IBM i Access for Windows, you may now switch your 5250 display emulator between languages without rebooting your workstation. In addition, you may have multiple concurrent sessions with different host code pages. This allows separate languages to be displayed within different emulator sessions.
  • Printer emulation is also supported.
  • A 5250 Session Manager modeled after IBM Personal Communications Session Manager, which can be used for managing all of your 5250 emulator sessions
  • Data Transfer, which provides the ability to transfer data from/to your IBM i database to/from various file types on your workstation such as OpenDocument spreadsheet
  • OpenDocument (*.ods), Excel Workbook (*.xlsx), and other file formats
  • Virtual Control Panel with a graphical interface to the IBM i operation panel
  • 5250 emulation for LAN Console
  • Consolidation for hardware management interface configurations, including ASMI, IVM, and HMC
  • Launch capability to IBM Navigator for i using your default browser

Here are a couple of technical tidbits you should know:

  • While it's supported to connect to servers running IBM i 5.4 and above, you need to connect to servers running IBM i 6.1 or 7.1 in order to take advantage of the 5250 LAN Console, Navigator for i, and the Virtual Control Panel.
  • You will need to have a couple of PTFs installed if you're using LAN Console or the Virtual Control Panel. If connecting to IBM i 6.1, you'll need PTFs MF55543 and MF55549, or if you're at machine code 6.1.1, you'll need MF55540 and MF55547. If connecting to IBM i 7.1, you'll need PTFs MF55485 and MF55538.
  • IBM i Access Client Solutions uses the same host servers that IBM i Access for Windows uses. You will also need the IBM i Access Family license.
  • You can import 5250 Workstation Profiles (.ws), but importing Keyboard Mapping Files (.kmp) is not supported.

With that out of the way, there are a few awesome things about this product.

  • First, since it's written in Java, it's deployable to Mac, Linux, and Windows. Being a fan of the MochaSoft products for a few years, especially for mobile, I'm happy to know that IBM now offers a platform-polytheistic client emulator. Mac and Linux fans will appreciate this.
  • Second, it has a very small footprint, and the installation is very fast and easy. The whole thing is only about 48 MB. This means you can load and go in only just a few minutes. You can install it on a local machine or even a remote shared drive—in any directory where a user has read/write authority. Why is this awesome? Well, have you ever had to deploy IBM i Access for Windows for a few hundred people? There are ways to install and update it en masse, but it's time-consuming and a little painful to configure/maintain. And all those big images being pushed across your network and sucking up your bandwidth? No thanks. Or maybe you have to run around with a physical CD image? It still happens, although nobody likes to admit it. I can put IBM i Access Client Solutions on a network drive and just deploy a shortcut to a startup script file to all users. Maybe I'd deploy it from a Web server via Java Web Start. Plus, if I have to update the source installation, I do that task just once. Brilliant! Just imagine the time savings!
  • Third, in the future, you will be able to create customized packages with certain features removed. For example, you could cut the features and only give users 5250 and printer emulation.

This is a fantastic little product. I'm personally migrating our users to something more manageable. IBM i Access for Web may be the widespread route I go, as I'm growing very partial to WebSphere and want to promote access to IBM i via the Web with iPad (no Java on iPad), but for many shops IBM i Access Client Solutions may be the low-maintenance solution you've been waiting for.

Please download the technology preview for IBM i Access Client Solutions. I'd love to know what you think about it and to continue to generate a buzz, so hit me up on Twitter to talk about it. IBM hit the nail on the head with this one, and I want to make sure they get some positive feedback.

What I Will Learn from the Amazon Outage

On the weekend of June 29, a major storm knocked out power to an Amazon Web Services (AWS) data center in Virginia, causing an hours-long outage for some high-profile customers—notably, Netflix, Pinterest, and Instagram. There are lessons to be learned for us all, regardless of whether we leverage cloud-based services.

Just to be clear: this not an anti-cloud article. I'm a cloud advocate if it fits your business and you and your vendor cross the t's and dot the i's. If people are pointing their fingers at cloud services because of this incident and saying "See! See! Cloud failed!" then they're missing the point. Cloud is, in my opinion, just a term for an externally managed service. It's not magical. In a simplistic definition, it's software running on hardware, except someone else hosts and manages it for you.

With that being said, remember, on-premise solutions can also fail.

I remember an incident a few years ago at a company I did some work for. They had a major power failure, and the UPS kicked in with 30 minutes of juice left in the batteries until the propane generator would take over. The generator kicked on as normal, as it was tested every week and was automatically started and stopped after 30-60 seconds of run time. The generator had enough propane in the tanks to last about a week.

Sadly, nobody had been assigned to put oil in that generator, let alone check the level on a regular basis. Have you ever heard an engine die from a lack of oil? It's not good. The sound of the UPS kicking back in with 10 minutes left to manually power down all servers so they wouldn't go down hard was pretty awful to hear as well. I can still remember those awful repetitive beeps in the dark server room.

The crux of the matter was that the specifics of "maintaining" the generator were never ironed out. The IT department took it for granted that the maintenance services were being taken care of by another department.

That little oops caused the company to be out of business for the better part of eight hours. Once the typical finger pointing was over, it got down to the brass tacks. How do we ensure this doesn't happen again? How do we learn from this? I'd think Amazon and their customers are asking those questions at this point.

What we can learn from this outage is a lesson in risk management. No matter what the business scenario is, we must always evaluate the risk. AWS does offer a geographically dispersed service. If they have an outage because of weather or natural disaster, then services swap over to an unaffected data center. If customers were told that there were high availability options available but didn't purchase them, then it's a case of "you get what you pay for." If you don't pay for redundancy, you won't get it. But Netflix, Pinterest, and Instagram aren't Tom's Trucking Company with 100 customers. If Tom's Trucking is down for a day, 100 customers are affected, but they can probably do manual inventory and manual receipts, and business goes on, albeit a little slower and less efficiently. Maybe they can live with that. Either way, that question needs to be asked, from Netflix down to Tom's Trucking.

A high-profile outage for even a couple of hours isn't good for anybody. Amazon and its affected customers get some bad press, and the end consumers suffer.

Whatever path you choose—cloud, on-premise, or a hybrid—you need to ensure you've weighed the risks for all the choices you make. You need to ensure everything is covered to meet the expectations set by not only the people you report to, but also the people who mean most to your company: your customers. Every time you hear about something like this is a harsh reminder that it could be you that's down. Be sure your business continuity plans are in place and tested regularly.

Steve Pitcher
Steve Pitcher works with iTech Solutions, an IBM Premier Business Partner. He is a specialist in IBM i and IBM Power Systems solutions since 2001. Feel free to contact him directly atspitcher@itechsol.com.
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