In the Wheelhouse: RPG Goes Free-Format and DB2 for i Does Big Data Better

Analysis of News Events
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With IBM i 7.1 TR7, the big news is that RPG is finally free from any remaining shackles of fixed-format code. Plus, IBM commits $1 billion to Linux on Power Systems.


What's New in IBM i 7.1 TR7?

Today IBM announces IBM i 7.1 Technology Refresh 7. Here are the details:


RPG IV Is Free-Form

Probably the biggest news in this announcement is the fact that RPG IV is now almost entirely free-form. Two items that use the old RPG cycle (input and output specs) won't be free-form.


There's a number of points you need to know about this modernization of RPG.


The language has been overhauled in order for it to feel modern and familiar to modern developers. Chances are Java programmers can move into C++ and vice versa with more ease than moving into traditional RPG. This is important for hiring and succession-planning purposes. How often do you hear people complain that they "can't find any RPG programmers?" With a modernized RPG syntax, if the code is familiar, easier to read, and easier to maintain, then it will be easier to find and train developers in RPG.


For RPG IV code currently in fixed-format, IBM has been working with ARCAD to build a conversion tool for fixed-form RPV III and IV to free-format RPG. ARCAD will be announcing the details for this conversion tool on October 8. Older versions of RPG (RPG II) will not be supported for conversion. From what I've heard, the conversion tool operates at about 95-98% successful code conversion rate.


DB2 for i

IBM has made good on having some solid DB2 updates with every Technology Refresh so far, and TR7 is no different.


In TR7, IBM's focus has been on extending the capabilities of DB2 for i to handle the demands of big data. This time, we'll see enhanced SQL capabilities, ease of conversion from DDS to DDL, and support for converting keyed DDS to DDL and allowing SQL to query journals. Also, probably the most significant improvement with big data in my mind is that the maximum SQL index size has been extended to 1.7 terabytes. Most customers haven't hit the existing 1 terabyte limit just yet when dealing with reams of unstructured data. Extending the limit ensures DB2 will be prepared in the future.



In TR7, Portable Application Solutions Environment (PASE) has been optimized significantly, offering better Java performance. As well, Java 7.1 runtime libraries are now available and are running in a faster runtime engine.


Application Runtime Expert (ARE)

ARE will have more-flexible scheduling options.


Ruby on Rails Support

Ruby has long worked on IBM I; however, it never had support until now. IBM has partnered with a company called PowerRuby that will offer support for Ruby.


PowerSC Toolkit

TR7 extends the integrated security of IBM i by offering a security and compliance toolkit originally developed by IBM Lab Services. This is a chargeable feature with services as an optional component.

The Much Bigger Penguin in the Room

IBM announced plans at LinuxCon 2013 to invest $1 billion (USD) in new Linux technologies for IBM Power Systems:


Two immediate initiatives announced, a new client center in Europe and a Linux on Power development cloud, focus on rapidly expanding IBM's growing ecosystem supporting Linux on Power Systems which today represents thousands of independent software vendor and open source applications worldwide. Specific details of both initiatives include:


Power Systems Linux Center in Montpellier, France: The new center is among a growing network of centers around the world where software developers can build and deploy new applications for big data, cloud, mobile and social business computing on open technology building blocks using Linux and the latest IBM POWER7+ processor technology. The first center opened in Beijing in May. Additional centers are located in New York, NY, and Austin, Texas.

Linux on Power development cloud: To serve the growing number of developers, Business Partners and clients interested in running Linux on Power Systems, IBM is expanding its Power Systems cloud for development. The no-charge cloud service is ramping up its infrastructure to provide more businesses the ability to prototype, build, port, and test Linux applications on the Power platform as well as applications built for AIX and IBM i.


Vice President of Power Development Brad McCredie says, "Many companies are struggling to manage big data and cloud computing using commodity servers based on decades-old, PC-era technology. These servers are quickly overrun by data, which triggers the purchase of more servers, creating un-sustainable server sprawl." McCredie expounded, "The era of big data calls for a new approach to IT systems: one that is open, customizable, and designed from the ground up to handle big data and cloud workloads."


Jim Zemlin, Executive Director of the Linux Foundation commented on the investment, "The last time IBM committed $1B to Linux, it helped start a flurry of innovation that has never slowed. IBM's continued investments in Linux for Power Systems is welcomed by the Linux community. We look forward to seeing how the Power platform can bring about further innovation on Linux, and how companies and developers can work together to get the most out of this open architecture."


Just after the announcement, there were a few people talking online about IBM i and AIX and how that sort of cash would've injected much life into them. That's valid, but I think the point is being missed. While an extra $1 billion worth of backing over a few years could kick-start any product worth its own weight, many people probably aren't aware of the yearly spend for any IBM operating system. That information would provide a real comparison.


With that in mind, I reached out to IBM for comment on the amount that they spend on the all Power Systems operating systems (IBM i, Power Linux, and AIX) on a yearly basis. While IBM media relations wouldn't share that information, they did mention that the "strategy is to build upon the strengths of Power's traditional environments/workloads on AIX and IBM i, while also delivering new solutions via Linux. It is an 'all the above' strategy."


Fair enough. In the press release, IBM i and AIX were both mentioned, although the star of the show is Power Linux.


I'm starting to become a big fan of Linux to run secondary workloads. Just this week, I'm ramping up a Samba4 server to function as a domain controller and file-sharing solution on a guest Linux partition on one of my Power 720 servers. I'm looking to get two virtual Windows servers and a physical x86-64 server decommissioned in favor of hosting those services on Power hardware. Then there's a Windows VM I use to VPN into our network with domain credentials; that can be replaced by Linux on Power! There are lots of things we can do right now with Linux on Power. What's my main benefit? Cost savings and maximizing our investment in Power Systems instead of having to maintain older, less-reliable x86-64 hardware. And the more cash IBM pumps into developing solutions (or porting x86-64 solutions) onto Power Linux, the more options as customers we have. Would I rather have a solution running on IBM i first and foremost? Absolutely. And I'll keep advocating on behalf of other customers to bring solutions to IBM i. But if I can quickly and easily launch a Power Linux solution not supported on IBM I, then that's certainly more economical than putting it out on x86-64.


But with all due respect to the benefits and strengths of Linux, if you see the forest through the trees, I'm thinking this announcement is 99% about the hardware. IBM is looking to promote and develop more Linux workloads on POWER7 in order to sell more Power Systems iron. Of course, IBM will be selling solutions that run on Power Linux and services to augment it, but with a less than exciting 2013 for Power hardware sales, the push behind Power Linux solutions, the Linux centers in strategic places around the globe, not to mention many other contributions to the large and growing Linux community...all of this will help keep the lights on inside the Power Systems business for a long time.


Just look at System z, where now half of new workloads on that particular platform are Linux-based. Doug Balog, the new General Manager of Power Systems, says something very interesting about Power in this interview: "I've really just been helping the team go faster around it, using my experience on the mainframe, of really honing our focus on this new workload capture. The market has decidedin many ways the market has decided they want to build infrastructure based on open technologies that give them a choice around innovation, and we've got to go with that market. Obviously that doesn't mean AIX goes away, obviously we have a long commitment to AIX, a long commitment to IBM i, but in terms of new workload deployment, the market has chosen. We've got to get on with it, and we are getting on with it."


It's evident that, with the many new workloads for cloud and big data, the market is choosing Linux. But whether the workload is Linux, AIX, or IBM i...the headline and operating system flavor of this particular announcement doesn't matter when the point of it boils down to the hardware brand. And what's good for Power Systems is good for all of the platforms that run on it. We see strong performance on System z on a consistent basis, and I think that's what IBM is envisioning with doubling down on their Linux focus.