The iSeries Blog


June 12, 2008  8:11 AM

More humor: System i programmers worried about second-hand smoke?



Posted by: Mark Fontecchio
Blogroll

Kind of an old post, but I missed it and so I need to link to it here. It comes from Aaron Bartell and includes the following joke:

The boy Microsoft programmer is smoking and leaving smoke rings into the air.

The girl AS/400 programmer gets irritated with the smoke and says to her lover co-worker: “Can’t you see the warning written on the cigarettes packet, smoking is injurious to health!”

The boy replies back: “Darling, I am a Microsoft programmer. We don’t worry about warnings, we only worry about errors.”

June 12, 2008  8:06 AM

YiPs and BLiPs and FRiPs, oh my



Posted by: Mark Fontecchio
Blogroll

In the go-ahead-and-smile category, the iDevelop blog came up with a bunch more acronyms beyond YiP (Young i Professionals) and now RiP (Retired i Professionals) to describe various factions of the i community. Here are a couple:

MiPs-–Modern i Professionals-–those who like to stay up with technology and the latest in capabilities of the i. These might be contrasted with the next group. …

LiPs-–Luddite i Professionals-–those who resist new capabilities and technology. “It’s been good enough for me and/or my users since 1988. …”

A couple readers posted in the comments with their suggestions. The best back-and-forth started with Aaron Bartell, who suggested FRiP, Fence Riding i Professionals, defined as “personnel in a company who can’t make a technology direction decision if their life depended on it.” Another commenter responded to that by saying “isn’t a ‘FRiP’ the same as a ‘CIO’?”

Any others? The only one I could come up with was NiPs: Name-consumed i Professionals (NCiPs, maybe?) They are the ones obsessed with whether the platform should be called AS/400, iSeries, System i, or now IBM i or Power Systems. And I grant that sometimes their obsession is warranted. I would also guess that there are plenty of DKWTCTPiISs, which stands for Don’t Know What To Call The Platform i IBM Salesperson.


June 12, 2008  7:51 AM

System i blades not selling yet, it seems



Posted by: Mark Fontecchio
Operating systems, System i hardware, System i software

There have been plenty of arguments for and against putting System i on a blade server. Proponents say that being able to have their i, p and x86 servers all in one BladeCenter chassis is a big selling point. Detractors worry that I/O performance won’t be the same on a blade, or that System i shops in general don’t really need the small-form factor of the blade.

But as Chris Maxcer points out in his talk with IBM business partner Sirius, interest in the i blade has been high so far, but sales are low. Why? Well, when you get to the end of the post, it seems that maybe it’s just because System i blades are still in their infancy. IBM announced the first i blade at the beginning of April, so we’re only a couple months in.

Because it’s early on, configurations are limited. Users can get IBM i (formerly i5/OS) on the JS12 blade, which has a single dual-core Power chip, or the JS22 blade, which has two dual-core Power chips. Even there, though, there is some confusion on IBM’s own website regarding the JS22. While one Power blade overview site mentions support for IBM i on the JS22, the more detailed server specs page says nothing about IBM i support. In the end it doesn’t matter that much — if JS22 supports IBM i, then it supports it. But there could be some confusion in the meantime from users (or nosy reporters) browsing the site.

Maxcer also quotes Sirius as saying that there essentially needs to be a trifecta for a user to want to buy i blades. One, they have to be an i user. Second, they should probably already be running blades and have a BladeCenter chassis on the ready (with empty slots, of course). And finally, Sirius said the user would also have to have DS4000 or DS8000 external storage server.

One final note on the post: At the end, we find out that Sirius is actually bullish on i blades, with the director of System i and x products at the company saying that “(i)n the future, five-to-ten years, it’s going to be widely adopted.”


June 5, 2008  10:52 AM

Necessity leads to iSeries Watchdog development



Posted by: Leah Rosin
iSeries software, Open Source, System management

Necessity is the mother of invention. And so, many System i shops will find themselves inventing new applications to perform necessary business functions. This practice is not limited to end-users, but includes vendors using the AS400 to develop applications and provide support for businesses running i. First Option Inc. is one such shop. In “spare time,” the company developed a java-based monitoring application that collects key health indicators of an AS400. Released in April 2008, the iSeries Watchdog application’s evolution and development story is shared here in a Q&A with First Option president, Paul Fuller.

Could you describe the specific circumstances of the internal problem that your company was having that led to the development of the Watchdog program?

We have service level agreements (SLAs) that require our iSeries box to be up 24 x 7 x 365, and we need to ensure that if there is a problem we address it immediately. There are financial penalties if we do not resolve problems in a specific period of time. Prior to Watchdog, the systems were checked manually. This presented two problems: 1) Operators were involved in the manual checking rather than other billable activities — resulting in reduced revenue. 2) The manual method was not scalable (i.e., more boxes mean more people). We looked at the existing packages on the market and they were too expensive. We had a very basic need and we did not want to purchase additional products in order to make the monitoring software run. We are a software development shop, so why not build it ourselves!

Why Java? Was this the immediate solution, or did it just happen to work well? Did you consider other options?

Java was the immediate solution for the front end interface. We had in-house expertise and it is platform independent. Using Java also allowed us to work with open source tools. We had not worked with Java Persistence API (JPA), Spring or LDAP on the iSeries but had been reading a lot about them in the Trades. Since we are a Java/RPG shop, we wanted to try out some new technologies and frameworks. So, this was a perfect opportunity to solve an internal need and further develop our consulting skill set.

For the back end, the programs that gather key health indicators are RPG service programs. In terms of data access, we let the iSeries do what it does best, crunch data. Additionally, the type of information we needed to gather was iSeries-specific so it did not make a lot of sense to use Java because it was already tied to the platform.

How long did it take to develop the Watchdog program?

We started in November 2007 of last year. The application was developed on nights and weekends so we did not finish it until March 2008. Had we been working on it full-time, it probably would have taken a couple of months.

What problems did you encounter along the way? (Were there work-arounds or problems that you had to deal with?)

We did have a few problems. We wanted to use a tool to generate JPA entities from SQL tables. The tool needed to run on the latest version of Eclipse so we had to abandon WebSphere development studio client (WDSC) and go with Eclipse in order to use the tool. We also used the IBM Interrogated application server released in January of 2008. There was not a lot of documentation and/or knowledge regarding this product. So, we had to engage IBM in order to resolve some of these problems. The LDAP web based interface was not available on WebSphere 6.1 so we had to find an alternate tool to create schemas and enter test data.

There are similar products available — why didn’t you invest in one of the competitor’s products instead of spending the time and energy developing your own?

There are definitely some very good products on the market that have some of the same functionality. As I mentioned above, we thought the products were too expensive and did not like the front end. The interface to the user was either green screen or a very difficult to read dashboard. Also, you had to purchase the software that had a traditional price based model — the larger the model and processing group, the more expensive the software. We would have had to purchase software maintenance in addition to the upfront cost. Some of the products also required purchasing additional third-party products in order from them to work.

What size company is Watchdog preferable for?

We are providing this software as a service (SaaS). We will establish a secured connection to the customer, install a client on their iSeries which will gather the monitoring data and configure the alert system as well as provide the Web Services to send the data to a First Option Inc. server. We charge a monthly fee that includes rental of the client software and the graphical front end. The rental fee is not based on the iSeries model or processor group and you do not have to buy software maintenance.

We think this will appeal to small- to medium-sized businesses that require a solid monitoring system for a price that makes business sense. We can also bundle a remote monitoring service that will respond and resolve problems on the iSeries. This allows small- to medium-sized businesses to focus on their core business not running a System Operations Group.

I started in the software development business writing code on a S36. The most overwhelming change over the past 20 years is the number of options available to develop and deploy software. From the creation of the development environment to the deployment of the application on a production server, there are a number of products to install and integrate. It’s easy to get lost in the technology and lose focus on the business need. It is extremely important to engage an experienced development team who understands that the requirement is always a superior software product to support your business need.


May 23, 2008  12:09 PM

Pay for System i admins



Posted by: Leah Rosin
Education/training, System i careers

With the recent comments in response to the recent blog post concerning the H-1B visas, I began to wonder what the System i job market really looks like. Many shared that it’s hard to get a good-paying job in this market.

For comparison, as an editor, the market I compete in is more broad in some ways than the IT market, but the pressures on my field include the proliferation of the blogosphere and the dwindling magazine and newspaper market. Also, because I am not located in a major metropolitan area, the actual availability of jobs in my field is more limited than if I was in New York, Boston, or Los Angeles. So, a few years ago, all of these factors led me to be interested in a web site that tells you how you stack up against others in your job field, PayScale.com. I filled out the form and the site produced a nifty graphic, showing where my salary ranked compared to others with similar experience, similar education, and similar job title.

So a few days ago, PayScale.com sent an automated message to my Inbox, asking me to check in. I did, and found I was above the average for my field, in the 60th percentile even. So, if you want to know how you stack up, start with the Salary Calculator.

According to their blog post The Nine Fastest Growing Careers for 2008, IT and Healthcare are the hot markets. And “demand is especially high for IT professionals with both management and technology skills.”

Check it out and share your results (no actual salary numbers needed): What percentile do you fall in? Did that surprise you? Does information like this affect your career planning (e.g., looking for a new job that pays more, staying happy in your current position)? Are you more likely to seek more training or certification if you think it will improve your salary?


May 14, 2008  3:22 PM

SaaS on System i?



Posted by: Mark Fontecchio
System i software, Web Development

A few years ago, Salesforce.com came out with a product called AppExchange that allowed independent software vendors to host their applications on Salesforce.com for customers to use. It’s the software as a service (SaaS) approach that there is a lot of talk — and some think a lot of hype — around.

I mention this because Magic Software, a System i vendor that develops products around helping IT run in sync with business goals. Last week, the company announced that one of its signature products, iBOLT, would be offered on Salesforce.com.

Of course this leads me to wonder about whether there are a lot of System i companies out there that are Salesforce.com customers, and in particular if they use Salesforce.com for SaaS purposes.

I looked around and noticed that J.D. Edwards, one of the biggest System i ISVs, is also part of the site, and that Salesforce.com is definitely pitching the idea of being able to do SaaS of any kind of so-called “legacy” systems through them.

We asked a few of our experts what experience they may have had running SaaS products on i, and a few responded that they didn’t have experience. So generally speaking, we can safely assume that this is still pretty new. However, Jim Mason of ebt-now shared that he has worked with customers on Salesforce.com using standard ETL tools Informatica and Data Stage which essentially do the same thing that iBolt does.

When asked about any concerns about user friendliness and security when using a product like iBolt, Mason responded,

“If you are trying to do the replication real-time, experience has shown high variances in actual performance often over the Web and proprietary networks. Properly done, security shouldn’t be an issue. Like many good ETL tools, iBolt appears to minimize programming by using visual editors to create the data maps between the data source and the data target.”

He also elaborated that the advantage and attractiveness of a product such as iBolt includes the decreased technical skill requirements to operate the program compared to locally-installed programs. However, he also noted that “debugging connection or performance problems to an SaaS application can be challenging, even for the vendors.”

With the growth in popularity of cloud computing, Mason thinks that SaaS products have a growing role to play. In fact, he’s banking on it. His company is rolling out SaaS web solutions for small businesses in the coming year that will focus on online Web collaboration without programming, simple Web stores with simple data transfers for item catalog and sales data, online web meetings and collaboration tools, and online Web databases and applications that can be synchronized with local databases using export/import in batch mode.

Magic has some customer testimonials, but I’m curious if there’s anyone else out there who is using Salesforce.com, and in what capacity. And if not, why not.

Associate Editor Leah Rosin contributed much of this report.


May 5, 2008  4:01 PM

Share your thoughts with IBM



Posted by: Leah Rosin
COMMON, Disaster recovery, High availability

In 2007, the Common Europe “Top Concerns” survey found that people in the AS/400 user community were most concerned about high availability and disaster recovery. Common shared the results with IBM, and received this response from Mark Shearer, Vice President Marketing and Offerings, IBM Business Systems Group:

“Thank you very much for sharing the results of the Top Concerns Survey. It’s very helpful to have the collective views and priorities from the COMMON Europe members. I’ve forwarded this information to my executive team to factor in to our overall product and business plans as appropriate.”

This year, in addition to the “on the spot” survey conducted during the opening session of Common Europe Congress, all AS400 users are invited to share their thoughts via a web survey on the challenges they will be facing in the coming years. An iPod nano will be sent to a web winner each from North America, Europe and Australasia along with three other prizes awarded for survey respondents at the conference.

We know you have opinions, so share them now — the survey closes May 9, 2008.


May 1, 2008  10:20 AM

AS/400 Careers: Too few jobs or too few workers?



Posted by: Leah Rosin
Education/training, System i careers

I received a few emails last week in the editor@search400.com inbox concerning jobs. One was an inquiry looking to post a job to a “job board” or similar feature on our web site (we do not have such a feature, and instead partner with Monster and Dice). Another was from an iSeries worker who was currently between jobs in Atlanta, GA., looking for a new position. At the end of the week, I received an email from another 400 head-hunter passing along a press release regarding the H1-B visa program.

I am sure we have all seen headlines regarding the H-1B visas, with lobbyists testifying at Congressional hearings about the need to expand the number of H-1B visas and thus the number of qualified workers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. One of the leading proponents of expanding the program is Microsoft founder, Bill Gates, who testified to Congress about the need for more “innovation” in the United States.

“While America’s innovation heritage is unparalleled, the evidence is mounting that we are failing to make the investments in our young people, our workers, our scientific research infrastructure, and our economy that will enable us to retain our global innovation leadership,” said Gates. “If the United States truly wants to secure its global leadership in technology innovation, we must, as a nation, commit to a strategy for innovation excellence – a set of initiatives and policies that will provide the foundation for American competitive strength in the years ahead.”

Top on his list was strengthening educational opportunities for US school children. But next was “Revamping immigration rules for highly skilled workers, so that U.S. companies can attract and retain the world’s best scientific talent.”

The press release that was forwarded from the head-hunter regarded a study by Norman Matloff, professor of computer science at University of California – Davis, who disagrees with the notion that foreign workers provide “innovation” to the United States. His recent study, H-1Bs: Still Not the Best and the Brightest, argues that foreign workers are “are people of just ordinary talent, doing ordinary work. They are not the innovators the industry lobbyists portray them to be.”

Other controversies surrounding the H-1B issue include fraud assessment of the H1-B visa program, which has been spearheaded by Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). In 2007, Grassley partnered with Senator Dick Durbin (R-Ill.) on a bill to overhaul the HB-1 visa program.

This controversy has been in the news for the past year, but what does this mean to you? Are you like the reader I heard from: an IT professional who is having a hard time finding a good paying job? Or are you a recruiter having difficulty filling positions? Do you think this is just anti-immigrant hype? Please share your thoughts.


April 23, 2008  6:00 PM

More user feedback on the i operating system name change



Posted by: Mark Fontecchio
Operating systems, System i software

So far the feedback on renaming the operating system from i5/OS to i or IBM i has overall been mixed, although there are some detractors who have some strong opinions. This one comes directly from an IT employee from an Arizona-based general contracting company:

Changing the name of the operating system to just “i” is just another idiotic idea from IBM, probably initiated by the same stupid “marketing geniuses” that dreamt up the latest super dumb campaign starring brainless “Gil” and his young clueless “geek” buddy, whose name (thankfully) escapes me.

IBM could have at least dropped the “5″ and made it i/OS or or i-OS or OS/i or OSi or something beyond just the single letter “i.”

Are they going to now change z/OS to z??

Fictitious scenario, similar to Abbott and Costello’s “Who’s on First” :

  1. What operating system do you run ? i.
  2. I what ? Just i.
  3. Just you ? No, not me – i.
  4. (repeat 2 and 3 above, ad infinitum)

Who would be stupid enough to choose a non-capitalized first-person pronoun to represent absolutely anything (beyond its normal English meaning/usage) ?

Lastly, the really nice thing (not), is that until IBM either reverses this name change or until the next (inevitable) name change, everyone in the AS/400 (yes, I said it) community gets to perpetually respond to their Microsoft Outlook client spell-check feature (F7) to “Ignore” every instance of i.

Even enclosing the i inside quotation marks still “throws” a “Not in Dictionary:” error. The only viable alternative is to tell spell-checker to “Add” “i” to its dictionary, after which the spell-checker forever loses its ability to find a bona-fide yet accidental neglect to capitalize a legitimate reference to one’s self, via the pronoun I. Between the above two choices, I will begrudgingly be forced to continually inform spell-checker to “Ignore” every occurrence of an i (to refer to the OS).

Even though no other words — other than “i” — in this e-mail are misspelled, it still took me about 15 seconds to respond “Ignore” to all of the occurrences of i in this e-mail. Hopefully, IBM’s bone-head decision to call the operating system “i”, will cause it to spend many thousands of dollars when its own employees are forced to do the same.

Most disheartening is that (to my knowledge) the user-community wasn’t even queried for suggestions as to whether to change the name or, given a name change, what to call it. They could have even made a contest out of it, and given away a “blade” (or would that be an i-blade?).

Don’t take this personally, because I know it’s not your doing; however please feel free to forward it to anyone in IBM who 1) would care; and 2) would actually be instrumental in rectifying this mistake (like that could/will happen).

Thanks for taking the time to read this.


April 21, 2008  9:40 AM

Remembering Mr. 400



Posted by: Leah Rosin
COMMON, Education/training

As most first days go, my first day at Search400.com was a whirlwind of activity. In the mix was my discovery of the passing of AS/400 guru Al Barsa. I perused the Common website for information on what products had been released at the recent event and came across a press release from Common. My naïveté about the meaning of this news quickly passed as I read remembrances left by friends and colleagues on www.mr400.com and other AS/400-related blogs.

Quickly realizing what Al meant to this close-knit community, I contacted the folks at Common and asked whether anyone could share thoughts about Al. Understandably, Common members’ emotions were still quite fresh, as I’m sure they are for some of you. So while this post arrives two weeks after the fact, we wanted to address Al’s passing with respect and sensitivity.

Bob Krzeczowski, a Common board of director member, shared these thoughts:

I did not know Al Barsa extremely well. Al and I spoke at conferences, and I had several conversations with him at the conference in Nashville and shared a few jokes. I first heard Al speak at a Common conference, what seems like a very long time ago, and learned a tremendous amount at every session of his that I attended. He was an excellent speaker and communicator about this system platform, for which he had so much passion. I also learned a great deal from him in conversation at social events, where I also got to know about his sense of humor and his ability to listen to what you had to say. Al could certainly do that, and was more than willing to tell you what he thought about any subject.

On Monday morning at this past conference I did a small errand for the education office – I took some additional evaluation forms down to one of Al’s sessions about midday. Imagine that – one of Al’s sessions had blown out the handout count. I stuck around and handed out the additional session evaluation forms, and when almost everyone was gone, I walked up to the front of the session room to let Al know that they had gotten distributed and left a few up front in case we had missed someone. Al was in deep conversation with a group of the session attendees but looked over at me and, with that very matter of fact voice of his, said, “I think I gave my worst presentation at Common ever, this morning.” I looked at Al, and responded pretty quickly and simply said, “Well Al, you at your worst is still pretty darn good.” I meant every word of it. Al looked me right in the eye for a moment, stopped, and just said, “Why thank you Bob Krzeczowski,” and went back to his conversation.

I was very glad I ran that little errand. Al Barsa will be missed.

 

Clearly, Al will be missed. But his contribution to the 400 community will not end any time soon. If you would like to help carry on his spirit and enthusiasm for educating 400 users, you can donate to the Al Barsa Memorial Scholarship.

 

 


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