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What’s Up With Merlin? An Update From the CTO

In May 2022, along with the announcement of IBM i 7.5, we rolled out a new application development and modernization solution called IBM i Modernization Engine for Lifecycle Integration, or what we call Merlin for short. Merlin is an integrated set of tools that run in Red Hat OpenShift containers. The first set of tools we delivered with Merlin are designed to guide software developers in the building and modernizing of IBM i applications. And very importantly: The Merlin administrator provides a secure development environment. It allows your teams to build next-generation applications for IBM i that not only provide more value, but also prepare for and participate a multi-platform CI/CD implementation. If you need a refresher, go back and read my announcement blog, and check out the Merlin product page for more on the solution.

As with any new technology we roll out, not too much time will pass after announcement day before the IBM i team—including me—start getting asked “How is it going?” and “How many clients are using it?” We know our community likes to see their peers adopt a new technology and be successful with it before implementing it themselves, which is a major factor in the popularity of our IBM i client story website. This makes total sense with the business-critical nature of applications and workloads running on our platform. I’ve been receiving these questions from the community regarding Merlin lately, so I wanted to use this blog post as an opportunity to provide an update on where we are at with the solution and how client implementations are going.

Merlin Updates

Since announcing Merlin, our IBM i team has been hard at work providing updates and new features to the solution. One of the most impactful was delivering the debugger, which we had been promising since the initial announcement.

Another key development is the ability to acquire the product as a subscription, which was a request from our clients to align with the way Red Hat OpenShift is licensed and consumed. In the first half of this year, the team and I have seen a sharp increase of Merlin implementations. We now have hundreds of users around the globe running Merlin in production, particularly in our key markets of North America, Japan, Italy and others.

ARCAD continues to be a close partner on Merlin. They develop key components of the product and are busy co-hosting training sessions and labs with us at client sites and conferences around the world. Hundreds more clients are just starting to try out or implement Merlin proof of concepts, and we expect this to continue to increase throughout the second half and into 2024. The powerful tools which help transform antique code to a modern, extensible, maintainable design, and which include all the source control management you’ll need, the browser-based interfaces which allow the Merlin administrator to give each developer a secure environment—these are powerful features that interest many of our clients.

From what we’ve seen, Merlin has had significant impact on the traditional IBM i development paradigm, as many development shops who examine Merlin are now considering the use of DevOps structures. By using many of the ARCAD components, we were able to deliver this capability to more customers—and faster than we could have if we’d worked alone.

Merlin Roadmap

So, what’s next for Merlin? In the near term, the IBM i and ARCAD teams are busy with new updates to the solution, as well as helping people try it out. Merlin adoption within our community will continue to increase as clients look to modern DevOps practices for building new applications. Keep your eye on the IBM i client stories website to see the successes users are having with Merlin and bookmark the product page to keep updated on the latest enhancements. Haven’t tried Merlin for yourself yet? Head over to the Merlin ARCAD page to request a trial, and checkout the demos on their YouTube channel to help you get started.

In the longer term? Well, the team is working on some things I’m not ready to disclose yet, but I do want to point out something I talked about when the first announcement happened that seems to have gotten lost.

Merlin, as I said, runs in OpenShift, and users get their interface to Merlin tools via their browsers. This is a completely new way for us to deliver IBM i tools.  Of course, much of the industry is making container-based applications, so when we did it with the first release of Merlin, we followed many of the established methods for building container-based software—in fact, we were required to do so in order to be part of the IBM/Red Hat catalog. But we didn’t stop there because the IBM i basic value proposition is around “integration.” Part of Merlin is a framework which allows us to tie the underlying applications together in an easy-to-use, easy-to-maintain group. I think the response from our initial users bears out the value of this integration, and it’s a testament to the careful design our team put in place for the framework.

Our hope, from the beginning, was that Merlin’s integrated container-based approach would be something we could build upon in the future. We know there are many other kinds of tools which IBM could provide, and we prepared ourselves for the possibility of using Merlin’s concepts—or maybe even the Merlin product itself—to deliver more tools in more areas. If you saw some of my first presentations on Merlin, you might have seen some “wish list items” on charts. Maybe we could deliver security tools this way. Maybe we could deliver a software library, or a services hub, or Db2 modernization tools. Who knew? Who knows? In fact, tools to help developers use Db2 more effectively seem to be finding their way into the Visual Studio (VS) Code for IBM i project, which is intersecting with the core of some of Merlin’s existing tools.

Still, the point is that we created the framework for Merlin assuming we might either use the same design for other products, or else for providing additional sets of tools to solve different sets of business and technical problems right alongside the application modernization/development tools which are already in Merlin. The key concepts here are “container based,” “browser interface,” “secure” and “integrated for ease of use.”

So, will we do that? And if we do, will we put more kinds of applications into Merlin itself, or will we build distinct products based on Merlin’s design? That is not yet determined. We’re seeing how this first product goes, and we’re listening for feedback. So, stay tuned.