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Open-Source Languages Add Flexibility to Development Toolbox

Open-source languages continue to grow in popularity and are now ingrained in businesses. Developers and programmers rely on the languages to push new innovations and improve results.

The names of programming languages such as PHP and Python appear written on a blue and green background.

Image by Martin O’Neill

Open-source languages continue to grow in popularity and are now ingrained in businesses. Developers and programmers rely on the languages to push new innovations and improve results.

“Clients are using open-source languages for pretty much everything from system management to process automation to report generation, and countless other use cases,” says Jesse Gorzinski, business architect, open-source technology on IBM i.

The languages provide versatility and offer a strategic approach to meet rapidly changing business requirements, he says. “To put it simply, they substantially expand the capabilities of the platform. These languages bring both reduced development costs and shorter time to market.”

Sanket Rathi, senior technical staff member at IBM, agrees. “Open source has become a big force in today’s industries. A lot of innovations are happening in the open-source world, and a lot of software uses the languages,” he notes.

The Right Language for the Job

IBM clients are using open-source languages for tasks such as application development, configuration, automation and cloud storage.

IBM offers a variety of open-source packages that can be installed in minutes to meet the needs of IBM i and AIX* clients. And the 2018 IBM i Marketplace Survey shows that 75 percent of respondents are using open-source development tools (bit.ly/2v6ml84).

“Most importantly, we’ve delivered IBM i integration with our open-source tools, which makes it simple for open-source technology to interact with the rest of the IBM i system,” Gorzinski says. “It’s easier for Python, Ruby, PHP and others to interact with COBOL, RPG and Db2*. Clients don’t need to rewrite their core business logic to benefit from open source.”

Gorzinski doesn’t recommend clients replace their current code with open source, but he does encourage them to use the best tool for the job. “Clients can use open source to extend the abilities they already have, and that’s absolutely huge for our IBM i clients,” he explains. “The moment you’re interacting with Twitter, Excel or Google calendars, RPG isn’t the right tool for the job. You should use open source for that.”

Utilizing Languages

An increasing number of organizations, including Fortune 500 companies, are adopting open-source languages and also buying proprietary software, then open sourcing it. This has fostered faster growth and adoption of the languages.

IBM i clients are now using open-source languages for a variety of projects, according to Gorzinski. On the application development front, the need for web-based solutions is a popular reason for open-source languages being adopted. People turn to open source at IBM i shops to expose RPG workloads and APIs, and modernize their e-commerce presence. These languages are often the tool of choice for the creation and the consumption of web pages and web services.

At COMMON’s POWERUp18 event in San Antonio, he saw a lot of interest and emphasis on the relatively new Node.js, which is already used in IBM i shops worldwide.

“We have a lot of Node.js sessions available with many clients doing great things with it,” Gorzinski says. “It’s on an incredible growth path right now. It’ll be really exciting to see where it goes in the coming years.”

IBM has made a significant investment in Node.js, optimizing it for IBM hardware. The open-source language allows companies to more easily work with web pages.

“Node.js has a unique value proposition of allowing the front end and the back end of a web app to be written in one common language,” Gorzinski explains. “We’ve heard of a number of shops that run a front-end team and a back-end team. With Node.js, it’s the same language. Companies no longer need two separate teams. There’s a lot of cost savings by having one language on both sides.”

Rathi is seeing clients use open source to more easily bring workloads into AIX and to leverage various types of software.

“These open-source languages provide parity with other platforms by helping clients utilize open-source software,” he says. “The languages help clients use open source like they would on other platforms and not spend time working in different platforms.”

He encourages clients to participate in open-source communities, share patches and solutions, and collaborate with others. Gorzinski concurs, noting that communities have already solved many of the problems companies are currently dealing with.

Client Benefits

As an open-source advocate and Power Systems Champion, as well as the director of IBM i innovation for Krengel Technology Inc., Aaron Bartell educates IBM i users about open-source languages.

“Our primary use of open source is aiding customers in making a decision on which language to adopt. We also show them how to make use of the latest YUM package manager to install things like Node.js, Git, Bash and Nginx,” he says. For instance, customers can combine the capabilities of YUM and Chroot to automate the creation of containers where their apps can run without stepping on the toes of another app. And Bartell explains that because containers are configured in a text-based file, they can easily be a source change managed by Git.

“Open-source languages allow you to take advantage of new developments. That’s the future.”
—Kevin Fugate, systems analyst, WSI

These containers can be created in minutes and deleted as necessary, he notes. It’s a great way for IBM i shops to “fail faster” by not requiring developers to be concerned that they’re going to wreck something on the system—the container keeps them in a “jail” of sorts so that’s no longer a worry.

“Adopting open-source languages has many advantages, with the primary two being the community that produces many—hundreds of thousands—of freely usable packages and the reality that it’s easier to hire someone for an open-source language position versus trying to find a progressive RPG personality,” he says.

The benefits of using open-source technology aren’t limited to IBM i shops. “I’ve always been an AIX fan,” says Kevin Fugate, systems analyst at WSI, whose core is AIX 7.1 running Db2 10.5. “We use Pearl a lot to get data insights faster. It’s all about getting the data and reports faster, automating tables and customizing reports to meet our needs.”

Open-source languages fill needs and contribute to powerful platforms, he says. He adds that developers who work on Linux* can use the languages to easily cross over to AIX.

“The beauty of open-source languages is they’re designed with as simple syntax as possible. The more specific the language for the task, the easier it is to work with,” Fugate says. “Open-source languages allow you to take advantage of new developments. That’s the future. When you run into data science and data mining with big data, you start to see R, Python, Scala and other open source as the key languages.”

Pick a Language and Get Started

Choosing the “right” open-source language can be intimidating. But it shouldn’t be.

“One of the biggest pieces of advice I can give is don’t spend lots of time trying to decide how or where to use open source. Try it first and see what can be done. It’s often not until people use the technology do they see how powerful it really is,” Gorzinski says. “It’s a very small investment to see the power and capability that’s put at your fingertips, and then you can decide which option might be best for you.”

Each language has pluses and minuses, and companies should determine which one will best meet their needs and workloads, Rathi says. The IBM i and AIX OSes are focused on continuing to provide open-source languages to ensure that clients have the tools they need to be successful in their businesses.

“One language might be better than another in certain applications. In my experience, people don’t stick to just one language. They change based on needs,” he says. “We’ve also seen that these languages have become a need more than a choice.”

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