Prototypes: For All Calls, All the Time

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Utilizing the full capabilities of prototypes can make your life as a programmer easier and make your programs more bulletproof.


With the use of free-format (aka /Free) RPG logic becoming more and more popular, many shops are beginning to utilize prototypes for their program calls because the CALL operation code is one of those that doesn't work in free-form. This is a movement to which I say, "It's about time!" For far too long, many shops have used prototypes only with subprocedures. Even with this upswing in the use of prototypes, however, I've found that many programmers are still not taking advantage of all that prototypes have to offer. Too many shops do the bare minimum necessary to get their program calls to function in /Free and are not leveraging all that this great language feature offers. Prototyping has been with us for a long time, since V3R2 in fact. So in this article, let's take a look at some of the under-utilized features of prototypes.

Prototype Basics

First, let's look at the basics of prototyped calls for those who haven't yet made the switch. Let's compare a program call with CALL to one with CALLP. Of course, we can call subprocedures with prototypes as well, but people using subprocedures are already familiar with the use of prototypes for that, so we'll concentrate here on using prototypes for program calls.


Take a look at the following code that calls a program to calculate payroll taxes:


   C                   Eval      PayAmt = GrossPay + Bonus

   C                   Call      'PA0132'

   C                   Parm                    PayAmt

   C                   Parm                    Allow

   C                   Parm                    FedTax

   C                   Parm                    StateTax


To call this program with a CALLP operation, I could create a prototype and use a CALLP in place of the CALL, like the following example:


   D CalcTaxes       PR                  ExtPgm('PA0132')

   D  TotalPay                      7P 2  

   D  Allow_Nbr                     3S 0

   D  FedTaxOutput                  5P 2

   D  StTaxOutput                   5P 2

   D PayAmt          S              7P 2


   C                   Eval      PayAmt = GrossPay + Bonus

   C                   CallP     CalcTaxes(PayAmt : Allow : FedTax : StateTax)


If my reasons for using a prototype were to use /Free logic, the CALLP statement would look more like this:


      PayAmt = GrossPay + Bonus;  

      CalcTaxes(PayAmt : Allow : FedTax : StateTax);


For those of you not familiar with prototypes, notice that the prototype is defined in the D specs. The syntax is similar to that of a data structure in that the D specs that follow the prototype beginning statement (indicated by the PR) that have the "PR" columns blank are part of the prototype. They represent the parameters. The definition of the PayAmt standalone field indicates the end of the parameter descriptions for the program. 


One thing that may look odd to you if you haven't used prototypes before is the fact that the "field names" used in the prototype do not match the field names passed as parameters on the CALLP statement. I put "field names" in quotes because the text in the field name position in a prototyped parameter definition is not naming a field at all. It is merely used as documentation for you and your fellow programmers to make it easier to tell the parameters apart. The data type and size definitions (as well as any keywords, which we will discuss later) are the critical parts of the parameter definitions.


Note that the EXTPGM keyword is required when calling a program, even if you decide to name the prototype the same as the *PGM object you are calling. I'm a big believer in making logic as understandable as possible, however, so I like to take advantage of the ability to override the (usually less meaningful) *PGM object name to a name that describes its function, as I did in this example (i.e., changing PA0132 to CalcTaxes). The CALLP statement now looks a bit more like a call to a built-in function, with the parameters in parentheses after the prototype name.


Besides being able to write the operation in free-form and using a more meaningful name in the logic, are there any other benefits to using the prototoyped call in the example above? The biggest benefit is the fact that the number of parameters and the data type and size of each parameter used on the call will be verified at compile time against those in the prototype. In the example of the CALL ... PARM statements before, if the Allow field in this calling program had been defined as 5-digit packed decimal with 2 decimals and the called program expected it to be zoned decimal 3-digit with no decimals, it would not have been detected until run time (hopefully during testing!). Likewise, if only three parameters had been passed when four were expected, it would cause a run-time error. In either of these cases, when using a prototype, the errors would be detected by the compiler. It's obviously much easier and faster to identify and fix a compile-time error than a run-time error.  


Of course, for that compile-time check of parameter types to be completely effective, the programmer must ensure that the prototype definition matches the called program exactly. There is a way to help ensure that, and we will talk about it a little later.

Improving Our Prototype

Could our prototype be made more effective? I like to indicate in the prototype which parameters are used as "input only" in the called program by using the CONST ("constant reference" is the full term) keyword on those prototyped parameters. This not only helps by giving me more information about the data flow between this program and the called program, but more significantly, it allows the compiler to help me on the call. Consider the following example:


   D CalcTaxes       PR                  ExtPgm('PA0132')

   D  TotalPay                      7P 2 Const

   D  Allow_Nbr                     3S 0 Const

   D  FedTaxOutput                  5P 2

   D  StTaxOutput                   5P 2

      CalcTaxes( GrossPay + Bonus : Allow : FedTax : StateTax);


In this version, the first two parameters are labeled as CONST. Since the called program will not be changing their values to supply information back to this program, I'm able to simplify my logic somewhat by using the expression (GrossPay + Bonus) directly as a parameter, doing away with the PayAmt temporary field. Likewise, in this case, if the Allow field in this program was defined as packed decimal, it would not result in either a compile-time or a run-time error. Instead, the compiler would create a temporary field for each of the first two parameters, based on the data type and size specified in the prototype. It would then copy the appropriate values from this program into them to pass as parameters to the PA0132 program. 


While it doesn't help in this example, I could have even used a built-in function, such as %LEN, as a parameter, which is quite helpful when calling many system APIs. Note that the compiler does not make a temporary field and copy the data over unless it is necessary (i.e., when the parameters requested in the prototype do not match those used in the call statement).


Because the last two parameters are used as output parameters (i.e., their values are updated by the called program), they cannot be declared as constant; therefore, the fields passed for those parameters must match the data type and size specified by the prototype. 

Specifying Optional Parameters in the Caller

Another nice benefit of using prototypes is that I can now add additional optional parameters to the end of my parameter list. Let's say that the program that calculates taxes now needs a new parameter to indicate some kind of deduction that should be taken into account when calculating, e.g., a deduction for additional medical insurance and/or a retirement savings plan. However, there may still be some circumstances when that extra information does not need to be passed to the tax calculation program. To allow for both situations--sometimes the extra parameters are needed, but other times they are not--you could make the passing of the extra parameters optional by putting them at the end of the parameter list. This requires also using the *NoPass option keyword on the new optional parameters.


     D CalcTaxes       PR                  ExtPgm('PA0132')

     D  TotalPay                      7P 2 Const

     D  Allow_Nbr                     3S 0 Const

     D  FedTaxOutput                  5P 2

     D  StTaxOutput                   5P 2

     D  MedDeduct                     3P 2 Options(*NoPass)                            

     D  RetireDeduct                  3P 2 Options(*NoPass)

        CalcTaxes( GrossPay + Bonus : Allow : FedTax : StateTax );

        CalcTaxes(GrossPay + Bonus : Allow : FedTax : StateTax :     

                  Medical : Retire );

        CalcTaxes(GrossPay + Bonus : Allow : FedTax : StateTax :     

                  Medical );


In the example above, all three calls to the program are acceptable because of the use of the *NoPass option. Note that either the first or the first and second of the *NoPass parameters may be passed.


However, in this example, you cannot pass only the Retire parameter and not the Medical one. You could allow that scenario by adding the additional optional keyword *Omit in place of the fifth parameter. Actually, I rarely find this a useful feature, but since I'm often asked if it is an option, I'm including it in the example below. This illustrates the fourth possible call option for this revised prototype. Note the use of the RPG special value *Omit for the fifth parameter in the call statement. Note also that the called program must be prepared for both *Omit and *NoPass options to work properly; we'll look at how it does that in a moment.


   D CalcTaxes       PR                  ExtPgm('PA0132')

   D  TotalPay                      7P 2 Const

   D  Allow_Nbr                     3S 0 Const

   D  FedTaxOutput                  5P 2

   D  StTaxOutput                   5P 2

   D  MedDeduct                     3P 2 Options(*NoPass : *Omit)                            

   D  RetireDeduct                  3P 2 Options(*NoPass)


      CalcTaxes(GrossPay + Bonus : Allow : FedTax : StateTax :     

            *Omit : Retire );


What About the Called Program?

Finally, let's turn our attention to the called program: PA0132 in this case. We can call any program (or procedure) in any language using a prototype. However, if it is an RPG IV program you are calling, it makes sense to take full advantage of all that the compiler can do for you by replacing the called program's *Entry PList with a Procedure Interface (PI). Indeed, to fully move to /Free, you must do this because the *ENTRY PLIST is not supported in /Free. When you do this, the compiler can check your prototype for you to ensure you have coded it correctly. This is how you ensure the prototype in the calling program is correct, as mentioned earlier.


Note the following *Entry PList. We have gone back to the original example without the optional parameters. We'll add them back in later.


   C     *Entry        Plist    

   C                   Parm                    PayAmt

   C                   Parm                    Allow

   C                   Parm                    FedTax

   C                   Parm                    StateTax


This can (and should) be replaced with the following Procedure Interface:


   D CalcTaxes       PI                   

   D  TotalPay                      7P 2 Const

   D  Allow_Nbr                     3S 0 Const

   D  FedTaxOutput                  5P 2

   D  StTaxOutput                   5P 2


One thing to note here is that names on the PI (e.g., TotalPay, Allow_Nbr, etc.) are defining the fields of those names to hold the parameters. This is in contrast to the prototype where those "names" are documentary only.


There is a requirement for the prototype for the program (or procedure) to also appear in the source member at compile time. This enables the complier to conduct a check of the prototype's accuracy in matching the parameter list in the PI. Since we always want to ensure that the prototype that was verified as correct is used in all the calling programs, I highly recommend that you place your prototypes in a separate source member and that you use a /Copy to bring the prototype into this program (the called program) and also into any and all calling programs. That way, you can be sure that the prototype used in the callers is exactly the same as the one the compiler has already verified as matching the called program.


In the example below, note the use of the /Copy statement. The same /Copy statement should be used in the calling program as well, replacing the hard-coded prototypes used in the earlier illustrations. Note that I have also included the use of the optional parameters here that I utilized in the later versions of the prototype above.


If the source member named PA0132PR contains the following code...


   D CalcTaxes       PR                  ExtPgm('PA0132')

   D  TotalPay                      7P 2 Const

   D  Allow_Nbr                     3S 0 Const

   D  FedTaxOutput                  5P 2

   D  StTaxOutput                   5P 2

   D  MedDeduct                     3P 2 Options(*NoPass : *Omit) Const                           

   D  RetireDeduct                  3P 2 Options(*NoPass) Const


..then the source member PA0132 should contain the following:


    /Copy PA0132PR


   D CalcTaxes       PI                   

   D  TotalPay                      7P 2 Const

   D  Allow_Nbr                     3S 0 Const

   D  FedTaxOutput                  5P 2

   D  StTaxOutput                   5P 2

   D  MedDeduct                     3P 2 Options(*NoPass : *Omit) Const                           

   D  RetireDeduct                  3P 2 Options(*NoPass) Const

Handling Optional Parameters in the Called Program

Remember that I mentioned earlier that the called program must be prepared for the use of *NoPass and *Omit parameters? Let's now look at how this is done.


Since the *NoPass parameters require that all parameters be passed up until the first optional one, we can simply use the %Parms built-in function to determine the number of parameters that were passed and then take the appropriate action. For any *Omit parameters, we check for a *Null value in the parameter's address. Take a look at the following example:


   D CalcTaxes       PI                   

   D  TotalPay                      7P 2 Const

   D  Allow_Nbr                     3S 0 Const

   D  FedTaxOutput                  5P 2

   D  StTaxOutput                   5P 2

   D  Parm5                         3P 2 Options(*NoPass : *Omit) Const                           

   D  Parm6                         3P 2 Options(*NoPass) Const      


   D MedDeduct       S              3P 2  

   D RetireDeduct    S              3P 2  




     If %Parms >= 5 and %Addr(Parm5) <> *Null;

        MedDeduct = Parm5;


        MedDeduct = 0;



     If %Parms = 6;

        RetireDeduct = Parm6;


        RetireDeduct = 0;



Note the names of the last two (optional) parameters in the PI. It is critical that you never attempt to touch a parameter that was not passed to you, either because of *NoPass or *Omit. Therefore, elsewhere in the program logic, we will never again refer to fields Parm5 or Parm6. Instead, we will refer to the MedDeduct and RetireDeduct standalone fields to get the data. If either of those two parameters were not passed to the program, we'll simply plug in default values.


Note that in this case, we could have omitted the "Else" logic if the program returned with LR on each time because the two standalone fields would be initialized to 0 already. Also note that if the optional parameters were not constant, we would need to do a similar (but reversed) type of logic to populate the last two parameters after the calculations are done before returning to the caller.


The Options parameter for prototypes has several other useful capabilities, such as the following:

  • *VarSize allows character fields that are shorter than specified in the prototype to be passed. (Note that longer character fields can always be passed for character fields.)
  • *RightAdjust automatically right adjusts a character value passed as a CONST parameter.
  • *Trim automatically trims leading and/or trailing spaces from the value before passing it using a CONST parameter.

While you can only use it when calling bound procedures (not programs), another useful prototype keyword is VALUE. This tells the compiler to pass the actual value of the field rather than a pointer to the value in the calling program.


I hope this look into the power of RPG prototyping has helped you to understand more reasons to use prototypes than simply to allow a call in /Free logic. Utilizing the full capabilities of prototypes can make your life as a programmer easier and make your programs more bulletproof.


Susan Gantner

Susan Gantner's career has spanned over 30 years in the field of application development. She began as a programmer, developing applications for corporations in Atlanta, Georgia, and working with a variety of hardware and software platforms. She joined IBM in 1985 and quickly developed a close association with the Rochester laboratory during the development of the AS/400 system. She worked in Rochester, Minnesota, for five years in the AS/400 Technical Support Center. She later moved to the IBM Toronto Software Laboratory to provide technical support for programming languages and AD tools on the AS/400 and iSeries.

Susan left IBM in 1999 to devote more time to teaching and consulting. She co-authored one of the most popular System i Redbooks ever, Who Knew You Could Do That with RPG IV? She and partner Jon Paris make up Partner400, a consulting company focused on education and mentoring services related to application modernization. Susan is also part of System i Developer, a consortium of top educators on System i technology who produce the RPG & DB2 Summit events. Its members include Jon Paris, Paul Tuohy, Skip Marchesani, and Susan Gantner.







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    • How to track long-term disk trends



  • Stop Re-keying Data Between IBM I and Other Applications

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericMany business still depend on RPG for their daily business processes and report generation.Wouldn’t it be nice if you could stop re-keying data between IBM i and other applications? Or if you could stop replicating data and start processing orders faster? Or what if you could automatically extract data from existing reports instead of re-keying? It’s all possible. Watch this webinar to learn about:

    • The data dilemma
    • 3 ways to stop re-keying data
    • Data automation in practice

    Plus, see how HelpSystems data automation software will help you stop re-keying data.


  • The Top Five RPG Open Access Myths....BUSTED!

    SB_Profound_WC_GenericWhen it comes to IBM Rational Open Access: RPG Edition, there are still many misconceptions - especially where application modernization is concerned!

    In this Webinar, we'll address some of the biggest myths about RPG Open Access, including:

    • Modernizing with RPG OA requires significant changes to the source code
    • The RPG language is outdated and impractical for modernizing applications
    • Modernizing with RPG OA is the equivalent to "screen scraping"


  • Time to Remove the Paper from Your Desk and Become More Efficient

    SB_HelpSystems_WC_GenericToo much paper is wasted. Attempts to locate documents in endless filing cabinets.And distributing documents is expensive and takes up far too much time.
    These are just three common reasons why it might be time for your company to implement a paperless document management system.
    Watch the webinar to learn more and discover how easy it can be to:

    • Capture
    • Manage
    • And distribute documents digitally


  • IBM i: It’s Not Just AS/400


    IBM’s Steve Will talks AS/400, POWER9, cognitive systems, and everything in between

    Are there still companies that use AS400? Of course!

    IBM i was built on the same foundation.
    Watch this recorded webinar with IBM i Chief Architect Steve Will and IBM Power Champion Tom Huntington to gain a unique perspective on the direction of this platform, including:

    • IBM i development strategies in progress at IBM
    • Ways that Watson will shake hands with IBM i
    • Key takeaways from the AS/400 days


  • 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 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.



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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.