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Alison Butterill on IBM i 7.4

Paul Tuohy talks with Alison Butterill about the latest IBM i release.

Paul Tuohy: Hi everybody and welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. So it's sort of that time again, and I'm delighted to be joined again today by Alison Butterill. Hi Alison.

Alison Butterill: Hi Paul.

Paul: So Alison a very, very busy time for you. You're offering manager for IBM i and let's see: How am I going to lead into this? So last year Alison of course, 2018 was the 30th anniversary for IBM i—and I've said it a few times, I love the approach that you guys took—where it was all about innovation and all the great things about—of what people are doing with their IBM i. And now with 7.4, you guys have sort of are continuing on that track aren't you with innovation?

Alison: We are, absolutely. In fact I would say there are two major points that we're working on in this release. First of all our little tag line motto if you will is "strong foundation for continuous innovation," and that really summarizes those two main focus areas, if you will. We're going to continue in this release to provide a stronger foundation in the things that our clients are really interested in: reliability, availability, security, and scalability. We've made some major enhancements in that area to allow our customers to be comfortable that they have a very strong foundation, and then let them go forward with some of the things we started talking about last year: using open-source to extend new technologies like artificial intelligence, other cognitive workloads as well as things like extending to robotics and so on. So that's the continuous innovation piece and what we're delivering in 7.4 supports that, but the real focus is to enhance the base foundation that our clients will feel very secure that their business will continue to run and yet they can go explore these new things.

Paul: So I suppose the one to start with Alison is the biggie, and I know when I first saw this being demo'ed a few months ago by Tim [Rowe] and Scott [Forstie], it was pretty mind blowing. To me, this is one of the changes—I mean to me it's right up there with like the introduction of things like the IFS and some of those great things that happened on the system. I mean I think this is a real big thing. So I suppose, talk to me about the mirroring.

Alison: Yes, absolutely. So we're introducing a new licensed program product called IBM Db2 Mirror for i, and just as the name explains, it is a mirroring of the system. So this is—you know the industry has coined a phrase, active active, when it comes to availability. We actually prefer a term of continuous availability, so that it allows our clients to have a continuous application and database available to them. It's really targeted at clients who want their recovery time objective and recovery point objective, RTO and RPO, of zero.. So it means that should there be a problem, you immediately are flipped over to the other system, totally transparent to any of your users. It is based on the database replicating at the database level, tightly coupled active active configuration between two systems. I have to say I am not the expert in this area. I'm still learning some of the brilliant technology that our development team has been working on.

Paul: Okay but—okay so don't worry on this, Alison, because I do plan doing an iTalk with Scott, with Scott Forstie, so I will nail him on all of the gruesome details [laughs]. You're off the hook.

Alison: Well and as I said, I mean it's—our development team has been heads down on this for a couple of years and we've had some wonderful clients working with us in trying to solve these problems and understand what's required, so it is the major focus item of this release, but that's not to say we don't have lots of other content in the release.

Paul: Okay so listen before we move onto that though, Alison, one of the things that strikes me—and I have heard a couple of people mentioning this. I mean—I mean what we've had for—I mean for a long, long, long, long forever on the system are things like high availability and that—so I mean is this something that works in conjunction with high availability that replaces some of those high availability products or both or—?

Alison: I would say-no, very, very good question, Paul. I would say that it is more of a cooperative kind of relationship between the—between these products. So just to start off with, as I said our development team has been working for a few years and we've had some excellent clients but we've also had some excellent vendors working with us in the last little while. Companies like Syncsort, for example, with some of their MIMIX products and trying to understand the positioning of this continuous availability with some of the products that are, I would say, more on the availability side, not continuous, so not active active. MIMIX and so on are wonderful at providing HA and DR, but not at the continuous level. These two products will work very well together as MIMIX continues to handle a complete site disaster—site disastervI can't speak this morning—and it will work very well with the Db2 Mirror product which is on-site because of the high transmission speed that's required to be able to do synchronous updates, so these two products will work extremely well together. We also designed it, of course, with our own PowerHA system mirror products. We had—we had to be making sure that our PowerHA product worked also in collaboration—maybe is the best word, in collaboration with Db2 Mirror. So it's not a rip out your existing availability solution and put in this. This is an enhanced version which will give you continuous availability with no downtime as you're doing your recovery.

Paul: Yeah, it's—like I say, that demo was pretty—pretty mind blowing. Okay, so mirroring aside [laughs]—

Alison: Get to what Paul cares about.

Paul: Yeah, got anything else in there that may be of interest to anybody?

Alison: Yeah. It's—actually knowing the amount of effort that it's taken the team to do the Db2 Mirror project over the last little while, I was totally blown away with all of the other things that the development team has pulled into this release as well. And to be honest it's absolutely amazing to me to see the number of enhancements that have been made in things like the base operating system as well as many of our licensed program products. In the base operating system we have so many enhancements, but they're really grouped in various areas. So things like security, we've enhanced the authority collection tool to be able to do it, but object specifically. We have added in a number of other availability enhancements to things like clustering support and so on. We've updated many of our networking protocols to be industry standard, and that's partly performance but of course partly because of all of the security. It's important for us to deliver those things. And then there's a lot of other things in there as well. But let's get to the thing that you're most interested in, Paul, which is of course RPG [laughs].

Paul: Oh right then. Go on.

Alison: So of course we've put in a number of enhancements in RPG. Barbara [Morris] and the team in Toronto have done an incredible job in putting functionality into the language. They continue to enhance it. Some of those are things that Barbara sees coming from the industry itself and where the industry is evolving. Some of it—some of them are requirements that we ask for to support some—for example, open source enhancements that we're making and how that interaction works—and someof them are coming in from our RFE process as people submit requirements. If they can be implemented, Barbara will put them in our plan. So as I said, there's a whole wide variety of these. Probably the biggest one is the varying dimension array and being able to automatically change or add in the additional elements as—so if you have an array and you have a defined set of elements and it's a varying length array, by defining the dimension keyword using the *AUTO, which is the new parameter in there. So as you put in the new parameter it will automatically assign additional elements as you go past the end of the existing array.

Paul: Yeah.

Alison: So, pretty cool.

Paul: Yup, yup. It is a—it is a nice one—and also by the way, I mean I have read the sort of release notes. Well okay, I started reading the release notes, but I think on page seven of the 20 pages I started to doze off. It's an IBM document, Alison. That's all I can say about it [laughs]. Yeah. No, there's lots of good stuff. So tell me Alison: on—because one of the other big areas of course is open source. So is there more open source stuff in here as well?

Alison: Actually Jesse Gorzinski's team has been very, very busy. Not only have they delivered things over the last few technology refreshes that we've had but this time in 7.4 they have delivered some incredible enhancements. Let me tell you, they have done—I would say they've refreshed the ecosystem. It's probably the best way to put it. They've refreshed the ecosystem for both Node.js and for Python, so this is making a number of other packages—things like utilities, tools, things that are available in the industry—they have made those available specifically for IBM i and they've put them out in RPM form, which is of course the way we now allow access to open source for IBM i. So, for example in Python, we have number of packages like Pillow and Bcrypt and Scipy and Devil and iDNA and so many different packages. So that's been really exciting. Then of course—

Paul: I'm sorry. I'm just stunned here. I just love these names. I really do. Yes.

Alison: Well I could give you the list that I remember, things like Pandas and Numpy and Pip and—[laughs].

Paul: Oh dear.

Alison: So but I think the other—I mean we've added some additional tools, things like Apache Active MQ and some new YUM utilities and so on—but the other major one is that we have actually brought the R coding language to IBM i. So it is—it is a language name for those of you who are not familiar with open-source. It is just a capital letter R, a type case R and we've brought—

Paul: Is this a child of RPG by any chance? I'm sorry [laughs].

Alison: Well much as you would like to think so, no. It actually and so RP—the language R actually excels at things like statistical computing or data mining—

Paul: Yeah.

Alison: Jesse's team has made or insured that R on i can actually access Db2 for i. So there's a number of things that they've done to these packages to make them optimized for IBM i but incredible amount of work goes into the open source—

Paul: Yeah.

Alison: And I'm really thrilled about it because remember in the very beginning when I talked about strong foundation for continuous innovation, a lot of the open source languages, tools, and utilities are the way that we are able to integrate existing application code with things like artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things, meters and monitors. It's the open source environment that lets us do that. So hats off to Jesse's team for doing such an incredible job of pulling a lot of these languages and environments onto IBM i which give us the launching board for—or the launching pad for doing this innovation that our customers are already doing.

Paul: Yeah, it's—yeah. It's—I must say all this open source stuff is one of the things that makes me wish I was a lot younger. There is just so much in there to learn and there's only so many hours, so many hours in the day.

Alison: Yeah, we agree.

Paul: Okay. So listen Alison, just before we finish up: So I started off—oh, sorry. Actually before I go on, there is something I forgot to ask you: So things like the mirroring, Alison: Is that just specific to 7.4 or is it TR'ed back to 7.3 as well?

Alison: Oh, very good question. So for Db2 Mirror, there was so much change to the infrastructure inside our operating system and inside Db2 for i that is it available only at 7.4.

Paul: Okay.

Alison: However on the—on the other enhancements, some of them are rolled back to 7.3, some of them are specific to 7.4. It just depends on whether we've had to make infrastructure changes, but certainly there is a lot of excellent content that is in 7.4 even if you determine that Db2 Mirror is not something you're interested in yet.

Paul: Yeah.

Alison: Then you certainly would be wanting to look at 7.4 for many of the other enhancements that we've made in the base operating system around security, around work management, some really neat features that have been added into all of those licensed program products and so on.

Paul: Good. Okay. So before we—so when I started off this, I mentioned the thing about the 30-year celebration last year, and one of the great things in that were we're seeing the different fantastic ways that customers are using the platform and that. So this sort of format for the 30-year celebration, is this something you're going to continue in 2019?

Alison: Actually I'm thrilled to be able to say we are. We are—we are still going to go and find customers who are doing this incredible innovation, but also as I said before, we're going to look at customers who are using this strong foundation as a launching pad for this innovation that we're doing. So we're collecting more and more stories from clients—and some big clients that I think people will be surprised that they run on IBM i. We're working with those clients to pull their stories into our published website as well. I will say last year—and I do have to just make this public recognition of our IBM i team. Last year our senior development staff, myself, and a few others, we supported well over 100 events around the world last year. Now some of those events are multiple days long—it'snot that we fly in and do one a day and fly out. Well over 100 events organized by IBM—some of them organized by many, many partners and user groups around the world. I can tell you in celebration of the 30th, our team ate more birthday cake last year [laughs], every shape, size and flavor.

Paul: So it looks, Alison, as if you weren't lied to when they told you there will be cake.

Alison: That's correct.

Paul: Okay and the gamers out there will get that reference. So Alison, thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I've got a funny feeling I want to be doing follow-ons with Scott and with Jesse and with Tim, with everybody else, with Steve, about some of the details on this. There is a lot in there. There is a great 20+ page document out there about what's new in 7.4. So Alison, thank you.

Alison: You're very welcome, Paul. Happy to do that.

Paul: Okay. So that's it for this iTalk, everybody. Tune in again for the next one in a few weeks time. Bye for now.


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