May 3, 2022
Big Blue today announced IBM i version 7.5, the first new version of the operating system in three years. Among the big new features with this release are enhancements to Db2 Mirror, better security configurations, and new database features. A new modernization framework called Merlin and a new IBM i subscription option were also unveiled by IBM, which also announced IBM i 7.4 Technology Release 6.
One of the big headlines with the IBM i 7.5 announcement is Merlin, which IBM says stands for the Modernization Engine for Lifecycle Integration. Merlin provides a lightweight, browser-based development environment for creating new applications or modernizing existing RPG-based application. In other words, it’s an alternative to Rational Developer for i (RDi), which many users seem to hate.
Developed in partnership with ARCAD Software, Merlin comes pre-loaded with tools like Git and Jenkins for DevOps-style code management, as well as an RPG code-converter. It runs in a Linux-based Red Hat OpenShift container running on the Power platform. While it’s not technically tied to IBM i version 7.5 or 7.4 TR6, Merlin represents an important change in how IBM is packaging and delivering capabilities for IBM i shops, as well as a recognition that IBM should take a more active role in helping users modernize their codebases. You can read more about Merlin in tomorrow’s issue of The Four Hundred.
Another big piece of news is this: IBM i shops are getting a new way to obtain their favorite operating system. IBM is now enabling customers to buy subscriptions to IBM i for periods of one to five years. This gives customers the ability to obtain the IBM i operating system using operating expenditure (Opex) budget lines instead of the dreaded capital expenditure (CapEx) accounting code.
IBM is focusing on lower-end IBM i environments at the moment, so the subscription is limited to four-core P05 machines, but IBM says it will be expanded in the future for bigger environments. For more information on the subscription option, check out Timothy Prickett Morgan’s story in this issue.
As part of this shift to software subscriptions, IBM is rethinking how it bundles ancillary products that are often used with IBM i. To that end, it is putting 11 licensed program products (LPP) and eight optional features for IBM i into the core operating system entitlement. That means every IBM i customer can obtain these LPPs or features for no additional charge (although they are obtained separately).
The list of other new features that IBM is delivering with IBM i 7.5 itself is slightly less interesting, but still newsworthy in their own right. Here’s an overview of the highlights of this release as it pertains to the database, Db2 Mirror, and security. As always, stay tuned for more in-depth coverage of hundreds of new features and enhancements in future issues of The Four Hundred.
Enhancements in IBM i 7.5
The Db2 for i database is the beating heart of the IBM i machine, so that’s where we start. Here are the new database features introduced with IBM i 7.5.
- Boolean Data: Db2 for i finally gets support for Boolean data and functions. Developers will now have the ability to leverage Boolean statements, which basically boil down to statements being “true” or “false.” Supports RPG development as well as JSON data, IBM says.
- Larger Indexes: Previously, the binary radix index in Db2 for i was limited to 1.7 TB. With IBM i 7.5, the database can now hold 16 TB of data in its primary index. IBM says the upgrade will benefit customers “who use IBM i for workloads where the amount of data is growing immense,” IBM Chief Architect Steve Will writes in a blog post.
- Full SQL Support: IBM frequently touted Db2 for i as the most complete relational database when it comes to supporting the ANSI SQL standard. With IBM i version 7.5, it’s now touting “full support” for the SQL standards. (Take that, Oracle!)
IBM launched Db2 Mirror with the release of IBM i 7.4 way back in 2019. With 7.5, IBM has bolstered the continuous availability service with several new features, including:
- Read-Only Mode: Customers can now direct one of the two nodes in a Db2 Mirror cluster to function in a read-only mode that cannot be updated. This will be useful for running business intelligence or data analytics workloads in a way that doesn’t impact transaction processing.
- Mixed Release Support: IBM now officially supports the ability for customers to run different versions of the operating system on a Db2 Mirror cluster. This wasn’t possible before because Db2 Mirror required 7.4. But now that 7.5 is out, customers will be able to run both operating system releases, and even to use Db2 Mirror to perform a “rolling upgrade” to 7.5. (This feature is supported in both IBM i 7.5 and 7.4 TR6.)
Security is a big priority for IBM at the moment, thanks in part to the ransomware epidemic spurred by the COVID-19 pandemic but also due to years of neglect when it comes to properly configuring the server.
- Stronger Passwords: IBM has increased the power of encryption available to encrypt passwords. The maximum previously was a 256-bit SHA2 algorithm, but it’s now supporting a 512-bit algorithm. It also added a new API that will tell the administrator whether a password has met all the password rules. And it has eliminated the ability of hackers to easily tell whether they got the UserID or the password wrong when authentication fails.
- Default *PUBLIC Authority: IBM changed the default setting for many objects on the system. Instead of an administrator requiring simply *CHANGE authority for objects shipped with *PUBLIC authority, they must now have *USE authority. “This is highly unlikely to make things behave differently,” Will writes, “but it should make audits much simpler.”
- The Digital Certificate Manager (DCM) has also been enhanced in several ways to improve the user experience, such as new buttons that eliminate the need to type IFS paths and files names, as well as an object signing store and automation of workflows related to object signing. (This feature is supported in both IBM i 7.5 and 7.4 TR6.)
These security changes are geared toward improving the state of security on IBM i, says IBM i product manager Alison Butterill.
“We are really working towards what the development team calls making it ‘safe and secure,’” Butterill tells IT Jungle. “We’ve always had one of the most securable platforms. What we’re trying to do here is provide you with additional tools and services to make it easier for you to do that.”
Other New Features In 7.5
IBM has updated many other subcomponents of its IBM i operating system and the family of LPP products that are commonly used with it. IBM i 7.5 is also getting a few features that are exclusive to it, and that are not delivered in IBM i 7.4 TR6, including:
- Update to the two-digit date format, which previously had a range of 1940 to 2039. IBM has pushed the limit for two-digit dates from 2039 to 2069. “A lot of our customers were getting a little antsy as we were getting closer and closer to the end of that 100-year range,” Butterill says.
- New C/C++ compiler with built-in functions for atomic memory access;
- New default value for the ASYNCBRING parameter on the Save Object (SAV) command and the QsrSave API, which should provide better performance for saving IFS data;
- Update to the Restore User Profiles (RSUSRPRF) command;
- Progress messages for IFS restore;
- Support for SNMPv3 enhancements;
- Support for TCP Selective Acknowledgment (SACK);
- Support for IBM Tivoli Directory Server for i (LDAP);
- Various enhancements for DNS, FTP, and SMTP functions
IBM is also delivering new features that are common to both 7.5 and IBM i 7.4 TR6, including:
- New RPG compiler features, including SND-MSG and ON-EXCP opcodes;
- An array of new IBM i Services and SQL Services;
- Enhancements to the Integrated Web Services (IWS) engine, including expansion of supported parameters per REST API call and new logging functionality;
- New QSYS2-based functions for using HTTP requests to publish or consume Web services, including the use of embedded SQL in REST services.
- Support for ZLIB for better data compression;
- Declared support for alternative open source Web application servers, including WildFly, Eclipse Jetty, and Apache Tomcat;
- Reduction to perform Cluster Resource Group (CRG) switchover;
- Support for the latest generation of PCIe4 NVMEe disks in the U.2 form factor for Power9 servers;
- Higher input/output requests per second (IOPS) in high-bandwidth Fibre channel adapters, such as the 16 Gb and 32 Gb adapters.
- Enhancements and new features for the new IBM Navigator for i spanning SNTP, SMTP, VPNs, IKEs, LDAP, and various other TLAs (and some FLAs too);
- Updates to CCSIDs;
- Delivery of Access Client Solutions (ACS) version 188.8.131.52 (which we wrote about two weeks ago);
- Update to BRMS;
- And a new release of PowerHA SystemMirror coming that will support compression for geographic mirroring (planned for release June 24).
IBM listed a ship date of May 24 on the announcement letter for IBM i 7.4 TR6, but the ship date was not available for IBM i 7.5 as this issue of the newsletter went to press. As is usual with new releases and TRs from IBM, there is a lot to digest. We’ll follow up with stories providing full coverage of all of the new features in future issues of the newsletter.
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