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A Look at IBM i 7.5 and Merlin

Paul Tuohy: Hi everyone and welcome to another iTalk with Tuohy. Delighted to be joined today by not one person but two people and two of my favorite people to do iTalks with. You can probably guess who they are given the time of year it is and what’s going on this week or in these couple of weeks—this month, this month. I’ll go with that. So welcome to the chief technical officer for IBM i, Steve Will, and to the product software manager, Alison Butterill from IBM. And of course what I want to talk to you guys about is 7.5. So Alison, start. Begin. Tell us all.

Alison Butterill: Well we are very excited to have a next release of IBM i coming out the door, and so very excited to have 7.5. As you know it was announced May the 3rd and will be available electronically on May the 6th, so very excited—oh I’m sorry, May the 10th. I apologize. So we’re really excited about that. We also have a new technology refresh for 7.4 but we have some other things that are coming out along with our new release at the same time, so some offering things that will be changing but yes, very excited. The team has been extremely busy wrapping all the loose ends and getting those things out the door, so hopefully everybody has heard of that by the time that you post this discussion, Paul.

Paul: Yeah, hopefully.

Steve Will: Well if they’re finding out about it here, that’s great too.

Alison: Exactly.

Paul: Yup. So, Steve, what’s in 7.5? Come on. Tell us about 7.5.

Steve: Okay so 7.5 being a major release of course, the core of our operating system is Db2, so there are some key things in 7.5 that you’ll need to get to 7.5 to take advantage of in Db2. One of the biggest ones for SQL programmers is the Boolean data type. It’s something that other SQLs have had for awhile that our client base has been working around the fact that they didn’t have that. So it’s good to have that and of course with the support of that in SQL in DB2 for i, it also extends into the languages, including RPG and JSON and all that stuff. So with our operating system being as integrated as it is, when we do a big thing like that, there’s a lot of stuff we have to coordinate to make sure it all comes out at the same time so it can’t be TR’ed back, but just to mention that. Our strategy these days is if you can make a new enhancement come out not only with the major release but also with the technology refresh that comes out for the previous release, 7.4, most of our team is finding ways to do that. So a lot of the things that our database team puts out at the 7.5 timeframe also goes back to that TR6, so you’ll find a number of different things for database engineers and for SQL folks. It’s just some of the bigger things, like Boolean for example, needs a major release so that everything is all lined up. So that’s there. We have some really exciting stuff coming out with Db2 Mirror. You’ll remember that the Db2 Mirror product came out with 7.4 to allow continuous availability by pairing two systems together. The promise behind Db2 Mirror was always that you could have a non-disruptive release upgrade, and now we get to prove it. If you’re using 7.4 in a Db2 Mirror environment, you’ve got 7.4 and 7.4 next to one another and they are essentially providing you one virtual system as far as your applications are concerned. You’ll be able to take one of the 7.4 systems down, install 7.5, bring it back up again and you’ll have a pair running 7.5 and 7.4, and you didn’t take any downtime to install 7.5. Then you’ll be able to take your 7.4 system down while everything is running on 7.5, install 7.5, bring it back up again and again now, both systems are up running. You never took downtime. It has been one of the key requirements that caused us to put Db2 Mirror out in the first place, and so we’re happy to be able to get it out there doing that. So that’s one of the key cornerstones of 7.5 and then security, security, security. Throughout the operating system we have addressed many of the security concerns that are our clients have had, particularly around auditing. We’ve made so many of our objects—our public star use that used to be our public star changed because so many auditors don’t understand how IBM i works and they say oh, all these objects can be changed. That’s a bad thing. In general, it really wasn’t but we can make that change. We’ve tested it and we can show auditors things. We are also encrypting our passwords, or allowing if you want to encrypt your passwords, with a much stronger encryption algorithm. So just all throughout the operating system how we’re treating data and how we’re treating security gets stronger and stronger. There’s just a whole bunch of stuff there. I hope everybody who uses data and security on the platform takes a look at the some of the cool key things that are coming out with 7.5—and as much as possible, we put them back on 7.4. So yeah, there’s a whole bunch of other stuff too, but you know I don’t want to give the whole things—

Alison: Pages and pages and pages of stuff.

Steve: Pages, yeah. I have a 100-page presentation but those are some of the key highlights. We might talk about more but well, like the new Navigator. Hopefully all of your listeners have paid attention to the fact that a new Navigator was put out last year and it has been a tremendous uptake. So while it’s not specifically related to 7.5, there are a whole bunch of new enhancements related to this announcement, and this is when new Nav becomes the Nav, right? It’s the Navigator for the platform now, so we’re talking about that heavily as well, even though as I said it’s not specifically for 7.5. It’s for all of the supported releases, but we’re going to talk heavily about it.

Paul: So basically what you’re saying here, Steve, is that over the last two years—you know, during lockdown—people have been kind of busy working on stuff in Rochester, I think is a fair assessment [laughs].

Steve: Oh yeah.

Alison: I will say I am in awe of Steve and his whole team on the volume of what they’ve put together considering they’ve only been back in the office the last couple of months. Everything else was done remotely and it’s truly amazing what they’ve managed to produce for 7.5, and rolled some of it back to 7.4 as well.

Paul: Yeah, it is. I mean I’ve been sitting in on a couple of the presentations and I was saying to somebody the other day, I think one of the calls I was in that you guys were on with the rest of the teams and all that, and it took the best part of two hours just to go through the highlights of every area on the thing. I remember saying to somebody afterwards, I said I vaguely remember that these calls used to take about 45 minutes, or am I missing something?

Alison: Exactly.

Paul: And it was just volume, just absolutely volume, but Alison since you were talking there, it’s not just on the operating system. There are some new stuff on offerings as well, aren’t there?

Alison: That’s absolutely true. So just a couple of quick things: The first is we are announcing on the small size machines an alternative way to acquire entitlements to IBM i. So previously you would pay for the entitlement and then you would continue to pay SWMA every year after that. We are announcing the industry is moving this way. We’re announcing a form of subscription for IBM i on the PO5 software tier. So we’re calling it subscription term licenses, which means you commit to a particular length of time—one year, two years, three years—and you pay a lower acquisition cost, because of course it’s a subscription. So at the end of the term, the term is over. If you want to continue to using it, you negotiate a new term, but it’s a different way of acquiring. It’s moving more towards an operational expense model rather than a capital expense model. So this is the first tier where we’re delivering it and we will put it on other software tiers as we go forward… we’ll move it out to the license program products as well. So that’s one of the things, and my last sentence leads me to the next thing, which is a simplification. You know we’ve been looking at our whole portfolio of products and we have so many additional licensed program products and optional features that are orderable with the operating system. And we’ve been examining over the last, I would say two years, how to get those down into a simpler way to manage all of this additional function. So you get your operating system and then you can order up to about 30 different optional features and LPPs today. With 7.5, we are going to announce a simplification step where we are taking the price of many of those LPPs down to zero. So when you have IBM i, you will be entitled to order and it still require an order, Step One, still order but at no additional charge you will be entitled to get all of or a whole number of the LPPs. We’re doing that as Step One. Step Two will be figuring out how to integrate that function so when you order IBM i, you will automatically get entitlement to those. You won’t have to also order them, but the good news is you order them at no cost. The reason we’ve done that is as we move into things like subscription, what we’re left with is in fact only 12 orderable entities: the operating system and 11 other LPPs. So it makes it a lot simpler for everybody to manage just that smaller number than the 30 we had before, so very excited about that. As I said, it will take effect for 7.x. It will take effect for everything from 7.1 to 7.5, but you’ll get entitlement to those other LPPs at no charge.

Steve: I think this is going to be really exciting.

Alison: Yeah, very exciting.

Paul: Yeah, I’m obviously having a problem with my hearing because I could have sworn that I heard you use the word simplification—and I’m sorry but from IBM that doesn’t usually make sense, but I’m going to have to listen to the recording of this again later just to make sure I didn’t mishear what you just said [laughs].

Alison: No and I would expect that many of your listeners will be surprised when we say you get entitlement to some licensed program products at no additional charge. That might also be a bit of a surprise but—

Paul: Yeah.

Steve: And let me talk about a couple of things here that are really going to benefit. We’ve been talking for years about how Db2, if you have Db2’s symmetric multiprocessing additional product, that you can really take advantage of the multi-threading on the platform if you do this. We’ve been encouraging people to do it and it didn’t cost very much in comparison to the value that it had. But now to have it cost zero, everybody will be able to take advantage of the multi-threaded multiprocessing cores that are available to them. And it will improve their Db2, their SQL, and it doesn’t cost them any more.

Paul: Yeah, I—actually as you were saying it, that exact product was what was running through my mind and I was going, oh I wonder if that’s going to be in there? So thank you. I didn’t even have to ask.

Alison: No, no. No, there are still—

Paul: But since—sorry—

Alison: We still have some separately orderable LPPs. I don’t want anybody to think that you know, they’ve all gone to no charge. There are still, as I said, about 11 or 12 of them and these are ones that for various reasons, we’ve kept independent, separate. Maybe it’s the licensing metrics we have or other things, but it was a requirement. But as many as we could, we moved into entitlement with the operating system, so I’m sure we’re hearing cheering from your listeners.

Paul: Yeah, yeah. So coming to cheering, I’ve been holding back on this because obviously me being a developer, this is the big part of the announcement: So, Merlin.

Steve: Merlin.

Alison: Yay.

Steve: Yay. Oh I’d be happy to talk about Merlin for as long as we can talk about Merlin, but let me just try and give you an overview. So we all know that modernization of applications is one of the biggest things that our part of the industry cares about. It’s actually something that all of the industry cares about, but certainly the IBM i portion of the industry cares about modernization, and what we’ve been doing for the past couple of years is trying to crystalize around a message that tells people, here are the kinds of attributes your modern application needs to have. I know I’ve presented at a couple of events that you guys have run—for example, Paul talking about NextGen apps. Well as we’ve been doing this, we’ve been preparing this new set of tools that will come that’s called Merlin. Now Merlin—everybody should probably understand Merlin, from the legendary point of view, was a grand wizard. He was a wizard of wizards. He was a magician of magicians, and so that’s what Merlin is. It’s a wizard of wizards. It is a way to help you modernize your applications, and the way you develop your applications using a set of integrated wizards—all browser-based wizards—that will help you do modernization of your existing code plus turn into a DevOps methodology for developing that code. The tooling itself runs in OpenShift containers running on top of Linux. So these tools, rather than needing to be installed on individual developer PCs, will be installed on some server somewhere. We anticipate that most of our clients will just have a Linux environment next to their i environment on their Power System, and those tools then will be driven by the browsers on the developers’ systems. So those things won’t have to be installed on the systems, and you’ll have a browser-based IDE: so a great editor with all the bells and whistles you’d expect. You’ll have an environment to do your CIACD set up that’s going to store all of your source code instead in various places on IBM i. It will store it in the Git repository. It’ll do that automatically for you so you don’t have to know anything about it. It’ll use Jenkins to help you do the continuous integration/continuous deployment stuff, so we have simplified the adoption of DevOps. We have provided a browser-based interface to do your developments and your enhancements all in this new tool called Merlin, and it’s one of the most exciting things we’ve done and it’s one of the fastest products we brought to market. Some of that is because we’ve had advisors who know how to do modernization working alongside us throughout this whole thing to make sure that when we come out the door, we will have the kinds of tools that people want for their code development, for their DevOps, etc. We’re pretty excited. We hope people can join at events and listen to our webcast, but it’s going to be even better if you can sort of see it hands on. It’s really pretty impressive.

Paul: Yeah, I mean—and the thing to me with this, Steve, is going to be, as they say, the devil is in the details.

Steve: For sure.

Paul: I mean, I’ve got a list of 200 questions I could ask you here [laughs], but I’m sorry. We really, really don’t have the time for this, but it is conceptually to me quite an exciting shift away from the traditional, if I put it that way, the sort of the traditional development that’s out there, and going more towards what would be a common development environment/strategy that the rest of the industry outside of IBM i—

Steve: Yeah indeed-

Paul: You know, plugging into that.

Steve: We have a lot of customers who, because they have been modernizing, have been adopting this more modern development approach, like using Git, like using Jenkins, and they’ve had to kind of force fit the IBM i infrastructure into that because we historically haven’t naturally stored our code there—for example, our source code. Well this is going to be an easy way for folks who haven’t done that to transition—and if you’re already doing something like that with the other code associated with the rest of the systems that you have in your infrastructure, we’ll be able to just not only fit right into that but wrapper it in a simple way so that you won’t have to deal with the complexities that you have to do in the other platforms. So we’re going to really IBM i this. We’re going to make it simple, right [laughs]?

Alison: So, one of the things I’ll say: Steven mentioned advisors. We’ve have had a few what I would call early users from various companies, and I will tell you one of the younger developers has refused to go back and use the older, traditional kind of IBM i tools. He actually said to his boss, you better figure out how to order me one of these so that I get it right on the day it becomes available so [laughs].

Paul: So okay, before we go: so two things I want to finish with on a more lighter side. So Alison, you just landed last night.

Alison: I did.

Paul: Back in the air.

Alison: Yes, that’s true. Yeah, you know it’s really exciting. Our whole team is—you know we’ve been doing virtual events. They’ve been very successful, but they are what they are. I think the world—I think our whole community is really anxious to get back and see people face to face and reconnect. You know it’s really starting to pick up. Our travel requests are coming in fast and furious and we are going to get back on the road. So the team will be at COMMON North America in New Orleans in a couple of weeks, then we’ll be in Alicante, Spain, at COMMON Europe a few weeks past that, and we have all manner of smaller user group events, some vendor events, some partner events. We have a number of different things we’re doing from now and already booking in the fall. It’s just amazing and we’re thrilled. I have always done a lot of travel when I have had this job and I really enjoy traveling and meeting our clients face to face, finding out what they’re doing, hearing their feedback. So we’re thrilled. We’re thrilled. That’s all I’ll say.

Paul: Yeah, and the one I’m going to leave on—I gave a hint to this at the very start when I introduced you, Steve, and I introduced you as the chief technical officer. Because it’s a congratulations to you, because you have been made a distinguished engineer in IBM.

Steve: Yes indeed. It’s quite an honor. A distinguished engineer is an executive level position that’s given out to people who are purely technical. You know I don’t manage people. I’m not an executive who manages people, but it’s a great honor, of course. It’s also, by the way, a great recognition of the importance that IBM places on the IBM i platform. Because to have a technical executive for our platform indicates that they know that we need to stay strategic in order for us to contribute the kind of financial results and customer satisfaction that the IBM company needs. And so to have a distinguished engineer—and well, to have it be me—is of course an honor, but to have it for the community is really a great thing.

Alison: Totally—

Paul: Yeah well, I—

Alison: And well deserved.

Steve: Thank you.

Paul: Yeah, took the words right out of my mouth, Alison. So and I think that is a perfect note to leave it on. So Steve, Alison, thank you so much for your time. Good luck over the next few weeks being back on the road and hitting all of the events. Hopefully our paths will cross somewhere along the line. And that’s it for this iTalk. Tune in again for the next one. Thanks again, guys.

Steve: Bye.

Alison: Thanks Paul.