New ACS updates cement ACS as a powerful user interface for IBM i.
A few weeks ago, I got my hands on a beta release of the new IBM Access Client Solutions. IBM’s Tim Rowe, Business Architect Application Development and Systems Management for IBM i, got on the phone with me for a solid 40 minutes to talk about the new features.
Steve Pitcher: So, Tim, I got the new beta version of Access Client Solutions you sent over. There’s a new feature that someone I know wants really bad. It’s the ability to connect to an Independent ASP in ACS and then have ACS remember you want to connect to an IASP next time you use it. I spotted it out of the gate.
Tim Rowe: Yes, and plenty of other goodies too.
SP: My first questions are when is this stuff going to be released and when can I talk about it?
TR: It’s going to be released April 23rd, 2019. That’s when it goes out the door and hits the download site.
SP: And we can talk about it on the 16th of April?
TR: I can live with that.
SP: OK then. So let’s talk about the new SQL formatter in Run SQL Scripts. I grabbed the ugliest piece of SQL I have, which is probably 200 lines or so…
TR: Ha! That’s child’s play!
SP: For me, that’s big! I’m an admin! Anyway, I ran it through the formatter, and it seemed to compact and format it quite nicely. It seems to be more left-adjusted? What was the decision behind that?
TR: There was a problem with the old formatter. It would look at the SQL and kind of do some sort of string manipulation type of formatting with it. Depending on which way the wind was blowing or if it was a Thursday during a full moon, it may or may not have worked as well as you’d expect. So there [were] a lot of complex scripts we had internally that just wouldn’t format well. Unfortunately, the formatter would sometimes corrupt our SQL because it didn’t understand SQL. It understood string manipulation. So the new formatter is actually flexing SQL. We actually have a full syntactical understanding of SQL itself and can understand what goes where contextually. Really not a lot different from what we have in RDi with RPG and COBOL, being able to understand the language.
SP: Almost like a precompiler?
TR: In a way. We’re not prompting you for bad SQL yet, but if you will, this is the next step in Run SQL Scripts. The foundation is being set for being able to prompt and do other things of that nature.
SP: It also seemed to make the SQL seem a little narrower in terms of width.
TR: You have the ability to format the SQL to make it look how you want to make it look. You have control over the spacing, indentation, line breaks, and all of that stuff. Do whatever you want. It’s very customizable.
SP: Was that level of customization always in there?
TR: It was in there. How well it worked is up for debate. It works how it should now.
SP: What’s the other new stuff? Tell me more about the goods.
TR: We have and will continue to add more examples into the Insert From Examples utility. Just the whole idea of having people move toward SQL to manage their systems. We want to give them more examples. The version you have right now doesn’t have the new ones, but they’ll be in there by April 23rd.
There’s new JDBC parameters for connecting to your system. Things like remembering where you’ve been. If you were on a system with an IASP, it’ll remember you connect to an IASP next time.
SP: Run SQL Scripts is really heavy with the update.
TR: Yes. Something people have been asking for is a refresh on the main ACS panel. People have asked for a whole litany of options and enhancements to make things work better for them. Especially for people who have multi-system environments. In its current state, it works great if you have one or two systems. It’s fabulous. But for people like you or me…I have 85 systems on my ACS client.
SP: Eighty-five? That’s child’s play. I have hundreds!
TR: We’ve asked to be able to specify a system name that makes sense. You can fake it out by specifying an IP address, but why can’t I just use the description field? Well, the description field was pretty much worthless. It’s kind of hidden. So what we’ve done is change the System Configurations pane. Open it up and click on that.
SP: I’m there.
TR: You can use that, if you want, as your primary work launch place. We’ve adjusted the columns where the description is column two so you can clearly see both a host name and a description that’s really visible. The other info is off to the right. We’ve added the ability to right-click a system so you can get menus up…
TR: …for any of the system functions. IFS. Schemas. Emulator. Navigator. SQL. All right there.
SP: That. Is. Awesome.
TR: No. No. Just hold on.
TR: It gets better. Wait for it.
TR: So select your favorite system. Hit CTRL+R. What happens? It runs Run SQL Scripts.
TR: You got keyboard shortcuts! Woooo!
SP: This is great!
TR: Totally the cat’s meow. That’s one of the big things. The other really big thing is…just edit one of your systems. You should notice on the Console tab that you used to have two fields for HMC addresses. Those were hard-coded to say Hardware Management Interface 1 and Hardware Management Interface 2. They were not particularly useful. You’ll notice you can now select the interface you want and assign an IP address to it. Now you can point IP interfaces to a bunch of other things on the system besides the HMC interfaces. Let’s say you have HTTP admin or Navigator running on a different IP than your Telnet. You can now teach ACS where your stuff really is to properly customize it. If you put something there, like mobile access, when I go back out to the main system interfaces menu I just showed you, you can now right-click, and any of those new interfaces you’ve just defined are now available on the right-click!
SP: That’s slick.
TR: Thank you!
SP: This is where I’ll be accessing every system from.
TR: You can create a shortcut to launch that management directly actually. If I have all sorts of interfaces for a system…all the links I need are all there and I can do a quick launch to them. CTRL+E is the emulator. CTRL+S is schemas. Under system config, there’s tabs on the top now. You have General, Database, Console, Management…you can see all the key combos there.
SP: All the people I work with will love this stuff. We live and die with ACS.
TR: Me too!
SP: Yes. You own the product! It’s important it works well and does well.
TR: True. But I’m also a big user. We build the product, but we use the product extensively as well. It makes sense for us to build a product that we’re happy with as users. We have fun arguments internally about things we can do better for us and what we can do better for our customers.
SP: In terms of ACS being the main supported interface, when we get people up to 7.3 they need ACS for the console if they don’t have an HMC. That’s usually their first introduction that we give them. We show them the tool and how to use it. At that point, they have it in their heads to start rolling it out to users and often do. How’s the adoption going for ACS overall?
TR: It’s absolutely increasing. We pull numbers at the end of the year usually. Our numbers for 2016…I’m going off memory here. In 2016, we got it out on the download site—8,000 downloads across 5,500 unique IP addresses. In 2017, it jumped to 36,000 downloads across 18,000 or 19,000 unique IP addresses. In 2018, we were around 42,000 downloads across maybe 25,000 or 30,000 IPs. People are using it. With Access for Windows going end of life on April 30th, 2019…that product is gone. Done. We would expect an increase in our march upward with ACS.
SP: So you know I’m not the only guy beta testing this. What feedback have you received from everyone else?
TR: Well, we have a tremendous amount of people. We have maybe 40 or 50 community members actively providing ideas and feedback for Access Client Solutions. They’re helping to drive this product forward. Especially when we talk about SQL. You can do so much with it. Even though we have one of the industry’s premier experts in Scott [Forstie]. Even the great stuff he does, he still gets SQL ideas from customers and goes “Wow that’s a great way to do that.” Having the community work with us is huge.