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The Top 3 Reasons System Admins Should Care About Open Source on IBM i

Valerie Smith, a Fresh Face of IBM i, explains why open source isn't just for programmers.

"Open Your i" in white against a purple banner, white chat bubble in righthand corner, with multicolored patterned lines against a black background below.

For today’s blog, I am very happy to partner with guest writer Valerie Smith. Valerie is one of the published “Fresh Faces of IBM i,”  and you can check out her bio in the May 2017 issue. I’ve often mentioned that open source is “not just for the programmer.” In today’s post, Valerie shares three great reasons system administrators should be watching the open source space!
There’s no doubt about it, open source support is one of the latest and greatest additions to the IBM i platform. Over the past few years, I’ve seen the IBM i community show a ton of interest in using these now IBM-supported languages and functions to their full potential. Interestingly, most of this interest has come from those in a development role. System admins have many reasons to be excited about open source on IBM i, too! 
1) Improved Tools
Although it’s been around for years now, I’d be willing to bet there are a ton of system admins who do not ever use a shell session to run commands. Some may be familiar with the fact that you can run a shell session from a 5250 session (QSH) by running the command ‘STRQSH.’ While it does the job, it is much easier to use an SSH terminal to connect to the IBM i straight from your pc. All you need is an SSH client, such as Putty, and the SSH daemon running on your IBM i LPAR. The SSH terminal offers advantages such as tab-completion for commands and being able to up/down arrow through commands (as opposed to only going in one direction via F9). 
2)  Automation and Simplification
It’s not uncommon for a business running an IBM i to only have one or two people supporting the platform. Anything sys admins can do to “create” extra time for themselves is a must! Traditionally with the IBM i OS, IBM has always provided the “hooks” into the OS and left it up to the vendor community to develop the tooling to support the end user needs. Because of open source, the power is in the hands of the user base to create tools catered specifically to the needs of their environment. How awesome is that?! A good example of this is the open-source project Dash for IBM i: The project uses Node.js to pull and display relevant information from the IBM i in as easy to read dashboard format. As the example shows, I can retrieve a list of users, whether they are *ENABLED or *DISABLED, and how much storage each is using. This type of thing could aid a system admin in presenting and tailoring information to their non-technical manager about the system. I hope more admins contribute to this code effort, as I can definitely see the value-add here.
3) Support of Staff
An all too common concern from senior leadership at shops with an IBM i is that the platform is difficult to support. Increasingly, they are looking to consulting companies (read: hefty price tag) for help modernizing their application code, without even realizing that this functionality is built in to the IBM i operating system.
Even if you personally are not interested in any of the open source capabilities, I strongly encourage (maybe even go as far to say it is a responsibility!) you to at least make yourself familiar with what is available. This means installing licensed product series 5733-OPS and keeping up on PTFs that add related new functionality. If you have an in-house development staff, be comfortable and ready to support their use of open source on the application side. An in-house modernization effort can help make the case to management for staying on the platform. 
As IT professionals, it’s our job to keep up with technology trends. In terms of the IBM i platform, open source is definitely a trend that’s part of the foreseeable future. Let’s use IBM’s support of open source to do some cool things and make our day-to-day jobs easier! 
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