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Open-Source Technology is Fulfilling Business Needs of IBM i Clients

Jesse Gorzinski, business architect for open source on IBM i, explains the rise of the open-source revolution.

Textured background comprised of words related to open source.

Image by Alan Kitching at The Typography Workshop

If you ask Jesse Gorzinski how he knows that open source on IBM i is a big deal, he simply pulls up his planner. 

“Even two years ago it was an occasional thing; I’d go talk about open source at two, maybe three conferences a year,” he says. “By May of this year, I was booked up for all of 2019 in terms of travel and engagement.”

As the business architect for open source on IBM i, Gorzinski has searched company-wide for helping hands because it’s no longer possible for him or members of his core team to respond to every inquiry or accept every request to speak at a user group meeting or IBM client briefing.

“We have folks who aren’t historically IBM i people that we’ve brought in to cover some of these topics because so many IBM i clients are approaching us and wanting to learn about this stuff.

“It’s fun,” he adds, “but it’s also overwhelming.”

That’s quite an admission for Gorzinski, who obviously loves
to talk about open source and everything it enables IBM i clients to do.

“Open source has always been something I was very excited and passionate about,” says Gorzinski, who initially worked in finance on the then iSeries platform before joining IBM in 2006. “It’s really thrilling right now, bringing this technology to IBM i.”

Of course, open-source options have provided added value for IBM i clients for years. The Apache web server has been around about as long as there’s been a public internet. The Zend PHP server debuted back in 2006, while support for the Node.js JavaScript* runtime and Python programming language arrived in 2014 and 2015, respectively.

“I started getting directly involved with our new open-source mission in 2014,” says Gorzinski. “That was when we were starting to look at Node.js and even then, we recognized that this was something we needed to be ahead of the game on.”

While all of these innovations were significant, the interest and excitement around open source on IBM i still feels new. Over the past 12-18 months, it seems everything has come together to make open source a vehicle for doing innovative, but also solidly business-critical, tasks.

Lining Up the Pieces

Within IBM i development, 2018 was an eventful year. With a Jenkins-based continuous integration, continuous delivery and continuous deployment (CI/CD) system in place, the number of open-source packages available for IBM i soared. Gorzinski estimates nearly 300 such packages are currently available. Availability of the newest long-term support (LTS) version of Node.js was one of numerous changes and enhancements in that area.

“When we switched to the new toolset, a lot of solutions just started working,” says Gorzinski. “Things that were previously unfathomable quickly became standard, or easily doable.”

Perhaps most significant was the transition to RPM, which represented a radical departure from the initial foray into IBM-delivered open source, OPS. Created in 2014, this licensed program (5733-OPS, Open Source for IBM i) was a well-intentioned initiative to provide IBM i users with a familiar operating environment. While that had its benefits, Gorzinski admits there were also problems for both the user base and IBM’s development team.

“We made it familiar to those who knew classic IBM i administration,” he says, “but a lot of people had difficulty finding OPS on our downloads site. And because we were doing PTF installs, sometimes these downloads would pull in dependencies upon dependencies of other PTFs. You could spend an afternoon downloading gigabytes of PTFs if your system wasn’t up to date.”

With a lack of automation on the development side, providing timely updates was its own challenge for IBM.

“It was a lot of work for us as well, and that didn’t serve anybody,” says Gorzinski. “RPM allows us to do automated testing and automated deployment. Now we can meet client needs much more efficiently.”

With its roots in Red Hat Linux* (at its inception, “RPM” stood for “Red Hat Package Manager,” though it’s now a redundant acronym), RPM has essentially replaced OPS, which is in deprecation and set for end of life in December. While IBM relies on RPM to deliver open-source software, it, of course, offers benefits to IBM i clients as well.

Most simply, RPM is designed to simplify the process of downloading and deploying open-source software. An RPM is typically used with the YUM package manager. YUM—which can be traced to another Linux variant known as Yellow Dog Linux—offers an extra administrative layer to handle things like dependency management. If, for example, you want to install the popular open-source web server NGINX, YUM will issue a prompt, letting you know that NGINX requires SSL libraries to function. Then you can download those libraries.

“There’s a reason we invested in YUM; it provides the simplification,” Gorzinski says. “It automatically figures out all those dependencies. Fetch them all and it will install them in the right order in just minutes or even seconds. YUM allows administrators to do point and click or single command installs. Say you want to install Active MQ: just click ‘install.’ If you want to check for updates, if you want to update packages, it’s a single command. That’s the value of YUM.”

I was expecting a slow but steady rise in open-source software being deployed on the platform, but this is an explosion.
Jesse Gorzinski, business architect, open source on IBM i

The Open-Source on IBM i Revolution Begins

Gorzinski believes that with RPM and YUM as the centerpieces, IBM’s technology is now aligned with the open-source world. “Folks are coming to us after looking at their two-year roadmap or whatever planning cycle they use and saying: ‘In two years, we want to get here.’ And I’m able to say: ‘We already have that technology for you.’ We’re seeing more engagements where we have what people are looking for, even before they realize they need it,” he says. 

At the same time, Gorzinski can scan download numbers and other internal data and find himself surprised by the rate of adoption and the breadth of things IBM i clients are already accomplishing with open source.

“In some cases, we were delivering technology thinking it’d power production workloads a couple of years from now, only to find customers deploying it just a few months later,” he says. “I was expecting a slow but steady rise in open-source software being deployed on the platform, but this is an explosion.”

There’s a reason Gorzinski calls it the open-source revolution. The changes clients are seeing are groundbreaking—and even chaotic. With that in mind, he has advice for IBM i clients, whether you’re just getting started or are already open source-savvy.

Understand everything you can do with RPMs. For instance, classic IBM i admins may not know about RPM repositories. This software, downloadable from IBM, provides even greater flexibility. As a self-contained directory, an RPM repository can be cloned or backed up, or hosted internally. By creating snapshots, distinct repositories can serve development, QA and production environments. In addition, a repository can be used to sync 20 or more LPARs to the same versions of open-source software.

Understand that open source is enterprise-ready—and IBM is ready to provide support. Even as open source goes mainstream, a misconception persists about what Gorzinski calls the enterprise-readiness of open-source software. However, open-source solutions are secure, functional and reliable. On top of that, support is available from IBM Technology Support Services (TSS) division.

“A lot of people think open source is a use-at-your-own-risk-type of thing, but you can pay for top-notch support from IBM,” says Gorzinski. “The TSS offering is there to help you through your whole software development lifecycle.”

Recognize that open source meets practical business needs. Start with something that remains an ongoing need for many enterprises: application modernization. Open source and IBM i can get you moving forward. Node.js is uniquely suited to provide web-based interfaces while handling the latest JavaScript frameworks, all while delivering fast response times and reducing memory usage.

Or think of the industries that have long relied on the IBM i: manufacturing, retail, healthcare, logistics. It turns out that open source has much to offer in these areas. Gorzinski points to Internet of Things (IoT) software, which basically describes an array of internet-connected physical devices and appliances such as thermostats and heart monitors.

“IBM i now, thanks to open source, has IoT capabilities,” he says. “In the industries where IBM i has a strong footprint, the use of IoT will continue to grow, and IBM i will be the main storage point for all of that data.”

Embracing Open Source

The open-source revolution is indeed upon us—and the revolution is ongoing. Early this year, IBM demoed the IBM Q System One, which is designed to be the first quantum computing system for commercial use. With IBM i capable of integrating with the IBM Q* Experience to run computations or emulate the technology, quantum’s potential uses in areas ranging from chemistry to finance is already capturing the imaginations of the user base.

“One day, I tweeted about doing quantum on IBM i, and that tweet generated more direct messages than anything I’ve ever tweeted,” Gorzinski says. “People are coming out of the woodwork and saying ‘Yes! We want to hear more.’”

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