The iSeries Blog

May 14, 2009  1:39 PM

RJS Software: We’re not just a System i vendor

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

Ah, is this really a good sign? RJS Software, which has long sold its product as being a System i product, is now out there pitching its report and document software on other platforms. Take a look:

I just returned from the COMMON 2009 conference in Reno and the main thing I learned from listening to IBM at the opening conference is that they no longer consider the iSeries more than just an OS running on a Power systems box. Why is this a significant event ? Well, we’re starting to see a small although very real shift from some customers towards selecting ERP and other business systems that run on platforms that don’t include OS/400.

While RJS will always remain committed to the native iSeries platform we want to make sure our customers know that even if they do select another platform, our document imaging, electronic forms, workflow and report delivery products are all very capable products running in an iSeries or Multiplatform environment as well. Hopefully for those of you committed to the iSeries, you will be on the platform a long time, but if Windows or some other platform is in your future, feel free to give us a call and we can discuss how your information delivery investment is protected by continuing to choose RJS as your valued information delivery provider.

That’s called survival, and can you really blame RJS Software for doing this?

May 14, 2009  1:33 PM

More talk on COMMON’s future

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

There has been a rigorous and healthy discussion about the future of COMMON on the Internet in the past couple weeks, in light of the fact that the COMMON board of directors recently announced it would have to make some cutbacks.

By far the cutback people are talking about most is the reduction of compensation to volunteer speakers — whether that be in the form of a free registration, paying for travel and hotel, or other expenses. Jon Paris and Susan Gantner wrote on the topic, which garnered a host of comments touching on the speaking issue.

“I don’t think COMMON realizes how much they are milking the speakers to date,” wrote Aaron Bartell, an IT consultant for System i. “Not only do we get little compensation, but it is lost wages that I am just as concerned about. For example, for the five sessions I gave at COMMON I probably spent a total of 5 to 6hrs per session.”

Bartell added that he also doesn’t have “much use for the ‘COMMON Credits,’ that cover my registration costs because I don’t have a lot of time to attend other sessions.”

Scott Klement, an IT manager and COMMON speaker, had a point to add:

At this conference, there were approx 130 speakers, and (this is a guess, I don’t have any real numbers) perhaps 600 attendees. That’s just speakers, not counting the myriad of other volunteers. Consider that ratio! COMMON definitely needs to trim the fat — they need to reduce spending on volunteers. But they need to do that by reducing the number of sessions, and by limiting the number of volunteer positions.

Cut quantity, but do not sacrifice quality.

I think Klement hits on a good point here. It’s clear that COMMON needs to reduce the number of sessions, but is its approach to doing that the right one? With this kind of cutting, the only people that might be able to speak at future COMMON conferences will be mostly vendors. Now, it’s not necessarily a bad thing to have vendor speakers. But to have only vendors speaking is not good. End users don’t go to COMMON to get sales pitches all day, every day. They go to learn.

So there are a few things I think COMMON could do to keep costs down but still make it a valuable experience for users:

  • There should be limited vendor-led sessions that focus on products.
  • Vendor sessions that include an end user case study should get better priority. Over and above that, vendor-led sessions that also include the end user as a speaker should get first priority. Vendors should be expected to pay for the end user’s travel expenses, if necessary.
  • COMMON should pay for the travel and expenses of key end users — in particular, end users that are receiving awards from COMMON that year, and maybe end users that were award finalists as well. And those end users should lead sessions.

Any other ideas?

May 12, 2009  4:42 PM

Web development on IBM i, what’s important to learn?

Leah Rosin Leah Rosin Profile: Leah Rosin

On my way to COMMON in Reno, Nev. I happened to be sitting in a seat near another attendee. He found out who I was and unleashed a series of questions about IBM i, specifically with an interest in figuring out how to prioritize the sessions he would attend at the meeting. Some reading and past initiatives had left him a bit bewildered as to what development tools he should focus on learning, and which were disappearing into the ether. I passed the questions on to a couple of our site contributors, Jim Mason and Andrew Borts, as well as COMMON attendee and owner and founder, David Gibbs.

Is IBM’s WebFacing Tool replaced now by HATS, or has it been de-emphasized, or is something else going on?

Borts: WebFacing is now enhanced by HATS – or Host Access Transform Services. This isn’t your mothers “Screen Scraping” software. This is a server based system that takes 3270/5250 applications (e.g., “legacy”) using a macro language with the screen’s behind them and can serve them on a multitude of clients including mobile phones, Firefox, smart phones, and more – not just Web. This option should be considered any time a legacy application needs a little kick for the user communities, giving the ability to make Web-based screens more logical for the users.

Mason: Changes in IBM product managers change strategies. To use WebFacing and HATS now you have to license the server from IBM. HATS is the default dynamic translation of 5250 screens for the Web. You can do customization of screens with WebFacing tools and deploy the customized screens.

Is the “Rational” product something I need to use, or is it more for larger projects that involve multiple people developing and testing?

Borts: Rational Software Solutions were designed to manage large software projects where change control, requirements management, and QA management are combined.

Mason: Rational products are purchased. They are also an option. You don’t need to buy them if you don’t want to. The alternative to RDI for building RPG applications is to do it the old way using SEU and the RPG compiler. The alternative to Rational Application Developer for i to build Web applications is using the free Eclipse BIRT or Web Tools suites. With these, you can do Web reporting, build Web applications, Web services etc.

Is RPG ILE also not a major emphasis anymore? I read the paper by Sharon Hoffman from 2006 that seemed to say the direction was away from RPG and toward JAVA. Does that say time would be better spent working with JAVA than RPG?

Borts: Well, yes and no. Yes, if you have the time and energy, Java is an emerging technology and anything written has some relationship to it. But, learning all the Web technologies – starting with HTML and Javascript, then after those skills are learned (not perfected) you can address the Web technologies such as AJAX applications utilizing CGI back-end software such as RPG (which can run CGI applications), Net.Data, Java (via JSP) and PHP can serve on an iSeries. Ajax allows for partial page refreshes, which makes a Web browser to act more like a PC application. RPG has had major enhancements over the past few years. We have RPG FREE, which is being used more and more (I call this language Java Junior cause it looks like Java!).

Mason: IBM doesn’t have a direction for development for System i. They have options. Sometimes they push one more than the other but there is not a clear strategic direction, just choices available. Your choices are RPG, PHP and Java.

RPG is fine for traditional RPG applications. Despite IBM’s attempts to do better, it’s not a great choice to do Web, Web services or XML applications – newer Java tools are much better.

PHP is a decent environment for building basic Web applications and more and it has good access to i5 OS features in the PHP toolkit for System i. the PHP runtime is OK.

Traditional Java development for i5 OS uses either Rational or Eclipse Web or BIRT tools and the Java Toolkit for the System i. Eclipse and the Java toolkit are both free and very good choices. Java runtime is better than PHP. Now Java development has moved ahead of other options with Groovy and Grails. New Java based on Groovy/Grails is easier to learn and faster to build many types of applications than the other choices. I’ll start covering more on Groovy/Grails for System i in search400 and the Virtual WebSphere Community Edition user group. You can find out general Groovy info and Grails info at the linked websites. I did a hands-on lab at COMMON building a Grails Web database application that created, updated, searched books and authors in a database. All students were RPG with no Web experience and completed the lab in one hour. I also do QuickWeb workshops for companies trying to make transitions to Web technologies quickly.

Gibbs: IMO, RPG and Java best work hand in hand. Java (JSP, servlets) work best for the general user interface with RPG doing the heavy lifting for database and business rules.

How many of these products cost extra? Web application Server? Rational Developer?

Borts: As far as costs, you can serve a Web page with an IBM i for free – all built in. However, many technologies are free. PHP, Net.Data, and CGI are all technologies that require no money up front to load onto the AS/400. Net.Data is actually supplied with the operating system, then RPG CGI can be downloaded from G.B. Peroti’s Web site,, then PHP can be installed on ANY i5 with V5R4 and above (V5R3 is back level supported, but not as many toys as Version meant for V5R4) for free – which fits into any budget. JSP pages can be served using Tomcat, which is supplied with the iSeries in the base OS. To run WebSphere, you need a paid license for the developer seat, and the server.

Mason: Rational tools cost more. The Eclipse suites (based on new Galileo base) for BIRT and Web tools are free. You also need to copy the jt400.jar file from the IFS folder. It connects Java to everything on the System i.

Your application server choices include WebSphere (billable), Apache Tomcat (free) and IBM WebSphere Community Edition (a full JEE server that is free but has options for IBM support plans if you need it for your production environments).

If you ever have questions that you would like to get a few opinions on, don’t forget that you can ask them via IT Knowledge Exchange, or ask a question of a specific expert or send me an email and I’ll shepherd it to the appropriate folks to provide you with answers. Also, please add your input on these questions below.

April 30, 2009  4:46 PM

COMMON board reveals financial situation at meeting of members

Leah Rosin Leah Rosin Profile: Leah Rosin

COMMON president, Randy Dufault presented the organization’s dire financial situation at the meeting of members on Tuesday afternoon at the COMMON 2009 Annual Meeting and Exposition.

“If we were to do nothing at this point, at the end of 2009 COMMON would suffer an 800,000 dollar loss,” said Dufault. “Needless to say, an 834,000 loss, even though we have an incredibly healthy reserve… that would put us in a real untenable position.”

He explained that the plan for the 2010 conference would include the following changes:

  • 15 session rooms (instead of the 20+ at the conference this year).
  • Cut the total days of educational sessions from five to four, which cuts the number of sessions from about 500 to ~320
  • Cut Expo from three days to two
  • Cut out one evening social event (unless sponsorship is found)
  • Reduce the size of the final “main event” (unless sponsorship is found
  • Reduce lab rooms down to one
  • Suspend subsidies for guest program
  • Suspend Communication and Networking volunteer budget
  • Suspend Leadership and Advocacy volunteer budget
  • Reduce the budget for the volunteer Strategic Education Team
  • Create a volunteer registration rate, no more free passes for volunteers
  • Speakers with one session will be eligible for volunteer rate, and speakers with two-five sessions would get 25% off registration
  • and more…

Dufault shared that even with the cuts that are planned, the projected loss would still be about $582,000 in 2009 and a lost of $139,000 in 2010.

This news was a lot to take for the members, and the feel of the meeting had already been a bit melancholy as Dufault made a gesture of remembrance for Al Barsa Jr. that he was barely able to complete and which left much of the room struggling to keep composure.

Members stepped up to the microphones and asked a host of questions, expressing thanks to the board and the COMMON staff for setting up the meeting and being so honest with them. Some shared suggestions of means to growing the interest in the meeting through college recruitment and expanded outreach efforts. Others clarified the cuts to volunteer perks and asked that the board open up more to get the community involved in coming up with more creative ideas. One Orlando, Fla., resident and COMMON member lambasted the cuts, pointing out that you can’t grow your revenue while making cuts. Some expressed concern that the value of the program would diminish with the cuts to sessions, and thus, less people would attend. All of this left members and myself thinking about what could be done differently to attract more attendance and improve the chances of the organization’s survival.

Earlier in the day I had attended the first-timer’s social meeting, which was a chance for fist-time attendees to give their feedback on the meeting and share their suggestions for improvements to the program. One thing that some people expressed was that some of the technical sessions were too advanced, and they felt lost.

Time for my two-cents: Perhaps COMMON’s education committee could take this advice and work to create specific learning tracks that would be more attractive to first-time attendees. In a coordinated effort between speakers, attendees could start at a introductory level and take classes on a specific topic area through an advanced level. Some speakers taught a series of classes this year that aimed to accomplish this, but because of scheduling and perhaps a lack of emphasis on the marketing side that this was being done, some new attendees may have missed out on this. If COMMON wants to recruit more attendees, perhaps creating these one or two-day mini-courses on a specific topic would be beneficial.

The other thought I have is a question: Is this IBM’s fault? Did their rebranding efforts and lack of effective marketing vision for the platform cause dwindling interest in educational activities around the IBM i? (What do you think?)

The last attendee to step up to the mic was Justin Porter, the cheerleader and representative to the COMMON board from YiPs (and a name you should get used to seeing in the IBM i community). Porter gave an uplifting and passionate short speech about educational outreach, encouraging IBM i professionals around the country to reach out to local colleges and universities and spread the word of i. Not a bad idea.

Scott Klement has been vlogging (that’s video blogging) from the event all week, and his video from yesterday includes the key part of Dufault’s presentation, and his own personal reaction to the announcement.

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What do you think? Will you be able to attend COMMON with these changes? If you haven’t attended COMMON, why not? What would make attending worthwhile for you?

April 29, 2009  7:41 PM

Legacy AS/400 meets the future of IBM i at COMMON 2009

Leah Rosin Leah Rosin Profile: Leah Rosin

While at COMMON, the push-pull of new versus old technologies for the IBM i (AS/400, iSeries, System i) has been an underlying theme. Trevor Perry’s recent assertion that IBM’s marketing of the i could kill the system sets the stage for the discussion. His experience has been shared at the conference and has been debated. On Tuesday I had a couple of great conversations and learned more about a couple of new products that are looking to the future.

The first is Zend PHP Server, which takes DB2 400 to the Web. Mike Pavlak demonstrates Zend PHP tools: Zend Core, Zend Studio for Eclipse, and Zend Platform.

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Halcyon Software’s John Dominic, Channel Manager, shared the Systems Management Suite enterprise console interface and the message communicator product that allows two-way communication from a mobile device to the AS/400.

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(When Halcyon wasn’t using their flat-screen to show how their products worked, they were challenging attendees to ski jumping on a Wii Fit that the winner got to take home).
Continued »

April 28, 2009  2:45 PM

A taste of COMMON: ILE, IBM releases, Web applications and new products

Leah Rosin Leah Rosin Profile: Leah Rosin

Day two at COMMON 2009 is under my belt, and the level of news and information was again a bit more than I could take in.

COMMON educational session tidbits
I attended a session at 8 AM (without coffee) on “Taking Advantage of Capacity on Demand” for POWER Systems. The session was led by Mark W. Olson, an IBM Power Systems World Wide Product Manager out of Rochester, Minn. I didn’t know what I was getting in for — maybe I should have read the abstract:

This session digs into how IBM’s Capacity on Demand offerings really work for the Model 570 and 595 processors and memory starting with how they are ordered all the way through how they are paid for. Topics include temporary and permanent activations of processors and memory, contractual requirements, pre-pay or post-pay, trial capacity, how to enable, and more.

On the bright side, if you want to know if you should get the daily or minute-based capacity on demand offering from IBM, just ask me and I’m a fount of knowledge. The session was likely useful for those considering paying for more capacity for their 570 or 595 Power Systems, but it didn’t answer what I consider the first step question, which is: Do I really need more processing power, or are there other tweaks to performance I can make? Again, no fault of Mark’s, just my own lack of reading comprehension.
Continued »

April 27, 2009  6:21 AM

COMMON 2009 annual meeting off to a running start

Leah Rosin Leah Rosin Profile: Leah Rosin

I awoke today in Reno, Nev., to register and cheer on the participants in COMMON User Group‘s first 5k run/walk for charity. Some were surprised by the brisk morning air, but the 20+ who participated enjoyed the opportunity to get out of the confines of the Grand Sierra and stretch their legs for a good cause.

COMMON User Group 5k charity runners
First place runner Hany Elemary of Profound Logic Software (right), and event organizer, ringer and marathon runner Dan Kimmel (left), RJS Software and COMMON Treasurer finish up the last portion of the course near the Truckee River before heading to the finish line.

I stood somewhere close to the 4k marker and cheered on the participants while visiting with a couple of attendees who had volunteered to help monitor the course. As we were walking back, I found out I was talking to IBM i educator, Jim Sloan, who shared that his newest CL programming book was published in January. For my networking purposes, this was perfect, and we discussed getting a chapter excerpt for publication on so you to get a preview of this resource. Based on some of the reader questions I receive, I know some of you may find this book really helpful.

Speaking of resources, I needed to see what sessions I should check out at the meeting, and started looking through the ambitious schedule of 500 educational events. Some at COMMON have used the term “technical information fire hose” to describe the event, and I have to say, it’s a fairly accurate analogy. I sat down to plot my course for Monday and discovered that there are two dozen concurrent sessions during each time block to choose from!
Continued »

April 22, 2009  4:57 PM

Twittering from the IBM i?

Leah Rosin Leah Rosin Profile: Leah Rosin

I’ve been on Twitter since January 2009 (LeahRosin), and have tried to use the social networking site to gain and share information on the IT areas that I cover for TechTarget, as well as emerging technology, breaking IT news, and some personal interests and hobbies.

Thus it was with much interest that I read a press release I received from Kisco System’s Rich Loeber, announcing SNDTWEET, a new Twitter interface designed specifically for System i. My first thought was: Don’t most System i shops also have non IBM i workstations that employees use? But, my thinking was limited by how I happen to use Twitter. Rich is suggesting that Twitter may be a useful system monitoring tool.

  • You can add the SNDTWEET to your CL programs to send out notifications when the program is done or when error situations are encountered.
  • You can set up a program to monitor your system operator message queue. If a message is sent that requires a response, your monitoring program can react by sending a Tweet to put your following users on notice that there is a problem.
  • You may have a situation where you want to “watch” file update activity for a critical file or for a file that should not normally be updated. You could implement a file trigger program for the watched file and then have that trigger program submit a Tweet when update activity (or delete activity, etc) takes place.

Well, that sounds way more useful than learning that fellow AS/400 enthusiast Mike Wills’ “4-yo loves AniMatch.” (To be fair, Wills frequently offers more useful information than that. I was digging to find a silly AS/400 user tweet.) In truth, despite the “Oprah Twitter bump,” there aren’t a lot of System i users on Twitter yet. Some of you may agree with Aaron Bartell’s recent blog post (a Twittering chair) and may not have found a real use-case for it yet.

But perhaps this Twittering thing will catch on, and you will set up your System i to tell you how it’s doing. What do you think?

More System i Tweeps
David Gibbs
Mark Fontecchio

April 9, 2009  1:34 PM

IBM not marketing System i technology as it should

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

Trevor Perry has a belated analysis of the merger between System i and System p into Power Systems, but it comes about because of a recent trip he made in South Africa last month. Bottom line: Perry thinks System i folks need to stop talking about the name, and IBM needs to market the System i technology on equal footing with AIX and the former System p brand.

IBM also promised us that there would be marketing of Power Systems with all three OSs mentioned – AIX, IBM i and Linux. This promise remains unfulfilled on the outside of IBM, with no apparent marketing to support the premise that IBM i is the OS “for business”. Even the Power Systems home page at IBM does not show the three logos together.

It is no wonder that IBM i continues to be pushed out the door. Most people consider the AS/400 to be old and worthy of replacing with non-IBM i systems. Our community indulges themselves in the safety net of calling it an AS/400, only to find themselves without a job, and without a future.

Do we still have time to restore IBM i to the glory of the legacy it has left? Probably not… But we ~can~ turn around the impression that we work on an OLD system, with OLD tools, building OLD applications.

In South Africa, Perry spoke with companies still stuck with AS/400s, coding like it is still 1999, and in general, not keeping up with modern technology. As a result, one IT director there felt he had two options — outsourcing the System i work or moving to a Java-based application infrastructure. Since the first is hard to come by, that leaves the second.

And that leaves the AS/400 on the verge of falling off the map there. Perry said the midrange presence has been “decimated” there in the last few years, estimating that only about 10% of AS/400, iSeries and System i servers still remain.

“New Power Systems may be sold there, but the IBM i operating system seems to be making no headway,” Perry wrote.

April 9, 2009  11:25 AM

Another System i “fireside chat” today

Mark Fontecchio Mark Fontecchio Profile: Mark Fontecchio

The Common user group is hosting another webcast, which it dubs fireside chats, at its iSociety Web site. It happens later today, at 1pm Eastern, so if you’re interested, sign up quickly. Here are the details:

  • What: iSociety Fireside Chat
  • Who: Ted Holt, IT manager of manufacturing systems development for Day-Brite Lighting and writer of the Four Hundred Guru column on IT Jungle.
  • Topic: A follow-up to a webcast Holt did on Tuesday titled “30 SQL Tips in 60 Minutes.”

It will be a Q&A format where listeners will be able to pose questions directly to Holt. Some links: details on the chat, how to access the chat, and how to join iSociety (which you need to do to listen to the chat).

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