"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore."
--Dorothy Gale, in The Wizard of Oz
A long time ago, in a faraway land, lived a wondrous machine capable of performing magical acts with numbers and facts. His computational legerdemain was legendary; his programming prowess renowned. But even though working folk throughout the land--from blacksmiths to barkeeps--used his services, usually he was hidden in a back room, away from the public, because of his hideous green skin. This Tin Man needed not a new heart, but a new face. And so he and his new friend Zappie set off for the Big Blue City to find the Wonderful Wizard of WAS.
(Editor's note: He's off his meds. Ignore him.)
Fine, take away my fun. It's not like I was quoting Oompa Loompa lyrics.
Anyway, this month's article has two centers of focus. First off, as I was trying to allude to in my opening paragraph, I'm going to guide you through my travails in ordering the latest version of WDSC Version 6.0, the all-in-one development tool that among its many capabilities lets you provide a graphical front-end to your green-screen applications. Note that I don't have this version yet; I'm just ordering it. News on the features and functions of WDSC 6.0 will have to wait until I actually work with it a bit.
Next, I'm going to talk about development machines. While I don't usually talk a lot about hardware, I think this month it's important because a couple of different offerings have converged to make the iSeries a box that can be used for development by a lot more people than in years past. It's not quite the zero or near-zero entry point proposition of a Wintel machine, but I'll try to put that in perspective. As it turns out, the near-zero cost of a Wintel machine ain't as near zero as you might have thought.
Trying the Official Route
So how does one go about getting WDSC 6.0? This standard question is not as easily answered as you might expect. While I have contacts deep within the IBM development community (Editor's second note: He has George Farr's email address.), I thought that I should do this the way any typical iSeries developer would go about it.
Start on the Web
Always start on the Web. With that in mind, I Googled "WebSphere Development Studio Client for iSeries" (without the quotes) and the first entry was IBM's WDSC page. This is not to be confused with the WebSphere Development Studio for iSeries page, which was just an entry or two down.
The latter is for the host component of the tools and is something you order with your iSeries (it is Licensed Program Product 5722WDS). You get updates for it the same way you get updates for any other part of i5/OS: via individual, cumulative, and group PTFs.
The former page, however, is the home of the PC-based client side of the WebSphere Development Studio, which is exactly what I needed. But there are no links of any kind for ordering the package, so this looked to be a bit of a dead end. However, in the upper right corner of the page is a little box that says "We're here to help" along with a couple of options: email, leave a phone number, or call a special number that even includes a "priority code," presumably to get you to the right person right away!
Figure 1: Unfortunately, this nice lady didn't live up to the hype.
I dialed the number on the screen and got that fast busy signal that typically indicates that you've dialed an invalid phone number. So strike the Web as the way to get your copy of WDSC 6.0.
Well, the next thing that has been burned into the mind of every IBM customer on the planet is 1-800-IBM-SERV. Certainly, they could help me! They can help anyone! They're the folks behind the Help Desk commercials, aren't they? With Gene the supercomputer and the virtual schoolroom for the little Chinese farm girl (and my personal favorite, the little old man with the great idea). And speaking of commercials, why can't they make iSeries commercials like that? They spend a ton of money on a GIGANTIC FAKE VAULT, but they can't spend a few stinking bucks on NEW ISERIES COMMERCIALS? THE BEST SERVER ON THE PLANET, AND...
(Editor again: We're terribly sorry about that. He got a little agitated and ran out of the room ranting and waving his arms. He'll be back shortly.... Ah yes, here he comes now.)
Where was I? Oh yeah, 1-800-IBM-SERV. OK, I dialed them up on Saturday afternoon. After the typical little bit of voice menu magic (talk about the Land of Oz), I finally ended up talking to a nice lady who began to ask me questions. Astonishingly, she even seemed to have heard of an iSeries, and she asked questions about both me and my machine. Unfortunately, when she finally asked me what the problem was and I explained that I wanted the latest version of WDSC, she politely explained that I had called the wrong number and that such queries were handled by IBM Direct. And while I'm pretty sure she wanted to tell me to call 1-800-GET-A-CLUE, she was kind enough to give me the real number, 1-800-426-2255.
This was a lot of fun. A recording came on telling me about all the various other things I should be doing, including possibly visiting the Lenovo Web site. After a minute and a half (as timed by my phone), I finally got an option to hit 0 to speak to someone. I did, and I was finally told that IBM Direct was closed and to please call again during normal business hours.
While IBM probably has a great bulk rate for its 800 services, I have to believe the company is losing out if it takes a minute and a half to tell callers to call back. But hey, that's just me. Anyway, I continued my journey to find the Wizard of WAS on Monday.
08:08:00 Called IBM.
08:09:30 Pressed 0.
08:09:45 Someone answered.
08:10:15 She got my name (Pluta) spelled correctly.
08:11:00 She put me on hold for the iSeries group.
(I listened to pretty music.)
08:13:30 She broke in and told me I was still on hold.
(More pretty music)
08:18:45 She put me on hold for "five more minutes."
(And yet more pretty music)
08:30:00 Just as I was about to hang up, she told me I was still on hold. Having heard enough pretty music for the morning, I gave her my customer number and asked to be called back.
Since IBM doesn't give you an estimated wait time, you have to keep choosing whether to continue sitting on hold or not. I finally gave up after 20 minutes and decided to opt for the call-back. I waited all day. Not a good thing.
On Tuesday morning, I tried again. And again I spoke with the nice lady I spoke with the day before (at least it sounded like the same person). This time, instead of leaving me on infinite hold, she ended up taking all my information and then telling me that the media would be shipped...in three to four weeks. Or, lucky me, I could get it expedited for 30 bucks!
Now, IBM has to know that everybody and their mother is going to want a copy of this software, so why weren't they ready to deliver it? Three to four weeks? To press and mail a DVD? Egad.
Later on Tuesday, a nice gentleman called me about the call I made Monday. Evidently, my second call hadn't been filed yet. In any case, the man informed me that three to four weeks was about right (but he confided that it was actually more like two to three weeks). He implied that my IBM Business Partner could get me better service. When I explained that I am just a little ISV with no BP, he told me I ought to call PartnerLine to make sure I got the right discount. I explained that WDSC was free and asked if PartnerLine could get me the software any faster. He didn't have an answer to that.
From what I understand, there is an extra-fee PartnerWorld option that allows you to download software. You can evidently get the new version of WDSC from there, and in fact it has been available since July 15, according to some folks who have downloaded it. Unfortunately, such access is denied to the people in the trenches who are actually using the box (and the WDSC tool) to run their businesses and can't afford the extra PartnerWorld fees. This bit of dichotomy tends to blunt the message that the iSeries and especially WDSC is all about the small-to-medium business. But I digress, and none of this griping is getting WDSC into my hands any quicker. I'll keep you posted.
So You Want to Be an iSeries Programmer
This section of the column is going to focus a little bit on the concept of being an iSeries developer. By that I mean an individual or company desiring to actually write iSeries software or an IT manager wanting to keep business processes on the iSeries and do development in-house. The big issue is whether or not this is cost-effective in today's world.
The New Development Model
Well, the first thing to look at is the new development model. Gone is the nearly 100% RPG or COBOL product with huge, monolithic green-screen applications. Today's world requires a multi-language, Web-based environment where your products work not only with traditional green-screen but also with browser-based solutions. Optionally, you may include thick-client, PC-based solutions for some of your components and, one shudders to contemplate it, you might not even have a green-screen interface for parts of your product.
(Editor: Really, that's Joe. He said that. We know. We're shocked, too.)
You could probably make do with RPG CGI, but for a ton of reasons that I won't go into, you're probably better off going with JSP and servlets. So let's assume that at the minimum you're going to need WebSphere. This is really going to just break your budget, isn't it? I mean, WebSphere is a pig, it costs a bunch of money, yada yada yada.
Not true! That's the beauty of the new series of machines.
The New Development Machine
The new machine is the iSeries 520 Express Edition. This is an incredible piece of computing power, folks. Priced as low as $11,000 for a development box, the 520 brings iSeries development capabilities to the smallest of ISVs. And this is a full-blown development machine, not just a PC on steroids. Think about it: integrated backups, networking, Java, WebSphere, and the most powerful database in the world, all for the price of a couple of Wintel servers.
There are four versions (there's actually a fifth, but it comes with no development tools, and since the tools are a whopping $700, we can ignore that low-end configuration). Basically, they include the four combinations of two options: with or without RAID drives and with or without an extra GB of RAM and double the CPW. In general, the four boxes look like this:
iSeries 520 Express Edition
Entry Plus Model
1 GB RAM
37 GB non-RAID
1 GB RAM
37 GB RAID
2 GB RAM
37 GB non-RAID
2 GB RAM
37 GB RAID
These machines come with everything you need to run an ISV (or a small to medium business with an in-house IT department). The machine has a QIC tape drive (it says 3.0 GB, but that seems a bit small), a LAN card, a DVD-ROM drive, and a twinax connection. From the software side, it has 5722WDS, which is all the compilers, as well as the SQL development toolkit, DB2 UDB (of course), and WebSphere Application Server Express--and all with a year of software maintenance. Everything a growing developer could ask for. Oh...and you even get a few interactive CPW (30 or 60, for Entry Plus or Growth models, respectively) and the ability to have partitions (2 or 4, respectively).
Just for fun, I configured a Dell server as close as I could get. I threw in Windows Small Business Server (the cheap version, not the Enterprise one), 1 GB of RAM, a couple of SCSI drives (to get high speed, and at that they're only 10K RPM drives, and Dell doesn't support RAID on them), a tape drive with some backup software, and a DVD-ROM. It came to over $3,300. Now remember that Windows also costs $90 a seat for users, so if you have 25 users, you're looking at over $5,000 (add $1,800 because the server software comes with five seats). No keyboard or monitor, either. Now, double that for reliability purposes and you're talking $10,000, or nearly the price of the Entry Plus machine.
And please note, this is without any development tools, which cost between $1,300 and $2,500 per developer's seat per year.
And That's Not All!
No, indeed, that's not all. The next thing is the developer's lease. This is more for ISVs than SMBs. The SMBs already have IT budgets, and for them it's purely a choice between the iSeries or some other server. I think the figures above make it clear that Wintel shouldn't win hands down anymore, especially when you throw in the reliability and service on the IBM box. (True story: When I first had my own machine, it threw a disk drive sometime in January. I wasn't monitoring the system operator's message queue, and I didn't notice until March. When I did, I immediately put in a panic-stricken call to IBM at 9:00 p.m. on a Thursday night. At 9:30 the next morning, an IBM service rep was replacing my drive, and by 10:30 I was running the new drive. Not sure how much that level of service costs with Dell.)
But it becomes even easier for an ISV. The rules are a bit difficult to understand at times, but the nice people at IBM will help you out. Basically, though, if you can roll out a product a year for the iSeries, you can lease a box. The lease recently went up from 1% to 1.75%, but even at that rate, you can have your own iSeries for about $200 a month. Now, I'm not sure how all this works out in the fine print; I expect to get better information over the next week. I'll be working closely with IBM to put together exactly such a box, and I'll keep you informed. Please drop a line in the forums if you're interested in updates.
Just to be fair, there is a Microsoft package for ISVs that seems to say that you can get all the development tools for $375 a year, provided you commit to building a software package for Windows. If that's indeed the case, then the Visual Studio development tools begin to look pretty nice again. At that point, it's really more of a hardware cost issue, because I don't think you want your developer on your production machine. I could be wrong about that, though. I'd be interested to hear from Wintel-based developers to see if they actually use their primary production server as a development box as well.
A Final Note on Software
There's one last little bit of information. A couple of issues are really hot in the IBM midrange world today, one that is iSeries-specific and one that is not. The iSeries-specific story is modernization, which includes a number of products out there, including our good friend WebFacing. And then there's the IBM non-free product, HATS. Actually, HATS has a free version, HATS LE, which gives you exactly the sort of value you expect from a free product. The full HATS product, on the other hand, comes much closer to a professional-grade conversion product like, say, my PSC/400 tool. Like PSC/400, HATS is relatively expensive, but a new program, the iSeries Express Pilot Program, introduces a much cheaper version of HATS designed specifically for the low-end 520 models.
This pilot program was covered by Lee Kroon back in May, but it bears revisiting today. Several products, including WebSphere Portal Express, WebSphere Business Integration Server Express, and WebSphere Commerce Express, in addition to the HATS product, have had special Model 520-specific editions created with lowered prices. You can check out Lee's original article for the exact pricing, but the savings are substantial, 50% or more depending on the model. Please note, though, that the Portal and Commerce products are not available on the Entry Plus edition of the 520. Because these machines have only 500 CPW of processing power, they are not considered capable of running the processor-intensive Portal and Commerce products.
So that's it for this column. I will get more information about the leasing program and WDSC 6.0 and update you in the next "Weaving WebSphere" (and you'll hear it even quicker in the forums). Also, if things go well, I will have information on a completely different direction for development, so stay tuned!