The new ACS update has a few major updates. System i Access is dead and buried. What are you waiting for?
As part of the announcements for IBM i 7.1 Technology Refresh 11 and IBM i 7.2 Technology Refresh 3, IBM i Access Client Solutions (ACS) has been enhanced with some new and exciting features. ACS is the lightweight Java-based successor to System i Access products.
I sat down with Tim Rowe, the Business Architect for Application Development and Systems Management for IBM i, last week for a quick discussion about the new features.
One of the biggest challenges about the delivery method for ACS was that you had to download it from the IBM Entitled Systems Support (ESS) website. It's not the easiest place to navigate, especially for client software. Very recently, ACS has been available to download via the IBM i Access website. There's no ESS required. Of course, you have to put in your IBM ID to download through the Access website.
Steve Pitcher: So, Tim, I hear that we'll get watermarking support in this release. That's all I needed to hear actually. Best feature ever. What else is coming in this release?
Tim Rowe: Major changes. In addition to the usual fixes and updates that come with the product, we've continued on our path to provide a full Windows 10 solution. Not just Windows, but it runs on Mac, Linux, or any platform that supports a full Java Virtual Machine. It's truly an OS-agnostic solution. We've provided the Run SQL Scripts interface. The cool thing is it looks, acts, and behaves very closely to what we've had with Access for Windows, which was very well loved, but there's been some long-running complaints that we were able to address. For instance, line numbers. Something very simple, but we fixed it. If you're dealing with very large scripts, it's easy to figure out where you are.
We've added some huge enhancements to the search capability. If you're running a single SQL statement, it's not that big a deal, but I've got customers with SQL scripts that could be pages and pages long. The searching capabilities allow you to do things like find and replace with very complex search strings. You've always been able to do a very simple find, but now our find is very, very robust.
The other thing, very simple again but expected in today's world: color coding. The editor that's in there is smart enough to detect certain SQL key words and color code it.
SP: What about SQL analyzation?
TR: Not yet. But we're working on it. Check out the SQL performance center. If you go to the client Navigator or the web Navigator and you drill down to the database, you've always been able to go and get your SQL metrics. The ability to look at performance metrics. They've been slow and cumbersome to work with because the data sets could be just massive. That's now part of the ACS solution. We've built in the technology to deal with massive data sets with ridiculous speed. In many respects, it's mind-blowing how fast we can deal with these data sets.
SP: Will we see this new tech in Navigator for i?
TR: No. It's part of ACS. Being able to deal with it with a web solution isn't practical based on the size of these things. It just made sense to have it in ACS. Now when you ask that question, my answer is no, it won't work in Navigator, but it will work very well with Navigator. The other cool enhancement that we've delivered is that we now have IBM Navigator for i and ACS tied together. We've just completed a couple of PTFs that will be available in the next HTTP PTF group at the end of December. You can get those PTFs individually now if you so desire, but they'll be bundled with the group. From ACS, I can create a connection to my web Navigator. If you start with ACS and you click on the Navigator, it will load it as normal, but it will also do the sign-on for you. You won't be prompted.
SP: That's sweet.
TR: Very sweet. If I'm in Navigator and I navigate on down to Database and I click Run SQL Scripts, it will launch my Run SQL Scripts in ACS. If I'm in Run SQL Scripts in ACS and I want to look at my job information, it's going to launch the web Navigator and display it there. There's a nice flow between the two and very tightly integrated.
SP: What's your adoption like for ACS? I know I've used it since it was a technology preview. What's your download numbers look like?
TR: There's a number of factors that come into adoption. It's certainly becoming adopted. If you read the forums, people are talking about it. A big reason for that is the Windows 10 issue. We do not have support for System i Access for Windows on Windows 10.
SP: Now people can try to run it on Windows 10 without being supported. Some have had some success.
TR: They can try to run some parts, but not everything is going to work. SSL support is certainly not going to work. There's a couple of things we can talk about when it comes to our customers' usage of the old Access products. Many of our customers are running very ancient versions of i Access for Windows. We put out the 7.1 version back in 2010, and there's still a lot of people using versions that are older than that. Do you care about security? If you do care and you're running the old i Access for Windows, then you're not compliant. There are security vulnerabilities in the software that you're running. Part of the reason that people aren't on the latest patched version of IBM i Access for Windows is that it's a real pain to upgrade it.
SP: Absolutely. If you've got 10 computers to upgrade, you've just blown a full day. What if you have 500?
TR: If I set up ACS right with a single distribution on a network drive, then I can upgrade IBM i ACS for 1000 users in 10 minutes. Far easier to be current and more secure with ACS than i Access for Windows.
For the average user, they just want 5250 and spooled file support. We actually created a little wizard for an “install” so your users don't get the SQL scripts or Console or Data Transfer links. Of course, there's no install; it's just a wizard that customizes ACS for your deployment. The wizard also helps do file association for you. If you have a .hod file, ACS will use it. You can even use the old i Access for Windows session manager with a .ws file, and ACS can use it. If you're transitioning, then that's fine, but you should really re-save those as proper .hod files for ACS. For practical purposes, we deal with the old .ws files just fine.