V4R5: Networking News Is Light, Wait for Next

IBM i (OS/400, i5/OS)
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The V4R5 announcements brought quite a few new things to the table for many areas of the AS/400. Everything from new WebSphere enhancements to Domino enhancements to Operations Navigator enhancements to a gigabit Ethernet card were announced on May 22. Overall, there was a fair amount of new operating system features and enhancements, although clearly not as much as you might expect from a major release. In the networking portion of the announcement, I noticed that some things I had expected to be there were not. For example, I was expecting to see some news of the Apache Web server running on the AS/400. IBM has stated that the Apache will replace the HTTP server as the default Internet server on the AS/400, but apparently that project is still in development. My guess is that, in the next release of OS/400, we’re going to see a lot more networking announcements. Until then, let’s take a look at what IBM has brought to the table for this release.

SNMP Print Driver

One of the more annoying problems with printers on a network shared by the AS/400 is that, once you send an AS/400 spool file to one of those printers, you lose control of it. How many times has a user called you up to complain that he can’t find a report after it was sent to a network printer? The only recourse you have is to recreate the spool file and try it again. With V4R5, IBM has provided some new functionality to help you track the activity of that spool file on the network-attached printer by using the industry standard Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP) print driver. Here’s how it works: When you create a new printer device on the AS/400, you can select SNMP as the print driver. When the AS/400 communicates with that printer through the device description you created, it will be able to retrieve diagnostic information from the printer. This diagnostic information is then interpreted by OS/400, and appropriate error or informational messages are sent to the QSYSOPR message queue. For example, if the printer runs out of paper or there is a forms jam or the paper door is left open or any number of other common printing errors occur, an appropriate message will be sent to QSYSOPR identifying the error. Another benefit of using the SNMP print driver is that page range printing is supported. This is a nice benefit for those of us who have fought the page range printing battle for the last several years. SNMP is supported by most newer printers. For those printers that do not

support SNMP, you’re stuck using the old Hewlett Packard PJL print driver standard or using a printer that supports Line Printer Requester (LPR)/Line Printer Daemon (LPD).

Web Server Search Engine and HTTP

The Web Server Search Engine for HTTP, introduced in V4R4 of OS/400, will benefit from some new enhancements in V4R5. Included in these enhancements is support for new advanced search capabilities; for example, the ability to perform fuzzy searches using a built-in thesaurus. The thesaurus fuzzy search capability can also be back-leveled to V4R4 via a PTF. Also included is a new command that will let you rebuild the search engine indexes in batch. The Web Server search engine uses these indexes to search through the HTML forms stored on your AS/400. By letting you execute this long-running job in batch, you can schedule it to run at night when traffic is lighter, thereby improving system performance.

The HTTP Server also comes with a new “test” form, which basically lets you try out new forms or work on modifications to existing forms in test mode. Previously, the only way to try out a new HTML form was to create it, put it into production, and see how it looked and worked. With the new test form capability, you can create the new form, test it out (i.e., make sure all the HTTP directives are set up correctly to allow proper access to it and so forth), and, if it doesn’t work correctly, modify it until you get it right, all before it goes into production.

V4R5 brings some new security features to the Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) of OS/400’s TCP/IP services, too. For example, IBM has created a new SSL trace tool that can be run from the Operations Navigator client. This tool, which requires the *SERVICE special authority in the AS/400 user profile to use, will allow someone who understands how to read a communications trace to view SSL data before it has been encrypted and transmitted and after it has been received and unencrypted. This should help debugging problems in SSL communications. Of course, this tool could prove to be a tremendous security problem in itself if you don’t control access to it.

More to Come?

V4R5 has a lot of great new features, and, when you get ready to move to it, you’ll find that it contains many new services that will make your life easier. However, if you are currently at V4R4 and have just moved there, you may want to wait until V4R6, or whatever IBM calls the next release of OS/400, before you upgrade. In fact, that is what IBM recommends, unless you need support for the new hardware. V4R5 may not have enough new features or functionality, at least from a networking perspective, to justify the expense or the time and resources you’ll be expending to move to this release of OS/400.