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!