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Source Code Management on iSeries: Surprisingly Fluid

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Despite some perceptions, System i is a viable development platform for many enterprises. Supporting that development are several feasible source code management (SCM) solutions. Also, for those in mixed development environments, some of the most popular solutions that do not run on System i have integration capabilities with the platform.

Many enterprises need their SCM tools to run on or interface to the System i. While some providers of SCM for other platforms also run on or integrate with the System i, several particularly specialize on System i. In addition, it is worth exploring several recent announcements by vendors of these solutions, which include not only product improvements but also an acquisition. Also important is to assess considerations and selection criteria of these alternatives.

There are several components of a selection process. IT should develop its list of requirements before looking at solutions. Requirements should include fit with the current enterprise vendors (with master software contracts); requirement to run on System i or not; total System i product-line support; vendor financial stability; and support for prior-generation COBOL code, data description specifications (DDS), or RPG code.

Let's start with IBM. IBM Rational has the ClearCase solution for source code change management, and a System i developer can use it for SCM for System i objects stored in the Integrated File System (IFS); for example, Java objects. However, ClearCase does not support the native COBOL, DDS, or RPG. However, according to IBM, it is possible—using a combination of ClearCase and IBM WebSphere Development Studio Client (WDSC) for iSeries—to move source between the ClearCase repository and System i to execute remote builds.

In addition, ClearCase does have extensible facilities that one can use for registering custom trigger programs, for example. From those, with a fair amount of effort, System i customers can have (again, according to IBM) designed facilities for connecting to the iSeries. The ClearCase repository (or server) does not run natively on System i, but it does run on System i Linux and AIX partitions. Because of the issues of native support, most IBM customers look to the tools partners for solutions that will support both their native and their Java development on the System i.

Regarding SCM on System i, the three big players are MKS Inc., Aldon Computer Group, and SoftLanding Systems Inc. (now part of UNICOM). These vendors are the heavy hitters in shops that are more homogeneous System i.

IBM partners with the three big ISVs mentioned above as well as other vendors with such products, including these:

  • Aldon Lifecycle Manager
  • ARCAD Software ARCAD-Skipper
  • MKS Software Inc. Implementer (purchased change management from Silvon Software, Inc.)
  • UNICOM Systems/SoftLanding Systems TurnOver Change Management System
  • Software Management, Inc. SMI SuperVisor

(Editor's note: For a more complete listing of change management/SCM vendors, see the MC Showcase Buyer's Guide.)

On the news front, there are several important recent announcements from the group of vendors.

Aldon recently announced the latest version of its incident-tracking and requirements-management solution, Aldon Community Manager 7.5. The product provides project management templates as well service-level agreement (SLA) reports. These new capabilities help organizations developing code to meet their contractual obligations by tracking the projects and their details down to the code. In addition to complying with SLAs, Community Manager provides compliance templates for HIPAA and SOX, for which organizations need to track and document changes. The company also announced an optional add-on interface for Personal Information Management Systems (PIMS), commonly used in enterprises.

MKS continues to enhance Implementer, with more than 250 changes made in the Implementer 2006 release announced this summer. Improvements include integration with other MKS tools and third-party solutions (CA AllFusion 2E, LANSA, and Oracle PeopleSoft/JDE World), impact analysis, repository loading, auditing, and archiving. Also, MKS is faring fairly well financially, recently announcing preliminary results for the second quarter of fiscal 2007. The numbers appear mixed, with lower-than-expected revenue but expected maintenance and service revenue. Company representatives said the broader offering targets a broader base, thereby lengthening sales cycles.

Meanwhile, UNICOM Systems, Inc. (a CICS automation tools vendor) announced at the end of October that it acquired SoftLanding Systems for an undisclosed amount. The two privately held firms will continue operations in their current locations, now addressing both the mainframe and midrange markets. The synergies are somewhat unclear technologically. It appears UNICOM will provide financial and administrative management over SoftLanding.

The major vendors of SCM tools on other (non-System i) platforms provide mixed support for or integration with the iSeries environment. For example, Serena Software Inc., provider of ChangeMan, Dimensions, and PVCS, has no native iSeries SCM but partners with SoftLanding Systems. Interfaces include TurnOver/Dimensions and TurnOver/Version Manager, which provide bidirectional updates between the systems.

CA (formerly Computer Associates International, Inc.) has several options for using its Harvest SCM solutions with System i. CA Harvest does not run on System i but can store/version any System i objects that can be transferred to a platform Harvest supports. Therefore, it can indirectly version COBOL or RPG source code. However, Harvest does not support System i native objects (e.g., libraries, physical file members, and program objects). There is also a downloadable field-developed utility available on CA's Support Connect Web site for existing users. In addition, a partner Harvest–System i interface can include services to help customers. Finally, as mentioned above, MKS just added integration to CA AllFusion 2E.

All of the SCM vendors for System i mentioned here have Eclipse user-interface plug-ins for their solutions, which can integrate with IBM's WDSC.

Regarding SCM tool total cost of ownership (TCO), there are many variables to consider. Variations between tools are difficult to project as they reflect process fit, user experiences, and other such factors. However, industry experience shows that using code control is significantly more cost-effective than not using it, by orders of magnitude. Therefore, using any of these solutions makes good sense.

Those using an SCM solution off the System i and needing System i should ask for product integration specifications for connectivity to System i. Those seeking System i development tools for SCM should investigate the vendors that provide direct support for the platform, with the usual requests for information (RFIs), demonstrations, and requests for proposals (RFPs). Many of the providers are small; therefore, one can expect the normal advantages and disadvantages that go with such relationships. Those who need System i support for SCM should investigate the IBM partners and work with one of them to implement needed integrations and processes for System i development.

Ron Exler is Vice President and Research Fellow at Robert Frances Group, an advisory firm that serves executives making decisions at the confluence of business and technology. You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Ron Exler

Ron Exler is a senior product manager at Arbitron, the media ratings company. Previously, he was an independent analyst and consultant. He was formerly Vice President and Research Fellow for Robert Frances Group (RFG), a provider of advisory services for information technology (IT) executives and vendors. Mr. Exler has worked with executives from some of the world's largest enterprises, so he understands how business executives make decisions. He also writes a blog (http://www.thegeofactor.com/) and was named one of the top English-language analyst bloggers by Technobabble 2.0. Mr. Exler has had more than 125 articles and technical papers published.

 

Prior to RFG, Mr. Exler worked for several enterprise software companies, including Landmark Systems (now ASG) and Intersolv (now Serena Software). He held positions in marketing, product management, research, sales support, software development, and training. He has an M.S. from the University of Wisconsin, Madison and also earned a B.S. from Oregon State University.

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