Niels Liisberg on Meetup Groups and More

iTalk With Niels Liisberg

Paul Tuohy: Hello everybody and welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. So I'm joined today by Niels Liisberg. Niels, how are you?

Niels Liisberg: I'm great thanks. Thanks, Paul, for asking me to participate in this.

Paul: So Niels, I was just trying―I was trying to think earlier I was sort of saying how I would introduce you. Of course in Europe you're well known to I think anybody and everybody from the COMMON conferences and that. We've crossed paths many times over the years but I think it was only last year that the two of us finally got to sit down and have a good long chat about things when we met up in Prague. I'm sorry, we won't talk about that Niels, okay? [Laughs] The less said about that, the better. So I was―I think it is fair to say though Niels that you―I think the best way I could describe you on the platform is that you're one of the pioneers, one of the software pioneers of the platform. I thi―You've done work on the platform I think of introducing things before IBM did, and you're probably best known out there for the work you did on IceBreak―

Niels: Correct. Yeah.

Paul: Many years ago, the introduction of IceBreak. Of course one of the other things which we’ll come onto later is that you're also a World War II scrap metal dealer, but we'll touch on that one later on. So if I remember correctly Niels, one of the things that we sort of chatted about quite a bit in this world of―the big thing that everybody talks about now is application modernization, and one of the things that we discussed was the difference between a modernization and transformation. So I will let you loose. Modernization versus transformation.

Niels: Yeah, basically when it comes to how you will bring your business forward. Typically I see it as two ways to do it. Someone just pretty happy with what they have and it is basically pretty much the same as if you have a house. If you are talking about modernization, it is the same deal if you are refurnishing your living room. You're just making small changes but basically the walls, the roof, and everything is pretty much the same. If you are talking about transformation, then it is more like you want to move forward and have something really new, but you don't have to leave where you are but you want to build on something you already have. So that is comparing to just changing your system to something go out and buy a new house. So when we are talking about modernization part of it, there's many tools out there where you can basically just put in some new features and then you're moving the platform or whatever you have from green screens and you just run it on the web or you have a nice platform in a GUI and then you're good to go. For many customers that is good enough, but sometimes you have to go a little ahead with more drastic change. Some customers will want to―how can we bring this platform in to communicate with Docker and how can we introduce microservices as a new design paradigm for what we want to do on the long run. The difference is that you maybe want to scale up, scale out or your company is growing dramatically so you need some more, some more different components in the long run where the components are communicating. That requires more a digital transformation rather than you just modernize what you have. For that reason, IBM is very good at giving us all the tools that are required. So when we are looking at modernization, there is also a lot of winners out there that are making a very good job, but when we are talking about a transformation, it is pretty much that we are looking at companies that want to do microservices. Microservices is as it sounds. It's just small services that you can deploy individually and you can run it in Docker; however, Docker is not the first choice when you're looking at IBM i. However, you can still use the design paradigms. There's very good tools for Java and Node.js so you can actually run Node.js and microservices while using a framework called Seneca, which is a microservice―basically make microservice tools for encapsulating Node.js and running microservices. The beauty of microservices is they really don't care which environment it is working on so it is totally detached from HTTP protocol. It's not bound to any of the typical architectures that is involved in bringing applications to the web. So in my―

Paul: So Niels, sorry, just―okay. Okay. I'm―because I know, because we've had the conversation before but one of the things I just want to touch because―and you've used the term a few times now―a microservice. Could you just give an example of a microservice?

Niels: Yeah, basically when―I'll just tell you what a microservice not is. That is when IBM say you want to integrate Java programs into RPG. They made a beautiful job so you can call Java classes directly from RPG; however, that a little problem because that is what we call entanglement, because now you need actually both an RPG developer to cater for the interface of the Java program, and vice versa. The Java program needs to know how the RPG are calling you. But in microservices is another paradigm. Basically what it is, is that you sent JSON into the microservice and what you get out of it is also JSON, so it's always designed around JSON in and JSON out. The beauty is that you can send JSON into Node.js. You can send JSON into Python, and you can also with a bit of tuning send JSON into RPG codes. That is more like body. If you are looking at your own body, your body is changing all the cells within, except for your eyes. So Paul Tuohy is actually not the same Paul Tuohy that you were half a year ago. All your body cells are changed, but you don't feel it. If you are taking huge chunks out―for instance let's say we take your heart out, I guess you would be a dead man. So microservices is all small cells. You can actually replace those cells without having any time―downtimes. So the beauty of microservices, you can take―create your―convert your applications into microservices in RPG, and little by little you can change these components and take some of the procedures out and rewrite them, refactor them into Java or into Node.js and all of these components run pretty good, very good together because the JSON in, JSON out interface is what combines them. So that is changing the paradigm because you don't have to rewrite everything. You don't have to cater for how the RPG programs call the Java program, JSON, or―I mean the Node.js applications. You simply communicate by sending JSON in and JSON out.

Paul: And then this also gives you that greater flexibility that you can effectively use the right tool for the right job. In other words use the right language depending what it is you're trying to do in the service that you're providing.

Niels: Yes. Basically what we are doing is―as when we are creating new applications, we are either using Node.js or we are using Java for all of this and we are using a framework called Spring Boot. Spring Boot is―contains a little web server, but you don't think about the web server itself. So you are communicating always in HTTP, the web protocol layer, but inside the microservice, you don't see the protocol at all. You only have the normal procedure calls, but it is in fact this interface by the JSON object coming in and JSON object coming out. So you start the process on your IBM i. It is a Java program that is actually running to encapsulate everything. You are not running on WebSphere or Tomcat servers or Apache. You have a Java file that is actually running your microservice and that can―

Paul: Okay.

Niels: Be deployed on the IBM i or you can move that to a Docker image if you want to do that.

Paul: Okay. Okay Niels, so because it's getting―we only have a certain amount of time here and there is one other thing―

Niels: Yeah.

Paul: I definitely want to talk to you about and this comes back into the whole community area. There's a great thing―is it last year or the year before that you started up this thing of the meet-up group in Copenhagen?

Niels: Oh, that's correct. I think actually it's more like two years ago now.

Paul: Okay.

Niels: And what I'm doing there is trying to bring in some young guys that has no relation to the IBM i platform at all. So what I'm doing there is taking all the new features that you find in 57.33, RPS the open source package, install that, and then you are good to go with Node.js and Python and you have the Git for source control. Then I connect from my Mac and I show how you will use SSH to connect to the IBM i. Then I have made a plug-in for the VS code so you can actually code RPG directly in one of these open source packages in VS code, compile and bring RPG code into the loop of modern software titles. What we are doing there is also having a great time with the grown up peoples―I mean there is so, so many at my own age that are attending these meetings because I'm also showing what Db2 can do with―for instance the NoSQL where it means NoSQL means not only SQL and the basic features that the NoSQL is storing information directly in Db2 with JSON objects. So it is very important that all the tooling around Db2 and JSON is very good at it, and it is pretty good now. You have the JSON table when you're working on the Mongo NoSQL interface and you can use the publishing services to aggregate the information out of the data stores there. The beauty is there is still Db2 running everything underneath. What we are doing in these meet-ups are also showing―I have showcases of how you can bring on Python and bring Node.js in and have a great fun with it. Now I'm also talking about the PowerAI; artificial intelligence is quite cool actually.

Paul: Yeah. Yes. Yeah. Okay let's not go down that rabbit hole though [laughs].

Niels: Not at this time.

Paul: So these young people coming in. Are they sort of university students or are they young people who have just started with companies or a mixture of both or―?

Niels: Yeah. Typically it's people that has attended other meet-up groups. So the background could be from universities, typically it is, and the idea is we want to bring in people that has no relation to the IBM i platform and just show there is―there's nothing to be afraid of, because the tooling is pretty much the same if you want to make newer applications on the platform. What we have experienced also is that when we have breaks, they actually talk to the grown up and I see the relation being built. So many of these young guys are having jobs in the IBM i shops right now, and even the average age in my company has changed dramatically for the same reason because some of these guys are asking me questions, say "OK, he actually knows what he is talking." Not me but some of the young guys know what they're talking about. They are cool so I offer them jobs if they can fit the bill, and this is the beauty of it. This is the best way to actually look at young people and understand how they―they have a little fear when we are talking about the IBM i because they―when they see it in the landscape, they see green screens and have no idea that this is very powerful and it is alive. There are lots of giving young people also, but it is not the RPG driving the meet-up group. This is open source. For that reason I also make some open source. Maybe people should take a look at my IceBreak and on Git Hub you will see some of the open-source project I'm doing there.

Paul: Yeah.

Niels: And they are totally focused on having more solid framework to work with on the IBM i. It is only IBM i stuff out there.

Paul: Cool.

Niels: So and we also have―I took―this is done together with the COMMON group so they are sponsoring me for doing this because―

Paul: Yeah.

Niels: Our group, it is a closed environment so you have to be there, but we are also starting this with the help from Tree in Stockholm now. So we have a little meeting up there and hopefully we will have an IBM Power, London IBM Power, New York and whatever. Just spread the word and I would be very keen to help COMMON and user groups out there to have one of these meet-up groups so we can―

Paul: Okay so for anybody listening out there, if you're interested in these, the concept of the meet-up group, you can just drop me an email and I will make sure it gets forwarded to Niels. He can offer any sterling advice. So before we go, Niels, so I have to touch on this thing about being the WWII scrap metal thing. So I'm going to hit everybody with this with the way you said it to me. Right? You asked me when we chatting in Prague―I won't say which beer it was on―and you'd asked me if I had ever heard of the Lusitania. I said "as in the ship that was sunk during World War II off the south coast of Ireland?" And you said "yes, that Lusitania." I said "yeah, I've heard of it. What about it?" And you said "I own it."

Paul: Ahh. It was the U-Boat that you―. Okay. Sorry, yes. Go ahead.

Niels: And the story was that is was sent up to Norway and Oslo on a tugboat. Unfortunately they lost it on the way in an area of Denmark where unfortunately there is a big harbor―

Paul: Yeah.

Niels: So they rode out of this harbor. My father gave me the documents from this boat, just for fun actually. Suddenly I got a letter from the office in Copenhagen saying that they want to destroy my U-Boat because it was actually in danger for the traffic. So I think my U-Boat does not exist any longer; however, it has done so much damage, because you know this was the sister ship of the Titanic was the Lusitania.

Paul: Yes.

Niels: So I have the privilege to own the U-Boat or the spare parts of it. Actually it's not that one. No, I have never seen it, but I've heard from some of my friends it was pretty cool before they actually exploded it [laughs]. It was a good side to dine on.

Paul: So I mean I've had people telling me many interesting things on these iTalks over the years, Niels, but the one off―did I ever tell you about the guy I met who owned a U-Boat [laughs]? That wasn't one of them.

Niels: You should be aware that owning a U-Boat in Denmark right now is not a good thing. There is a lot going on there, [Laughs] but that is not me by the way. I had nothing to do with it.

Paul: Okay so listen―

Niels: Only scrap, yeah.

Paul: Okay Niels, so listen. Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to talk with me and I look forward to seeing you―hopefully next month in Poland at COMMON.

Niels: Yes, that's right. Yes, definitely. That will be great. Yeah.

Paul: Okay, so Niels Liisberg, thank you and that's it for this iTalk everybody. Tune in again for the next one in a couple of weeks. Bye for now.

Paul Tuohy has specialized in application development and training on IBM midrange systems for more than 20 years.

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