Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The 3-year CIO vs. IBM i: PHP to the rescue!

So are you staying on the IBM i? With downturned economies, abandoned maintenance renewals, layoffs and slashed budgets I wonder if you will stick with IBM i. We have all known for years that the TCA (Total Cost of Acquisition) for IBM i is not terribly competitive while the TCO (Total Cost of Ownership) is more in line with what you might pay for a real server or server farm. But the advent of server virtualization and more and more ubiquitous software in the Linux and Windows realm have made a serious dent in that philosophy. I wonder, are you staying on IBM i?

For years I have worked with the local user group in Chicago called The Omni User. Just in my tenure we have had countless speakers come from all parts of the IBM i community and geography. Folks like Alison Butterill, Al Grega, Jon Paris and Susan Gantner, Randall Munson, Larry Bolhuis and many, many more. Even I have picked up a session or two at a dinner meeting or one-day conference. But some years ago I recall a keynote at one of our annual conferences given by Dr. Frank Soltis. It was truly one of the more memorable presentations I have seen in a while. I must say I have gleaned quite a bit from his books and talks that I now know the folks there as well as my own kids! And, I rarely miss the opportunity to see him talk. One of my favorites was a COMMON opening session when he came out, placed his laptop down on the table, opened it and showed everyon in the audience the Apple logo on the front. The crowd went wild and his only response was: “of course you would expect I am going to run something reliable…”

At the Omni event, Dr. Frank was discussing the R&D group of IBM Rochester. He was talking about all the wonderful things being developed behind the scenes. All of it sounded exciting and then he made a point about Windows and Microsoft. The point he made was that IBM Rochester could not sit back and the could not sleep, that they absolutely HAD to focus on bringing new solutions to the market because Microsoft would eventually catch up. He said that Microsoft would eventually put out an OS that did not require daily reboots and weekly patches. Well, maybe he was half right. The folks at Microsoft have come out with better server software and now own the lion’s share of the server market. Dr Frank is a tremendous observer.

So I wonder, will you stay on IBM i? Has the Intel space captured you, even a little? Usually it starts out with a file server, something that is rather small and harmless. Then you discover the benefits of Active Directory and think “OK, What’s a couple more servers”. Especially when you consider how important authentication is to the organization you are told by EVERY Microsoft BP to “cluster” your AD. Then a specialty server or two, maybe even a SQL Server to satisfy the back end of a Sharepoint application. And then it begins. A user asks a developer if they can have the same data in SQL Server as they have on i5. The reasons are numerous and unnecessary for the purpose of this writing, but we have heard them all. Maybe you used DTS and moved to the new SSIS for replicating i5 data. You mused when the folks talked about how much more useful the data is here than on the i5. Then it comes, a new CIO.

I have joked around about the 3 year CIO in many presentations and writings. I have seen these individuals and they are numerous and plentiful. They are focus on a simple agenda: Year 1: Honeymoon and quick hits. Maybe they shake up the department with staff changes and a simple solution for a couple of key users in the organization. Usually loud key users are sought out at this point. During this time she is building up momentum and groupthink for the big project. Year two is the initiation of the big project. Something exciting like a new ERP would do the trick. Does the organization need a new ERP? That should depend on many things from a practical perspective. But we are not dealing with practical, here. From a functional aspect, a new ERP should be warranted when the needs of the company outweigh the capabilities of the software and a reasonable attempt by the IT department to keep up with the changes. Like a discreet manufacturer moving to process manufacturing, or something like that. But what I see more and more is the comment: “The AS/400 and the green screen are just not strategic…” In many cases I wish there was an IT police department I could call to have a restraining order put out on some of these guys. But, alas we cannot legislate stupidity.

Trevor, if you are reading, don’t send me any notes about the naming. I am just writing what I hear and see. And the 3-year CIO will never call it by its correct name. It is to their advantage to use the old name as they are trying to connote the “ancient” nature of the IBM i. It is a tumultuous ride during this second year and if all goes well, the 3 year CIO starts to prepare her resume for the next 3-year gig somewhere else. Certainly, there are variations on this where the CIO may last 4-5 years. But eventually they get bored and move onto look at a new challenge.

Can you hang on to your IBM i through the tenure of the 3-year CIO? I would guess that you wouldn’t. Primarily because the 3-year CIO is cost justifying all the new systems based upon the upgrade costs and maintenance fees of the IBM i. (TCA vs. TCO) And how many CIO's are reporting to the CFO? And what CFO wouldn’t be attracted to the smell of fresh cut costs? It’s like catnip to the tabby crawling around my feet as I write this.

Then there is the long term CIO who “gets it”. They understand the value of server consolidation. They appreciate the maintenance costs for the machine that really doesn’t need a full time administrator, in most shops. One of our customers has truly enjoyed thinking strategically. This customer went from a 3-year CIO to a more strategic CIO. The new CIO who took over from the 3-year CIO was presented with a contract to implement a very large German based ERP with a three letter acronym. This CIO wisely said “I’m not signing that without doing my own due diligence!” I love this guy, already!

The new CIO wanders down to the IT department where the news of the new ERP was causing the RPG developers to dust off the only useful Microsoft application at a time like this: Word - in preparation for the latest iteration of their respective resumes. He asks the IT guys “what’s up with this ERP project and what alternatives are there?” The CIO reiterated that the primary complaint about the existing system was the perception that it was old due to the prevalence of green screens. The IT guys looked at each other, dropped their resumes, and said “We’ve been playing around with PHP on a Linux box over there and I just heard that IBM is now supporting PHP on the i. The CIO gave the order to build and develop a pilot project.

The IT guys dug in and installed Zend Core on their System i at V5R4. In a couple of weeks they had GUI interfaces with data and charts and all kinds of demos for the CIO. Nothing earth shattering, but it was significant. The CIO was impressed and said “OK, How long to convert the whole shooting match?” The IT guys responded with ‘do you mean EVERYTHING?” The CIO nodded in the affirmative. So the IT guys headed back to the drawing board and developed an aggressive plan. A plan, by the way, that would take half the time and a fraction of the cost of the new ERP system. The IT guys not only built the plan, but they delivered the goods on time and just a little over budget (within 10 points). Try that with your ERP implementation!

The more I work with IBM i customers, the more I hear stories like these. PHP on IBM i is giving companies new hope and fresh approach to opportunities. Many of these opportunities have always been there with tactical tools and Java, CGI, etc. But PHP brings world class power within the reach of the RPG developer along with a roadmap that the CIO can fine tune to the needs of the organization. That is not to say that a new ERP might still be in order for some companies, but it does beg the question: Is your CIO on the three year track?
The moral of the story is that the new CIO should be embraced and not be feared. At least until year 2!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Back to school - 2009!

Those of you who know me understand that I am crazy. This of you who don’t, well, let me just say that I have five kids. ‘nuff said. But this year is especially momentous in the Pavlak household as each of the five kids is in a different school! Five schools, 2 districts various bus schedules a well organized Mom and a Dad who is just trying to keep up. It is exciting and challenging and rewarding and exhausting. But I wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. Ironically, education was not such a big deal for my family when we were growing up yet my 3 siblings and I managed to figure out how to get college degrees. So let’s talk a little about education.

I got a call last night from an old friend. This friend, let’s call him Jack, was an IBM midrange programmer. I say IBM midrange programmer so as to not provoke the wrath of Trevor who might insist on correcting me . Jack is no Spring chicken. In fact, his kids are about grown and gone. But Jack has another similar aspect as to many in the IBM midrange space. Jack is out of work…since January. Jack’s only crime, specializing in the IBM midrange space. Well, that might be a bit dramatic, but you get my point.

So Jack called me up to let me know he was really jazzed about something. He was playing with Drupal on his home computer in the XAMPP stack and was in the process of migrating the stack to his new laptop. He was stunned to see the power and features in this open Source CMS and couldn’t wait to tell me about his new career path. He mentioned that getting laid off might have been the best thing to ever happen to him as he can now focus on the future. And he plans for that future to include PHP.

The reality is that I continue to hear about friends and associates getting laid off. Many times it has very little to do with the technology currently employed whether it be IBM midrange, Microsoft, open source or something else. Often the reason I am hearing is related to profitability and productivity. No one wants to admit they are not being productive. I mean, even an RPG III programmer who enhances an accounting report and turns it into a DSO for the CFO has just improved productivity. But we all need to be aware of where the bus is heading and start making plans to be on it. Retirement may be a fantasy for many in my generation as 401-k get decimated and Pension funds continue to evolve and dry up.

I am a big fan of PHP, no duh! But regardless of which technology you choose I challenge you to explore something new. The good news is that once you learn PHP you now have skills that are 100% transportable to any other platform. That is a benefit for both you and your management because new platforms are popping up all over. And some you can’t even identify like SaaS or cloud based technologies. These days the hardware and OS are becoming less and less important. Understanding the application technology allows you to plug in and communicate. Web Services is just plain huge.

So, I salute my firend Jack and wish him good luck on his new endeavor. Oh yea, I have heard of a lot of opportunities for IBM midrange folks with PHP experience. Hmmm…wonder why that is?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Zend Platform for Development too?

Folks in the i5 community love to know if software companies eat their own dog food. The unequivocal answer to that question for me is a hearty and resounding YES!!!

I can’t tell you the number of times I have written a piece of code that looks perfectly fine but still refuses to execute. Then I find the missing semicolon or non-aligned curly brace. Jumping between COBOL, RPG, PHP and CL I am forever leaving out the extra equal sign in my comparison operators! I have given up blaming the compiler years ago, although I did find a bug in a beta CL API last year.

So I’m tooling along testing a web services Proof of Concept for a prospective customer and I can’t seem to see what the issue is the hunk of code. One of our outstanding PS guys tossed it together in less than an hour on his Linux box and I needed to get it running on the i5. Once I updated the version of Zend Framework on the development LPAR(check in to DevZone for more details) I started to get some really meaningful error messages. I knocked through a couple of simple configuration issues and was off the to the races! What I like most about Zend Platform is the fact that I do not need to go chasing through logs to get the important information and help me along the way. With Zend Platform I have a browser based interface that I an leave up and toggle to while testing my PHP code. A quick F5 to refresh the page and I see the most recent error. No digging, no tailing and no SSH to find the file that should contain the error. This feature of Zend Platform is referred to as Platform Intelligence.

Platform Intelligence provides a huge advantage when doing development. I wouldn’t work without it now. But for production applications it comes in handy too. It basically acts like the QSYSOPR message queue for your PHP applications. So while users are cranking away on your WEB applications, Platform is collecting information about different errors and warnings on problems with PHP code through poor performing database calls. The information stays around for as long as you need it. Some shops I work with check the Zend Platform GUI Interface once or twice a day while other shops are wired into the errors via the email notification feature.

The i5 LPAR I maintain is used by several folks around the world for presentations and such. I usually use the Platform interface while I am developing code for presentations and I also check now and then to see what the other SE’s might be doing. With very little effort I can see the issues and help them out. This process can be interesting as many of these folks speak a variety of languages.

Developing applications these days is all about productivity. So whatever you have in your tool bag that can increase your productivity makes you a more valuable resource. At the end of the day, that’s a good chunk of what matters!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Memorial Day, PHP and tek…

It is Memorial Day as I write this. For several years, our parish priest would print in the weekly bulletin a story about the song Taps. Whether you are familiar with the song or not, the lyrics and the story behind them are both sensitive and compelling. It speaks not about the politicians or the bureaucrats who try to make decisions on our behalf, but of the soldiers and the citizens they are sworn to protect.

But now on to more geeky fare. I got a chance to attend to the php|tek conference again. Last year I was on a different blog where all the pages were destroyed. So, for those of you who missed my summary I will restate a lot of the points again this year. And yes, I was once again the most overdressed person in attendance as I did have a collared shirt on.

Organized by Marco Tabini and Associates, php|tek is an event held twice a year. Spring in Chicago and fall in another location like Orlando or something. I am really not sure and Marco has not updated the site with the next conference yet. Last year I was new to a lot of things - New to Open Source, new to Zend and new to php|tek. I found the event last year to be VERY interesting as I met MANY friendly people. Some of which were Zend employee’s I met for the first time! Last year no one knew who I was. This year a couple of folks recognized me not because of my meager PHP skills but because I am the i5 guy.

So on behalf of SystemiNetwork and Zend, I had the chance to not only attend php|tek, but I also got to speak! This was a big deal for me as this event is all about the technical side of PHP and the community. I chose to speak on two topics and sandwiched between them was an IBM speaker named Erwin Earley. If you have never met Erwin, please seek him out at the next event. He is a hoot and know a TON about Open Source on IBM i. My first session was “PHP on IBM i:What the Heck is That?” This session focused on giving the folks in the LAMP community a perspective on what and IBM i really is. I expected no one to be interested or care about this topic and was pleasantly surprised to find a few folks actually coming to see it. I got a chance to meet some new friends and catch up with a couple of old friends.

If you r are even remotely interested in the fabric of the PHP community and how they think, operate and grow, this event is worth checking out. There is a ton of great content and really great people who make it up. I had the opportunity to meet with a developer from MySQL as I was killing time getting caught up on email and attending a conference call. She was very instrumental in helping me understand that this event is all about the community. So, as a relatively new member of the community, I asked her share some thoughts about the community. She immediately sent me to a web page that has the manual about how to ask a question.

You might think that asking a question is a fairly straight forward thing. But in the open source community time is time and energy is precious. So these folks, while helpful, do not like to waste time. This was very helpful to understand as the IBM i community tends to clash with the
Open Source community. It really has to do with self-reliance. The Open Source community prides itself of not needing anyone and asking for help only when every other avenue has been exhausted. Check out the directions on how to ask a question and they are both enlightening and hilarious!

Although one might think this is the only event that draws a PHP crowd, it isn’t. This fall you can expect the annual ZendCon – the premier PHP conference. This event will be wall to wall with great PHP content, tutorials and opportunities to meet and network with peers and members of the community. As I indicated, networking is my favorite part. This is where you lean the most about things you just can’t get out of a book or wiki. How and why people attack certain situations and the methods employed to help achieve the goal. This is where it’s at! Sometimes getting an education at an event like this is somewhat akin to getting a drink of water form a fire hose! So what I do is set my sights in a different direction. I come prepared to learn a thing or two. But I really am there for the networking. I want to know how people are using PHP in the enterprise to solve real life problems. This is what drives me as I am intensely curious about how PHP is making life better for everyone!

Most of you know my position on education. If you don’t just read up on a few of my older blog articles. I really do not care how you get it. I would hope that you come to Zend, but books, websites, and OPC (Other Peoples Code) don’t hurt. The point is that you MUST keep current in IT if you want to maintain your competitive advantage. An old boss of mine whom I respect a great deal used to say: “There will always be a shortage of GOOD programmers!”

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Do more with less…When is Les starting?

Well, the COMMON conference for 2009 is behind us. I won’t bore you with a recount of the event as there are many folks out there who have done an admirable job summarizing “the” event in the IBM i realm. But as I was speaking at a couple of sessions I stumbled across a couple of phrases that seemed to resonate with the community. I wanted to share a few of these with you today.

The first is “Many hands make light work”. In the volunteer community this phrase couldn’t be more appropriate. It appears to hail from an English playwright, John Heywood from the 16th century. At COMMON, as is done in many local user groups, several of the activities that the attendee’s take for granted are planned and executed by volunteers. And truly, the more help the better. But volunteerism seems to be dropping off these days. Fewer and fewer of us have the free time to give to our communities, churches and user groups. We struggle with attracting volunteers to the IBM i community as well. So a great effort has been set forth by the YiPs (Young i Professionals) who do not necessarily need to be under 30 but are generally new to the IBM i. The YiPs have done some very cool things with a borrowed LPAR and a little open source software. Check them out and see for yourself.

As the 21st century moves on we are all living the Chinese curse “May you live in interesting times”. I know I am. And at work we seem to be transitioning from the phrase “Many hands make light work” to “Do more with less”. Our CAAC (COMMON Americas Advisory Council) ring Leader, Guy Havelick, told me that the other day. He told me that “less” is his best friend! I thought that was a hoot and I can’t wait for “less” to start. Having a chance to meet old and new friends on the CAAC is always a special treat. It made me glad to know that we are attracting new members while some of the veterans are moving on. We are all finding that regardless of where we look doing more with less can be a very interesting challenge.

One of my new customers has recently decided to move toward PHP on IBM i. I won’t go into the details of the account or their decision making process as it was very similar to most shops and generally falls into these three categories: Make the IBM i relevant, leverage RPG investments, build a path to the future for both staff and applications. But what impressed me the most was how they are going about the training of the RPG contingent. Our online training is typically delivered by an interactive Webex presentation with a live instructor where the students log in for about 2 hours a day, every other day for three weeks. The management of this shop is insisting that his staff take not just the two hours out but the entire day to focus on learning PHP and web development. This represents a SIGNIFICANT investment on the part of the company and I applaud their efforts. Staffers need to realize that in these times there may not be a lot of money going around. When management decides to invest time there is still a financial component. And that investment is very valuable not only to the company but also to the developer.

But I have a special message to management. This one appears to be attributed to Benjamin Franklin by some and Albert Einstein by others. Regardless, the phrase represents the definition of Insanity as “doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”. I have seen in my travels many types of IBM i shops. And I am seeing some talented workers getting thrown out on the street. After a layoff, downsizing, rightsizing, or whatever you want to call it, the folks left behind have many challenges. The one thing they all must face is the challenge of “Doing more with less!” But what happens if your people are already working 50 hour weeks. Reducing staff and tossing more on the plate is somewhat akin to that definition of insanity. Now I am very aware of the creative juices flowing through the human soul and the phrase “necessity is the mother of invention” rings true in this age we are all living through. But without giving the staff the opportunity or the tools to learn a new skill, doing more with less should not be a reasonable expectation. In fact, it may just blow up in your face as the economy turns around, the good folks may remember what was asked or expected and look for greener pastures.

I sincerely hope this isn’t the case in your shop. I have seen many approaches to downsizing and some work better than others. For any manager willing to invest in his/her staff like the one I highlighted above I salute you! For those of you who are expecting more productivity with the same or fewer resources, I hope you realize that you may need to shake things up a bit to get those different results! Things like exploring open source or offering training. Consider training each other, even if you are only exploring a new op-code or function in RPG. One last bumper sticker comment and this applies to both management and staff: “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance!”

Monday, March 23, 2009

Religious wars

You would have figured by now that I would know better. 20 plus years in IT, programming everything from assembly to PHP. But, no, I still got sucked in to the vortex of a religious war of technologies. At first I didn’t know what to think. It was a typical customer call. Showing them the presentation of Zend products and I was wondering where their thoughts were. Then I tripped. I mentioned that one of the key features that PHP had and Java didn’t was it’s divided personality of Procedural development and OOP. The Java guy in the back of the room reared his head and exclaimed “That’s not true!” And, he was right. Java does have a model that is more forgiving to the typical RPG programmer. So, if Java has that loving and forgiving model, why haven’t all of the RPG programmers learned Java?

You would think the legendary burger flipping ad would have motivated enough folks. Not so much. RPG is still around. IBM continues to invest in it. And, it’s looking more and more like Java every day! So why the struggle? For years I have felt that PHP is a much more forgiving language. Not as rigid and structured. It hearkens me back to the days when I used to burst forms in my dad’s data center. They had a System 3 and a couple of COBOL developers. My Dad was getting frustrated that it took several days for a COBOL developer to put out even a basic report. Punching the deck, turning around the cards, bursting the print: It all took time. Then an IBM SE (Software Engineer, for those who were wondering) came in and told my Dad about a new macro language that would put out reports in a fraction of the code required for COBOL and in record time. My Dad took the plunge and headed down to IBM downtown for a week of intensive RPG training.

The other COBOL developers warned my Dad. They said: “George, you really should mess around with toy languages like that. COBOL is Strategic, COBOL is enterprise and besides, it supports a structured programming model.” My Dad considered what the other developers said. And then continued developing his reports in RPG. The productivity gain was unbelievable. He was happy and the owners of the company were getting information faster than they ever had before. RPG evolved over time from a Macro language in RPG I that replaced the old FARGO machines and RPG II used by the System 3 to a full blown structured programming language in RPG III on the System 38 and RPG/400 and RPG IV. Not to mention ILE that just kicks the whole structured thing up a notch: “BAM”

Today, I feel that I am reliving the same religious war that my Dad endured. I listened to people who have been fed the Java Kool-Aid and regurgitate the same FUD about PHP. Yet so many websites and business applications are written in PHP. I wanted to describe why I think PHP is gaining in popularity. It all centers around the desire to create. PHP is a blue collar language that gets stuff done. It’s OK to sometimes write a piece of procedural code just like its OK to sometimes use the logic cycle to crank out a report. If that is all you need, then have at it!. Certainly OOP has its place. Many hands can make light work and with so many i5 shops have 1 or two programmers that the luxury of designing a monolithic Java architecture just isn’t in the cards. So a little PHP can go a long way!

The community is another reason. Sure, Java is Open Source and quite possibly about to become another IBM asset. But the reality is that Java became open source a little too late. PHP has been open source nearly since its birth. Many people in the community have grown up with PHP and still many can adopt it as if it were still young. It’s cool to be working with PHP in the open source arena and there is a far reaching camaraderie that envelops the members like no other technology save Linux.

But the last reason I wanted to mention is purely the organic growth of PHP. We recently updated a slide in one of our presentations that describes the top 10 web sites by traffic. This is estimated and tracked by the Alexa group. When I started with Zend four of the top 10 websites by traffic were running PHP. Today, six of the ten are running PHP and there does not seem to be any loss of momentum. Those six include: Yahoo, YouTube, Wikipedia, Blogger (which I am using for this piece), Facebook, MySpace, and Yahoo Japan. It’s OK if you want to combine Yahoo and Yahoo Japan as number eleven is a Chinese search engine called Baidu which is also written in PHP.

No matter how you slice it, PHP is running a significant portion of the web. It was developed for the web and by the community to be a powerful and fast way to get applications developed. Sounds a lot like the early days of RPG to me!

Monday, February 16, 2009


I am musing at the relationships of old and new friends. It appears that while everyone is connected via Linked-In, the world is really on Facebook. I have entered into a “kidnap” battle with two very successful IBM i folks. Who’d a thunk it! But an old friend found me last night and it appears that his company has a new partnership with EasyCMDB. I think this is a good place to be.

Over the last several years, IT has benefitted from some of the most interesting (I’m being generous here) legislation. Sarbanes-Oxely, HIPPA, and eDiscovery are a few that come to mind. These pieces of legislated compliance have done wonders for IT. eDiscovery selling disk drives for folks who cannot stand to delete their email, SOX for causing more automation and less human touch and HIPAA for rearranging every hospital, Doctor’s office and pharmacy in the world. My local drug store has gone paperless. But there is no reason that they would have invested in a $1,300 scanner x2 if it weren’t for the legislation, maybe. Yes, oversight is GOOD for IT! Whether you are conservative or liberal one fact is true, we will be seeing a lot more oversight in the new administration!

When I saw my old friend was working indirectly with EasyCMDB I felt compelled to look it up as I knew I had seen the name before. As a New Zealand based company, EasyCMDB is a commercial software application that supports ITIL, the British Standard for IT management. It is geared toward process and service management excellence. People running around with an ITIL certification are somewhat akin to the accountant with his CPA. It doesn’t guarantee the guy is perfect, but he has met some standard of excellence and qualification. I happened to think ITIL is good and will help transform the IT industry as the software becomes more prevalent and usable. While I started this discussion comparing ITIL to the compliance legislation above its voluntary nature would cause it to be compared more favorably ISO20000, etc. But with the current executive administration who knows how long that will last?

While I served as an IT director I looked heavily into ITIL and specifically ITSM. I wanted to implement many pieces of the puzzle and got a few things in the door. I had some small successes with centralization of information and documentation, passwords especially. But the overall discipline of ITIL was a bit much. As I look back I muse about the fact that things improved under my oversight, but I always feel I could have done more. I think ITIL is a great place to start and would advocate that any and all IT management explore this technology.

So why am I blathering on about this stuff? Simply because EasyCMDB is a PHP based application. Yes, a world class compliance application written in PHP. Hmmmm, maybe this language is around to stay. One can only speculate. But the application is certified to run on Linux, Unix and Windows. Not sure about IBM i, yet. But let’s look at what else is out there. A quick scan of Sourceforge shows me that ITIL projects number in the low 40’s. Not bad for such a niche industry. But more revealing is that the statistics of the open source solutions out there while still favoring PHP are starting to show more Java activity. PHP accounted for over half of the solutions while Java only accounted for about a dozen or so. 5 solutions were indeterminable from their profiles on Sourceforge and I was too lazy to download the code just to see what technology it was written in.

While this is hardly a scientific sampling, it is a strong indicator that PHP is going and going strong. The other technologies represented included Python, Perl and Ruby had one project out there. But we really know who the heavy hitters in the ITIL realm are today. And tomorrow, who knows?

Monday, January 26, 2009

IBMi and PHP

Zend has covered a fair amount of ground in the last three years in their effort to support PHP on the IBM i. Looks like the future will be equally as thrilling. With an interest level that is at a fever pitch among the likes of IBM, industry analysts and customers I am seeing an accelerating adoption rate that indicates things are brighter than ever. So, why am I so cheerful in this economy? There is no better time for a company looking to deploy new solutions that exploit what open source and PHP have to offer the IBM i community.

Let’s say the CFO walks into the IT director’s office and says good news bad news. Good news is that you still have a budget. Bad news is that it has been slashed by 10-20-30% and you now have to decide where. But where do you go? What do you go after? IT shops everywhere are seeing what we call “compressed budgets”. He could spend the next five days calling all of your vendors to try and trim or eliminate the maintenance contracts. He could cut someone loose. After all, no one would bat an eyelash at seeing one more unemployment number. Or maybe it’s time to finally look at that open source desktop application in Lotus Notes or Open Office.

Over the years our customers have commented that they are looking at PHP for a number of reasons. The most common reason we are hearing in 2009 reflects that fact that open source is no longer an option or a luxury but strategic and cost effective! Linux, PHP, Open Office, it doesn’t matter. No cows are sacred in this new economy. The ability to deliver more with less is essential and open source can help that effort.

So, PHP is still here and with several improvements in the IBM Midrange space over the last three years. More features, numerous updates, consistent parallels with the community PHP code base and Eclipse as well as commitment from IBM to keep PHP as a strategic solution within the IBM i toolset.

So how does someone get on board this open source train? There are a bunch of articles out there that weigh the advantages of open source and discuss what you should be doing. But I recommend a slightly different approach. Even though the CFO starts with the budget I think that is the last place to start even though it is a good motivator. A true CIO will start with the business requirements. There has to be a need, strategy or an application in the user’s requirements that you have been considering. Only now consider it with a technology like PHP or Linux. Look at your current environment. You think you are not using open source technologies in you i5 environment? Take a good look at the IBM HTTP Server Powered by Apache, HMC or WDSc/RDi. People who use these products are using open source solutions! There is open source everywhere and bolted right onto the IBM i. IBM has been moving forward with open source for years. Why shouldn’t you?

But wait there’s more! You don’t need to leave your favorite platform to deliver world class open source solutions. All four components of the LAMP stack are available and supported on IBM i. If a Linux LPAR makes sense, then off you go. I prefer running PHP natively in IBM i 6.1 and PASE since Apache, MySQL and PHP are available for the low-low cost of NOTHING! Yes, you can get started loading and running Open Source applications like SugarCRM on your IBM i and not have to spend one thin dime. Invariably, many customers have come to us looking for enhanced support, training and tooling. After all, we are the PHP people! It really costs you nothing but a little time to look into PHP. And who wouldn’t be interested in a solution with a low price of admission in this economy.

But wait, there’s more! So it’s not just a new application, you also get a box of priceless tools! Must be why they are free. These include a superior runtime with which to deploy mission critical applications (Zend Core), full implementation of the industry leading Zend Framework that provides as much or as little community driven code as needed, and an integrated development environment to help develop and maintain those applications (Zend Studio).

Yeah the ride has been interesting, but it ain’t over. Not by a long shot!

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Saying goodbye to a dear old friend

In the world of technology it is difficult to get comfortable with anything or anyone for more than a year. Today I say goodbye to a dear friend that has traveled with we to every destination and has loyally served my needs without question, day or night. Yes, I am replacing my Blackberry. This if you who know me well also know how much this device has meant to me. Certainly my wife was very kind to remind me several times that I spent more time with the Blackberry than her.

The model 7250 Blackberry has been an extremely loyal device for nearly four years. Oh sure, it needed a little electricity every now and then and I even replaced the battery once. Two batteries over four years is pretty darn good I hear. But what was more telling is the fact that the device software had to be updated only once (DST Patch) otherwise it just worked and worked. In fact, it is still providing some service as a repository of old information. I tend to be a minimalist and this device was right up my alley.

With all the buzz about the iPhone I seriously considered heading over to the dark side. But a BES license loosened up at work and my manager made the offer. I was headed to the AT&T store like a flash and grabbed a shiny new Blackberry Curve 8310 Titanium. With all of the busy activity I sat on the device for a couple of days before digging in. When I did I was not disappointed. Coming from the 7250 I knew I needed the full keyboard. The buttons are a different touch but working well. The shift key is in a slightly different place but I am getting used to it. The browser is what I cannot live without and it is extremely fast on the Edge network.

I am also integrating with a new mail server. My old unit was always talking to a BES server that was hooked into Domino. I am now using the Exchange server at corporate and the responsiveness is incredible. The import function of my contacts got fouled up but this is a minor inconvenience compared to doing all the heavy lifting by hand. This is where it all comes together for me with the browser, mail, contacts and tasks all accessible from my hip. I have played with an iPhone but I really wanted a business device. For fun I have loaded tinytwitter and it seems to be working just fine.

So my friends have asked why I did not go for the Bold or the Storm. The answer is simply money. I was given a budget and in this economy you don’t ask twice. Plus several folks I have talked to that have the storm have indicated that while it is a pretty cool device it still has a lot of bugs. I have enough on my plate to have to worry about being a beta tester for RIM. I know they really wanted o compete with Apple but that should not mean fast tracking a buggy and expensive device.

So, I have placed my old 7250 in a place of reverence on my desk. I look at it every once in a while and still find myself looking for a trackwheel. But the new device is taking good care of me and I expect to serve me nearly as long at the old one. We’ll see.

Monday, January 19, 2009

A little light reading...

I have not been a very good reader. Seemed to struggle with it most of my life and to this day if I read anything longer than an error message I tend to lose interest. The most recent book I read, cover to cover, was Eric Clapton’s auto-biography. It is packed to the gills with action and adventure and I could not put it down! OK, so there was no James Bond type action. But there was a LOT of adventure and name dropping. I highly recommend if for anyone who considers themselves a fan of the British invasion and the influence of R&B on musicians of the 60’s and 70’s music scene. Clapton covers a lot of ground and I look forward to a movie sometime soon. I read the book while at my computer and when I came upon a name or song I did not recognize I used the web to research it. Amazing how the web continues to integrate into our lives!

But, that is not why I am writing this piece. I am writing today to extol the virtues of the PHP Architect magazine. I just got my January edition and in the spirit of the changing of the Presidential guard it too is choke full of change! If you are an experienced PHP’er or just kicking the tires you will no doubt gain benefit from the content in this publication. Not too much advertising and a delivery model that supports both paper and PDF makes it especially enjoyable to the folks on both sides of the environmental fence!

First, the proprietor of the magazine, Marco Tabini, has tapped some really strong folks to help him put the publication together. This is very representative of what I love most about PHP: the passion of the community! This sense of community is exhibited by the new Editor in Chief Elizabeth Tucker Long and her first Community Corner article about how it takes a village to make a programmer. She does a great job of describing her own growth from a development silo to her emergence as a pillar of the PHP community.

The January edition takes a strong focus on Zend Framework and how it can simplify the PHP environment. There is some very good content regarding components like Adobe Flex, Zend Search Lucene, and an Intro to Zend_Cache! I know there has been a ton of interest in the IBM i community about Zend Framework so this might be a great place to get some familiarity.

There is a nice piece that discusses the pro’s and con’s of the certification process. I for one have always been a big fan of the cert process as a means of education. I remember the first time I took the RPG certification test with IBM and how much I learned from that experience. It made me a better RPG programmer and that is what helped me sell myself as an independent consultant and RPG programmer. This comes in handy for me as I pursue my own Zend Certification.

There is plenty for Enterprise customers too with an article from Ivo Jansch about requirements analysis and another bit on security using CAPTCHA. I know that there are folks in the IBM i community discussing CAPTCHA as it was a major topic in the threads a few weeks back.

I do not get one thin dime from Marco for writing this. I am just a big believer in communication whether it is from SystemiNetwork, PHP architect or the PHP Community. Learning PHP is important and there are many out there ready willing and able to help. Now it’s your turn to go and get it!

Monday, January 5, 2009

Happy New Open Source!

It’s that time again to look into the crystal ball of the New Year and make some optimistic predictions about what we will get done. I, for one, am very excited as one of my New Year’s resolutions is to explore the other sides of the PHP house in more detail. Since joining Zend back in May I have spent a majority of my time focusing on the IBM i products and market position. Don’t worry, you will continue to see me pop up here and there to chat about IBM’s latest festivities and what Zend and PHP have to offer the ever challenging midrange space. There is a world beyond IBM i.

First I am exploring Zend Infrastructure on Windows. While Windows is hardly new to me, I am not nearly as well versed in XP, Vista or the various Server models as I am with IBM i. Going through the installation process was a pleasurable experience as there were very few bumps along the way. Got one of my favorite applications, Sugar CRM, up and running in no time. Next challenge to tackle is the LAMP stack.

As I have railed about in the past, you need to take control of your own career. Learning something outside your core competency will pay dividends right now as nearly EVERYONE is being asked to do more with less. Those who have focused beyond the four walls of their comfort zone will now be able to contribute and present more value to the organization. Thus, challenging management to look elsewhere when the old “RIF” devil comes haunting around.

Economic figures are all pointing downward for 2009 and Washington is about to do what it can, print more money. But we in the open source space are confident. One of our CTO’s, Andi Gutmans wrote a nice blog entry that summarizes Zend’s position for 2009. I couldn’t agree more with Andi. And I think this plays well in the IBM i space as well as the LAMP/WAMP stack. Companies need to continue to do more with less. Open Source makes that a REAL possibility.

A recent message on the thread WEB400 discussed the merits of creating a CRM on demand application vs. acquiring an open source solution and “tweaking” it. It was a lively discussion, but one that tasks all of us. To do more with less, we must be willing to think outside the box. Open source is available to the IBM i. Consider taking a look, even if you don’t look at PHP. There are many solutions worth noting!