Application modernization on the IBM i has become a code phrase for many different approaches. After Webfacing, translating server apps to mobile devices is the next most popular business need.
Last month, in "Technology Focus: Modernizing Your Apps to Keep Up with Technology, Part 1," we showed ways in which some of the application modernization tool vendors view the modernization problem and how they react to the demand for Webfacing. This month, in Part 2, we continue the discussion of app modernization with the market need for at least letting mobile devices communicate with server software. Then we conclude with some advice from the vendors on how best to approach modernization in general.
Functions and Form Factors
"[After refacing, the next most popular method] would be application integration," observes Charles Jones, solution architect at Rocket Software, "which is the practice of transforming the IBM i portfolio of applications into reusable 'standards-based' services by making them available via an API. This is important because it enables non-IBM i-based applications (mobile apps or perhaps Java or .NET development initiatives) to reuse the wealth of application assets that customers have invested in for decades and that reside on the IBM i."
"For application integration, mobile is by far the primary driver in this area," Jones adds. "If you rank popularity in terms of adoption or by sheer numbers, Web-based modernization is first. However, in terms of priority, mobile apps/mobile initiatives are often a higher one. Mobile apps are no longer an option—they are a requirement for every business, and reusing the production IBM i assets (systems of record) through APIs is the quickest, cheapest, and best overall option with the least amount of risk."
Milone does see awareness of mobile as an important factor but less of an immediate one. "About 75 percent of our customers still want full-sized screens in their conversion projects. But a lot of them want to know if we support mobile conversion. They want to be able to do that in the future."
Meeting the App Modernization Challenges
Some of the greatest challenges in app modernization seem to be outside the question of whether to follow the Webfacing or the mobile-device access paths.
"The biggest challenges in modernization that I see are the sheer amount of the stuff' that has to be converted, the old age of many applications means that there are not many people around who have a complete picture of the application systems, the IBM i team's skills are often not current, and in many cases, upper management doesn't understand or trust the platform," Roytman points out.
Jones partly agrees with Roytman but adds a concern or two. "In general, there are three primary challenges. These are achieving interoperability with existing systems (extending applications and databases to Web and mobile), [customer development teams] either don't have the skills in-house or there aren't enough of them to meet the demand, and there's a tools gap. Many tools can create the user experience platform or the mobile app but fall short in addressing the challenge of connecting to and reusing the IBM i application assets."
"I see RPG Open Access [OA] becoming even more popular and accepted; it's still relatively new," Roytman declares. "I also see companies hiring and training a new/younger generation of developers on IBM i. This includes training them on RPG as well. RPG is becoming easier to learn and to train. The key to this will be adopting 'new RPG,' by which I mean completely free-format, modular programming, using SQL for database access, rich user interfaces for web and mobile, and modern databases."
So what's an IT manager to do when it comes to deciding the best way of modernizing apps on the i?
Roytman concludes with some general advice. "You get there by modernizing your user interfaces, your code, and your databases over time. When a new developer comes in and starts using a graphical UI based on RPG OA with all the latest features of RPG, most of them think of it as the coolest, most modern technology they have ever seen. There are fewer hoops to jump through to get to the data and to create functional, nice-looking Web or mobile interfaces, compared to other options, like Java, for example. Many companies will also utilize PHP, Java, NodeJS, etc., but RPG will remain essential on the platform for business functionality. Of course, it's not as straightforward as it sounds, and there will be challenges, but this will evolve and this is where we are heading. "
What follows are the major tools for modernizing apps on the IBM i from vendors whose company names start with the letter "I" or later in the alphabet. This continues the vendor list started last month in "Technology Focus: Modernizing Your Apps to Keep Up with Technology, Part 1." For reasons of length, this list leaves out solutions used only for building apps from scratch unless they are included as part of a product that converts existing apps to Web or mobile use or generates new apps from existing ones. Also, this list doesn't cover other categories of products that clearly help with administration of new apps but aren't involved in actual code-conversion efforts, such as change-management software, application-analysis tools, modernization services, app-deployment tools, and utilities for refactoring or reformatting databases or integrating new app versions.
Each product listing consists of a brief description and a link to the appropriate vendor's product page. The product descriptions merely point out a few highlights of each product. For more complete information, please consult the product pages or the appropriate vendors directly.
Application Modernization Tools for IBM I, Vendor Company Names I through Z
Rational Developer for i provides an IDE based on Eclipse for constructing IBM i applications and user interfaces that are browser-friendly, as well as linking them to existing back-end server applications or modernizing those applications directly, as needed.
Rational Host Access Transformation Services (HATS) converts 5250 green-screen applications to Web and other user interfaces and extends them as standard Web services. Major features include an editor for developing macros and Web services.
Rational Migration Extension migrates applications written in older languages to IBM's Enterprise Generation Language (EGL). The product helps developers transition away from older server environments to a more modern, extensible language and an Eclipse-based tool set.
Rational Open Access RPG Edition provides enhancements to the RPG language that let developers write I/O handlers that open legacy applications to a wide range of resources, such as browsers, mobile devices, cloud computing, Web services, external databases, XML files, and MS Office applications such as Excel spreadsheets.
Interactive Dynamic Technologies (iDynaTECH)
DEJA.400 AS/400 to J2EE Conversion Program is a J2EE application server and relational database engine that generates browser interfaces for host applications by converting each application's existing DB2 databases to relational databases, extracting business logic from RPG and CL code and converting it to Java, and transforming 5250 display screens to a browser-friendly GUI equivalent.
RPG-XML Suite is an RPG service program that lets developers incorporate XML and Web services into legacy applications, as well as to offer legacy applications as Web services.
LANSA's aXes (which is also offered by Linoma Software under a partnership agreement) lets enterprises deploy legacy host applications to a browser or mobile devices without writing new code via an automated process. The product's eXtensions feature also generates Windows GUI features (e.g., images, dropdowns, checkboxes), and other options enable remote SQL queries and access to spooled files.
LANSA Open for .NET helps developers write .NET applications that take advantage of resources on the IBM i without leaving Visual Studio. Working as a Visual Studio plug-in, the product gives .NET developers the means to incorporate IBM i services (including data and programs) in Windows rich-client and Web applications by viewing the IBM i data and programs as resources within Visual Studio.
RAMP is an application framework for modernizing IBM i software. The framework is an existing rich-client or Web application in which developers can combine 5250 and other applications to assemble a composite application and then evolve the resulting composite application by adding new parts and gradually replacing the 5250 application.
RPG Toolbox is a set of productivity tools for working with RPG source code. Designed primarily for modernizing existing apps, it helps developers convert older code to modernized RPG IV syntax, convert fixed-format specs into free-form syntax, more effectively work with IBM's Source Entry Utility, streamline RPG source code by removing outdated elements, and access a plug-in for Rational Developer for IBM i.
looksoftware, a division of Fresche Legacy
newlook is an IDE that helps developers customize, extend, and integrate application interfaces for any audience on any device. In addition, newlook is fully enabled for RPG Open Access and lets programmers deliver graphical interfaces to any number of devices.
openlook is a modification of IBM's PRG Open access and provides tools for modernizing older RPG apps and for building new ones. Features include retention of business logic in modified code, image embedment, application access via browser and mobile devices, and support of the Open Standard for RPG.
renew is a Microsoft .NET development system for building apps that run on IBM i and Windows systems. It works with existing business logic and RPG or COBOL code and lets developers transform existing apps to more modern forms, as well as build new modules and interfaces.
soarchitect helps transform legacy applications written in RPG or COBOL to an SOA environment by packaging those apps as callable Web services. This enables integration with applications on Windows and other platforms, use of Web services, and smart-client UIs.
OnWeb is a terminal emulator that converts System i apps to Web or .NET interfaces, deploys applications securely to internal users, generates Web services automatically from System i screens and business logic, and can present data from multiple sources as Web pages.
The iNEXT solution translates IBM i applications to Microsoft .NET on the fly, enabling modifications to the original apps over time that are reflected in the .NET versions available to run on the Web. Developers can carry out the translation or the translation is available as a service from ML-Software.
m-Power offers a solution for converting legacy software to browser and mobile-device compatibility, as well as developing new Web applications based on System i software. The product automatically generates mobile and tablet versions when developers build Web versions of those apps.
Profound Logic Software
Profound UI is an enhancement for RPG based on IBM's RPG Open Access that offers direct generation of UIs within RPG. The product offers point-and-click tools for building browser interfaces that can then be integrated with new or legacy applications for the IBM i.
Red Hat Mobile Application Platform supports an agile approach to developing, integrating, and deploying enterprise mobile applications based on existing native, hybrid, or browser-based apps. The platform also offers central control of security and policy management, collaborative development, and a choice of cloud deployment options. The product features Mobile Backend-as-a-Service, which securely integrates mobile apps with core enterprise systems, applications, and other services via APIs.
The LegaSuite Portfolio offers a suite of tools for converting System i apps to the Web or mobile devices, integrating those apps into multiplatform and SOA environments, translating text to and from various national languages, and building Web enhancements such as dashboards and reports drawn from multiple sources.
Surround Technologies' Accelerator suite consists of three applications that can be used for modernizing IBM i applications: Accelerator for IBM i Silverlight, Accelerator for IBM i Windows Presentation Foundation, and Accelerator for IBM i HTML 5. The first works with Microsoft Silverlight, a plug-in tool for the .NET framework that helps developers create and deliver RIA applications and media experiences. Accelerator for IBM i Windows Presentation Foundation works with the MS WPF of .NET to generate documents, media, two- and three-dimensional graphics, animations, Web-like characteristics, and more. The third application works with HTML 5, used for structuring and presenting Web content.
JACi400 is a suite of software tools that helps developers modernize existing applications, construct new server-based applications, and build new (or convert older) applications that run over the Web. It generates source in COBOL and all versions of RPG, generates HTML for Web apps, includes new-app deployment tools, and includes HTML objects such as checkboxes and radio buttons.
TEMBO Technology Lab
AO Foundation automates the migration of all legacy (ISAM or DDS) databases to the latest DDL (SQL/SQE) implementation of DB2 on IBM i. Representing a different approach to modernization than UI alterations, AO Foundation can support application modernization efforts for years to come by restructuring databases to support both existing and future technologies.