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Weaving WebSphere: The (Open) World of CMS

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You tell me that it's evolution
Well you know
We all want to change the world
—The Beatles

This will be a different kind of "Weaving WebSphere." I'm going to delve into a side issue that seems to be taking a specific sector of our industry by storm, even though the issue is somewhat peripheral to what we normally do as business application developers. I suspect that, over the coming months, I may be doing more articles like this as a result of the maturing of both the industry and our beloved platform.

As the iSeries continues to evolve into perhaps the most flexible technology integration platform ever designed, one of its key features will continue to be its ability to play multiple roles in a heterogeneous network. For example, it will be able to act as a business logic server by exposing business logic through data queues or Web services to an external Content Management System (CMS), while at the same time it will be able to, as needs change, host the CMS itself.

IBM has recently made a huge move in that direction by announcing support for the PHP language; this will make an entire array of PHP-based applications available to iSeries integrators. And of course we already have Java, which opens up just as wide a range of Java applications (remember, don't call them J2EE any more; it's Java EE 5!). More and more, we'll have to use applications that have little or no direct access to either RPG or even our beloved DB2 database. Instead, they'll be standalone applications that will be integrated through Web services or stored procedures. This is the sort of thing that can make an IT manager very worried; introducing a new technology means not only more expertise required, but also another point of failure.

In today's column, I'll introduce you to CMS, which is one of the primary peripheral applications, as well as outline some of the pros and cons of some of the "other" languages out there. When it comes down to it, the most important decision may not be so much what package you use but what language you choose, because it's a decision that will influence a lot of your long-term integration tasks.

Content Management and Knowledge Management

These two topics tend to go hand in hand, especially in today's browser-based world. This is probably because they deal extensively with a common underlying fundament, that of the written word. They diverge there as well; content management (CM) veers more toward presentation and collaboration, while knowledge management (KM) is more about categorization and access, especially searching.

Of course, these two have a wide degree of overlap as well. CM requires search capabilities; as Web sites grow past a certain point, search capabilities become as important as the presentation of the data. On the other hand, regardless of how powerful a search engine it has, any KM application is only as good as its interface. It's easy to see how someone can be confused about the two concepts. However, the two topics are indeed separate, and this article will focus on CMS packages—most specifically, on packages that purport to allow you to quickly create and easily maintain large Web presences.

What Does CMS Do?

In the context of Web applications, the primary purpose of a CMS is to provide a mechanism to add content to a Web site and organize it. Different tools provide different features. For example, WDSC (as well as its immediate ancestor, Rational Web Developer) provides a very powerful WYSIWYG site designer, along with an easy way to apply templates to your site in order to create a consistent look and feel. WDSC is thus a rather rudimentary CMS tool, along the same lines as things like Microsoft's Front Page. IBM has another offering, the Easy Website Builder, that is designed to allow completely non-technical people to build Web sites. On the other end of the spectrum, you have full-blown commercial packages like Vignette, which includes portals, collaboration, document imaging, and the whole nine yards (along with lots of available consulting services, for a not-so-nominal fee).

Joe's Definition of CMS Systems

Accurately defining CMS is a problem that is pretty much endemic to the entire industry. What it means depends a lot on who is trying to sell it to you. So I'm going to narrow the range to a very specific subset of the entire genre.

  1. The software must be open-source. You have to be able to get your hands on the source code.
  2. The software has to allow non-programmatic maintenance of the vast majority of the content. A subject expert with no programming skills can update the site.
  3. You must have some way of accessing iSeries data. Otherwise, it doesn't really belong in this column, does it?

That still leaves a wide array of contenders. In fact, the spectrum is still so broad that I can pick two completely different options yet leave out a whole bunch of in-betweeners. For example, let me choose based on language. I'll choose one Java option, because Java is a language entirely embraced by IBM and the iSeries and known by millions of programmers around the world. On the other end of the spectrum, I'll pick Python because it's a relatively lesser-known language, although it has achieved near-cult status among its devotees. Python is not directly supported on the iSeries, although there is a page devoted to a native port of iSeries Python that is currently a few releases behind.

Zope and Plone

OK, let's start with Zope and Plone. My currently hibernating iSeries Advanced Architecture Initiative (IAAI) Web site was originally created using Plone, and the original site took just a couple of hours. I recently downloaded the latest version of Plone and had the default site up and running in minutes (Figure 1).

http://www.mcpressonline.com/articles/images/2002/060711TM%20(WW)%20-%20The%20(Open)%20World%20of%20CMSV3--07190600.png

Figure 1: This is a typical Plone-based Web site. (Click images to enlarge.)

Plone and Zope are Python-based, and you can get all the source code. Python is an interesting language with a lot of unique (and some would say bizarre) little quirks, but it definitely has an avid (rabid?) following, and as I said, it is available on the iSeries, albeit a little bit behind in its current release and not officially supported by IBM.

My second stipulation was that non-programmers have to be able to use it, and that's certainly the case. Zope and Plone are very flexible, and that flexibility can be a little daunting, but somebody can come in through the browser-based administration interface and maintain the content of the Web site.

Finally, the program is written in Python, which means you can technically access other languages such as Java, which in turn allows you to access the IBM Java Toolbox for the iSeries, but the connections are definitely not for the faint of heart. To top it all off, Python does not have a native access to ODBC as far as I can tell and so cannot easily access SQL Server (or other databases). There is a commercial database package, but that's about it.

Pros and Cons

The option of using Plone and Zope has some powerful positives. Zope and Plone are sort of like the Eclipse of CMS; a wide range of "products" that can be plugged into the framework are available on the Internet for download. As with Eclipse, some are free and some are commercial, and the quality varies as widely as you would expect. And as with WDSC, one bad plug-in can wipe out your existing workspace, so I encourage lots of testing prior to using one of these plug-ins.

There are even some Python plug-ins for Eclipse, so even though IBM hasn't yet officially endorsed Python, you can still edit your Python code along with the rest of your system (Figure 2):

http://www.mcpressonline.com/articles/images/2002/060711TM%20(WW)%20-%20The%20(Open)%20World%20of%20CMSV3--07190601.png

Figure 2: This is one of the Python plug-ins for Eclipse.

So while the Python-based option is feasible, it is really very much at the outside edge of the envelope as far as what I would consider to be something I'd use in a mission-critical environment.

OpenCms, the Java-Based Option

On the far other end of the spectrum are the Java-based options. There are quite a few, with different levels of "openness." Following the guidelines I laid down, I decided to try a package called OpenCms, which is a completely open-source CMS package that is primarily targeted at the Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP (LAMP) crowd, except using Java instead of PHP.

I downloaded OpenCms and, using the Windows installer, got it running under Apache in just a short time. Then I began what I consider to be the real test: getting it running inside of WDSC.

Why Run Inside of WDSC?

Why is this so important? To me, it's crucial that you be able to debug your applications. Even if this is closer to the "buy" side of the make-vs.-buy decision, I still want to be able to get in there and make changes, and you'll see why that's important as I continue.

First, I did a quick reconnoiter of the Apache Tomcat option. WDSC can connect to an external Tomcat instance and debug that way. However, I consider that an extreme fallback position, because it won't allow me to run on a supported iSeries server. Tomcat can indeed run on the iSeries, but it's not supported. So instead, once I got the barest capabilities running (I was able to start the Tomcat instance and run the OpenCms system inside of a WDSC browser window), I immediately moved on to using WebSphere. And at this point, things got a little more interesting.

First, the system wouldn't even start properly. It turns out that there is an obscure difference in the Java libraries. I'm still not 100% certain whether it's a JVM issue or a JRE library issue, but in any case, a couple of lines of code need to be changed in the OpenCms code for it to even initialize properly under WebSphere. I found the fix doing a little Google magic, and then I had to make the change to OpenCms.

And this is why you want source code, preferably in a language you're relatively comfortable with. I was able to pull down the source code, attach the source to the JAR files inside of WDSC, and then identify the exact place the problem was occurring. Further, I was able to include the source for just that single class into my project, make the necessary change, and have the modified version override the distribution version.

Voila! OpenCms came up! However, there was still a problem. And while I'll avoid the details of my trials and tribulations, let's just say that I had to make something of a hack into the code in order to get it to run under WebSphere (for those with way too much time on their hands, the hack has to do with changing the context from an invalid value of /WebContent to the name of the project). From a management standpoint, the important point is that I was able to make the change and get it running, as shown in Figure 3. I doubt I would have been able to make this level of change in a Python- or PHP-based solution.

http://www.mcpressonline.com/articles/images/2002/060711TM%20(WW)%20-%20The%20(Open)%20World%20of%20CMSV3--07190602.png

Figure 3: This is OpenCms running on WebSphere 6.0 inside of WDSC.

There are other issues. First, the program won't run at all under WebSphere 5.1, at least in part due to an incompatible version of the XML parser. Second, there are still some obscure problems that look like they may have to do with the version of the JVM being used. One of the biggest problems I see for WebSphere in the future is the fact that IBM continues to lock each version of WebSphere in to a specific version of the JVM. And while I can understand that to a degree with earlier versions of Java (especially with the security aspects), I can no longer understand why it's possible for other Web application servers to run on multiple JVM versions but not WebSphere. This will continue to be a sore spot in WebSphere's acceptance in the open-source community.

Problems with this particular package aside, I have to say that from a management standpoint, I'm more comfortable with a Java package because of the level of tooling and support available for the language.

The Rest of the Spectrum

As I said, I consider Python and Java to be the ends of the language spectrum, at least as far as iSeries support and integration is concerned. I won't bother with .NET, and RPG doesn't have any CMS packages. So what's left is the middle ground, which today is almost completely populated by PHP packages. Back in the day, it would have been Perl but Perl is a more general-purpose scripting language while PHP is the current golden child of Web application development (to complete the picture, Python and Ruby are the two young upstarts). Your venerable elders are C and C++, but they're all but retired these days except among the GOP (grizzled old programmers).

Tons of PHP options are out there for just about every application, and CMS is no exception. PHP is an interesting compromise for iSeries integration because it has some stated support from IBM, yet it's not really an iSeries language and doesn't have any out-of-the-box support in WDSC. So while it's not an unsupported option like Python is today (I guess technically Python is a community-supported option, but it's a really small community), it's at the same time nowhere near as integrated into the iSeries development paradigm as RPG and Java are. Chances are, though, that you're more likely to have PHP-capable people on your staff than you are seasoned Python programmers. Then again, you're unlikely to find either of these skills among your green-screen developers, so you're still going to face a challenging integration project. However, I find it interesting that a number of programmers I know actually gravitate toward the less-strict scripting languages, such as Visual Basic and PHP. I don't know what makes a programmer lean toward Java or Python, but you really should take a good look at the skills of your staff before deciding on a language. And once you've done that, you can begin your search for the right package.

Joe Pluta is the founder and chief architect of Pluta Brothers Design, Inc. and has been extending the IBM midrange since the days of the IBM System/3. Joe has used WebSphere extensively, especially as the base for PSC/400, the only product that can move your legacy systems to the Web using simple green-screen commands. He has written several books including E-Deployment: The Fastest Path to the Web, Eclipse: Step by Step, and WDSC: Step by Step. Joe performs onsite mentoring and speaks at user groups around the country. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Joe Pluta

Joe Pluta is the founder and chief architect of Pluta Brothers Design, Inc. He has been extending the IBM midrange since the days of the IBM System/3. Joe uses WebSphere extensively, especially as the base for PSC/400, the only product that can move your legacy systems to the Web using simple green-screen commands. He has written several books, including Developing Web 2.0 Applications with EGL for IBM i, E-Deployment: The Fastest Path to the Web, Eclipse: Step by Step, and WDSC: Step by Step. Joe performs onsite mentoring and speaks at user groups around the country. You can reach him at joepluta@plutabrothers.com.


MC Press books written by Joe Pluta available now on the MC Press Bookstore.

Developing Web 2.0 Applications with EGL for IBM i Developing Web 2.0 Applications with EGL for IBM i
Joe Pluta introduces you to EGL Rich UI and IBM’s Rational Developer for the IBM i platform.
List Price $39.95

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WDSC: Step by Step WDSC: Step by Step
Discover incredibly powerful WDSC with this easy-to-understand yet thorough introduction.
List Price $74.95

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Eclipse: Step by Step Eclipse: Step by Step
Quickly get up to speed and productivity using Eclipse.
List Price $59.00

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  • Ask the RDi Experts

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericWatch this recording where Jim Buck, Susan Gantner, and Charlie Guarino answered your questions, including:

    • What are the “hidden gems” in RDi that can make me more productive?
    • What makes RDi Debug better than the STRDBG green screen debugger?
    • How can RDi help me find out if I’ve tested all lines of a program?
    • What’s the best way to transition from PDM to RDi?
    • How do I convince my long-term developers to use RDi?

    This is a unique, online opportunity to hear how you can get more out of RDi.

     

  • Node.js on IBM i Webinar Series Pt. 2: Setting Up Your Development Tools

    Profound Logic Software, Inc.Have you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application. In Part 2, Brian May teaches you the different tooling options available for writing code, debugging, and using Git for version control. Attend this webinar to learn:

    • Different tools to develop Node.js applications on IBM i
    • Debugging Node.js
    • The basics of Git and tools to help those new to it
    • Using NodeRun.com as a pre-built development environment

     

     

  • Inside the Integrated File System (IFS)

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericDuring this webinar, you’ll learn basic tips, helpful tools, and integrated file system commands—including WRKLNK—for managing your IFS directories and Access Client Solutions (ACS). We’ll answer your most pressing IFS questions, including:

    • What is stored inside my IFS directories?
    • How do I monitor the IFS?
    • How do I replicate the IFS or back it up?
    • How do I secure the IFS?

    Understanding what the integrated file system is and how to work with it must be a critical part of your systems management plans for IBM i.

     

  • Expert Tips for IBM i Security: Beyond the Basics

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

    Don't miss this chance to take your knowledge of IBM i security beyond the basics.

     

     

  • 5 IBM i Security Quick Wins

    SB PowerTech WC GenericIn today’s threat landscape, upper management is laser-focused on cybersecurity. You need to make progress in securing your systems—and make it fast.
    There’s no shortage of actions you could take, but what tactics will actually deliver the results you need? And how can you find a security strategy that fits your budget and time constraints?
    Join top IBM i security expert Robin Tatam as he outlines the five fastest and most impactful changes you can make to strengthen IBM i security this year.
    Your system didn’t become unsecure overnight and you won’t be able to turn it around overnight either. But quick wins are possible with IBM i security, and Robin Tatam will show you how to achieve them.

  • How to Meet the Newest Encryption Requirements on IBM i

    SB PowerTech WC GenericA growing number of compliance mandates require sensitive data to be encrypted. But what kind of encryption solution will satisfy an auditor and how can you implement encryption on IBM i? Watch this on-demand webinar to find out how to meet today’s most common encryption requirements on IBM i. You’ll also learn:

    • Why disk encryption isn’t enough
    • What sets strong encryption apart from other solutions
    • Important considerations before implementing encryption

     

     

  • Security Bulletin: Malware Infection Discovered on IBM i Server!

    SB PowerTech WC GenericMalicious programs can bring entire businesses to their knees—and IBM i shops are not immune. It’s critical to grasp the true impact malware can have on IBM i and the network that connects to it. Attend this webinar to gain a thorough understanding of the relationships between:

    • Viruses, native objects, and the integrated file system (IFS)
    • Power Systems and Windows-based viruses and malware
    • PC-based anti-virus scanning versus native IBM i scanning

    There are a number of ways you can minimize your exposure to viruses. IBM i security expert Sandi Moore explains the facts, including how to ensure you're fully protected and compliant with regulations such as PCI.

     

     

  • Fight Cyber Threats with IBM i Encryption

    SB PowerTech WC GenericCyber attacks often target mission-critical servers, and those attack strategies are constantly changing. To stay on top of these threats, your cybersecurity strategies must evolve, too. In this session, IBM i security expert Robin Tatam provides a quick recap of IBM i security basics and guides you through some advanced cybersecurity techniques that can help you take data protection to the next level. Robin will cover:

    • Reducing the risk posed by special authorities
    • Establishing object-level security
    • Overseeing user actions and data access

     

     

     

  • 10 Practical IBM i Security Tips for Surviving Covid-19 and Working From Home

    SB PowerTech WC GenericNow that many organizations have moved to a work from home model, security concerns have risen.

    During this session Carol Woodbury will discuss the issues that the world is currently seeing such as increased malware attacks and then provide practical actions you can take to both monitor and protect your IBM i during this challenging time.

     

  • How to Transfer IBM i Data to Microsoft Excel

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_Generic3 easy ways to get IBM i data into Excel every time
    There’s an easy, more reliable way to import your IBM i data to Excel? It’s called Sequel. During this webinar, our data access experts demonstrate how you can simplify the process of getting data from multiple sources—including Db2 for i—into Excel. Watch to learn how to:

    • Download your IBM i data to Excel in a single step
    • Deliver data to business users in Excel via email or a scheduled job
    • Access IBM i data directly using the Excel add-in in Sequel

    Make 2020 the year you finally see your data clearly, quickly, and securely. Start by giving business users the ability to access crucial business data from IBM i the way they want it—in Microsoft Excel.

     

     

  • HA Alternatives: MIMIX Is Not Your Only Option on IBM i

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericIn this recorded webinar, our experts introduce you to the new HA transition technology available with our Robot HA software. You’ll learn how to:

    • Transition your rules from MIMIX (if you’re happy with them)
    • Simplify your day-to-day activities around high availability
    • Gain back time in your work week
    • Make your CEO happy about reducing IT costs

    Don’t stick with a legacy high availability solution that makes you uncomfortable when transitioning to something better can be simple, safe, and cost-effective.

     

     

  • Node Webinar Series Pt. 1: The World of Node.js on IBM i

    SB Profound WC GenericHave you been wondering about Node.js? Our free Node.js Webinar Series takes you from total beginner to creating a fully-functional IBM i Node.js business application.
    Part 1 will teach you what Node.js is, why it's a great option for IBM i shops, and how to take advantage of the ecosystem surrounding Node.
    In addition to background information, our Director of Product Development Scott Klement will demonstrate applications that take advantage of the Node Package Manager (npm).
    Watch Now.

  • The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security

    SB Profound WC Generic The Biggest Mistakes in IBM i Security
    Here’s the harsh reality: cybersecurity pros have to get their jobs right every single day, while an attacker only has to succeed once to do incredible damage.
    Whether that’s thousands of exposed records, millions of dollars in fines and legal fees, or diminished share value, it’s easy to judge organizations that fall victim. IBM i enjoys an enviable reputation for security, but no system is impervious to mistakes.
    Join this webinar to learn about the biggest errors made when securing a Power Systems server.
    This knowledge is critical for ensuring integrity of your application data and preventing you from becoming the next Equifax. It’s also essential for complying with all formal regulations, including SOX, PCI, GDPR, and HIPAA
    Watch Now.

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  • Backup and Recovery on IBM i: Your Strategy for the Unexpected

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates the routine tasks of iSeries backup and recovery, saving you time and money and making the process safer and more reliable. Automate your backups with the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution. Key features include:
    - Simplified backup procedures
    - Easy data encryption
    - Save media management
    - Guided restoration
    - Seamless product integration
    Make sure your data survives when catastrophe hits. Try the Robot Backup and Recovery Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Manage IBM i Messages by Exception with Robot

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Managing messages on your IBM i can be more than a full-time job if you have to do it manually. How can you be sure you won’t miss important system events?
    Automate your message center with the Robot Message Management Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated message management
    - Tailored notifications and automatic escalation
    - System-wide control of your IBM i partitions
    - Two-way system notifications from your mobile device
    - Seamless product integration
    Try the Robot Message Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Easiest Way to Save Money? Stop Printing IBM i Reports

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413Robot automates report bursting, distribution, bundling, and archiving, and offers secure, selective online report viewing.
    Manage your reports with the Robot Report Management Solution. Key features include:

    - Automated report distribution
    - View online without delay
    - Browser interface to make notes
    - Custom retention capabilities
    - Seamless product integration
    Rerun another report? Never again. Try the Robot Report Management Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • Hassle-Free IBM i Operations around the Clock

    SB HelpSystems SC 5413For over 30 years, Robot has been a leader in systems management for IBM i.
    Manage your job schedule with the Robot Job Scheduling Solution. Key features include:
    - Automated batch, interactive, and cross-platform scheduling
    - Event-driven dependency processing
    - Centralized monitoring and reporting
    - Audit log and ready-to-use reports
    - Seamless product integration
    Scale your software, not your staff. Try the Robot Job Scheduling Solution FREE for 30 days.

  • ACO MONITOR Manages your IBM i 24/7 and Notifies You When Your IBM i Needs Assistance!

    SB DDL Systems 5429More than a paging system - ACO MONITOR is a complete systems management solution for your Power Systems running IBM i. ACO MONITOR manages your Power System 24/7, uses advanced technology (like two-way messaging) to notify on-duty support personnel, and responds to complex problems before they reach critical status.

    ACO MONITOR is proven technology and is capable of processing thousands of mission-critical events daily. The software is pre-configured, easy to install, scalable, and greatly improves data center efficiency.