Should Everything Run on IBM i?

re Shouldn’t Everything Run on IBM i?

To start with, I’m reminded of a couple of things told to me when I was job-hunting four years ago. First, a head-hunter told me that, at the time, the bottom had fallen out of the iSeries job market. Second, at a job interview, I was asked: “What’s an iSeries?”

In the referenced blog, Aaron mentions that the IBM i has just seen 4 quarters of growth. That’s good to see. I worked for 22 years on the iSeries and its predecessors, AS/400 and S/38. And I really don’t want to see my good work go to waste.

But in his blog, Aaron suggests that everything should run on IBM i. The i is indeed a fine machine to store your mission critical data. You really can’t go wrong choosing IBM i for your database. But I disagree that it should be used to run everything. (Those who like the i, tend to like it a lot, which says a lot about the system. The only people more devoted to their computers seem to be Apple fans.)

First, Aaron brings up the common strawman argument that the choice is between IBM i and Windows. Clearly, there are more choices out there, especially in the Linux, Unix, and BSD realms. For example, for the top tier in a web site, you can’t go wrong with OpenBSD running on a couple of inexpensive Intel servers. You can easily configure OpenBSD to offer 100% availability, for at least your static pages, with rock-solid security.

But let’s look at the application tier. Many shops choose an IBM i solution for one simple reason: The application they need only runs on i. If the application is implemented in RPG, then it’s basically limited to the i. What if you need to develop your own custom application? Is RPG the best choice? Frankly, no. Thirty years ago, when I started working on the RPG III compiler, it was already an oddity among programming languages. It has advanced quite a bit since then, and I’m proud of my own contributions to its evolution. But it has not kept pace.

Is there an ideal choice of programming language? Again, no. Actually, I think that’s the wrong question to ask. Today, when choosing a programming language for a particular project, you don’t look at the characteristics of the programming language. If the attributes of the language were a primary consideration, Python should be the most popular programming language on the planet (in my opinion). Today, one does not program using just a programming language. Today, you use a programming language and a framework.

Consider PHP. By itself, it’s a rather ugly programming language. But it’s popular because of the rich frameworks implemented using PHP. In the i community, Zend is commonly used. Elsewhere, frameworks like CakePHP and CodeIgniter are popular. Other programming languages have their own rich frameworks: GWT, .net, TurboGears, Ruby on Rails, to name just a few. Lately, I’ve been implementing a web-based application using CakePHP, and I can attest to its convenience and power. But, as far as I know, the RPG community has nothing like these frameworks. IBM i does support a number of modern tools and languages. But then, unlike RPG, those tools are not limited to IBM i.

That is, when using an interpreted language like PHP, you have something that a language like RPG can never have: platform independence. For my own modest CakePHP application, I can run it on Windows and I can run it on Linux. I’ll bet that it could also run on IBM i! In other words, by using many of these rich frameworks, you can run on many different operating systems, and so, you can render the choice of operating system platform irrelevant. To get back to the original question, should or shouldn’t everything run on IBM i? I say this: It doesn’t matter. And hasn’t mattered for a long time.


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