Completely Free ILEditor and IBM Technology Refresh Recap

Today I’ll look at a powerful open source (and completely free!) IDE for ILE programs (CL, C/C++, Cobol or RPG) named ILEditor that is being actively developed by Liam Allan who is one of the brightest minds in the industry. In fact, last week Allan added a new GUI interface to the editor that makes it feel much more professional, while keeping it easy to use. I’ll also give you a quick overview of the announcement IBM made last week about updates to IBM i 7.2 and 7.3.

The IBM Announcement

On February 13th, just in time for Valentine’s Day (because IBM wants to be my valentine!), IBM announced new Technology Refreshes. These include support for POWER9 processors, which look incredible – but, alas, I’m not a hardware guy. They also include updates to Integrated Web Services (IWS), Access Client Solutions (ACS), RPG and more.
Here are links to the official announcements:

IBM i 7.2 Technology Refresh 8 (TR8)

IBM i 7.3 Technology Refresh 4 (TR4)

You should also check out Steve Will’s blog post.

My Thoughts

The most exciting part of this announcement for me is the introduction of the new DATA-INTO opcode in RPG. Here’s the sample code that IBM provided in the announcement:

DATA-INTO myDs %DATA(‘myfile.json’ : ‘doc=file’) %PARSER(‘MYLIB/MYJSONPARS’);

It appears that this will work similarly to Open Access, where the RPG compiler will examine your data structure and other variables that it has all the details for and work together with a back-end handler that will map it into a structured format. Open Access refers to the back-end program as a “handler”, whereas DATA-INTO seems to call it a “parser”, but the general idea is the same.

As someone who has written multiple open source tools to help RPG developers work with XML and JSON documents, this looks great! One of the biggest challenges I face with these open source projects is that they don’t know the details of the calling program’s variables, so they can’t ever be as easy to use as a tool like XML-INTO. For example, the YAJL tools that I provide to help people read JSON documents require much more code than the XML-INTO opcode, because XML-INTO can read the layout of a data structure and map data into it, whereas with YAJL you must map this data yourself. However, DATA-INTO looks like it will solve this problem, so that once I’ve had time to write a DATA-INTO parser, you’ll be able to use YAJL the same way as XML-INTO.

Unfortunately, as I write this, the PTFs are not yet available, so I haven’t been able to try it. I’m very excited, however, and plan to blog about it as soon as I’ve had a chance to try it out!

What is ILEditor?

ILEditor (pronounced “I-L-Editor”) came from the mind of Liam Allan, who is one of the best and the brightest of the 2018 IBM Champions. I have the privilege of working with Liam at Profound Logic Software, and I can tell you that his enthusiasm for computer technology and IBM i programming know no bounds. In fact, one day last week after work, Liam sent me a text message about his new changes to ILEditor, sounding very excited. When I factored in the time zone difference, I realized it was 1:00 a.m. where he lives!

For many years, one of the most common laments in the IBM i programming community has been about the cost and performance of RDi. Please don’t misunderstand me. I love RDi, and I use it every day. I believe RDi is the best IDE for IBM i development that’s available today. That said, sometimes we need something else for various reasons. Some shops can’t get approval for the cost of RDi. Others might want something that uses fewer resources or something they can install anywhere without needing additional RDi licenses. Whatever the reason, ILEditor is very promising alternative! I wouldn’t be surprised if it eventually is able to compete with RDi.

Why Not Orion? Or SEU?

The concept of Orion is a great. It’s web-based, meaning that you don’t have to install it and it’s available wherever you go. Unfortunately, it’s not really a full IDE – at least not yet! I hope IBM is working to improve it. It does not know how to compile native ILE programs or show compile errors. Its interface is designed around the Git version control software, which makes it tricky to use unless you happen to store your code in Git. And quite frankly, it’s also a little bit buggy. I hope to see improvements in these areas, but right now it’s not a real option.

The most popular alternative to RDi today is SEU. In fact, historically this was the primary way that code was written for IBM i. So, you may think it’s still a good choice. However, I don’t think it’s viable today for two reasons:

  1. The green-screen nature makes it cumbersome to use. This is no problem for a veteran programmer, because they’re used to it. But for IT departments to survive, they need to bring in younger talent. Younger talent is almost always put off by SEU. I even know students who gave up the platform entirely because they thought SEU seemed so antiquated, and they wanted no part of it.
  2. SEU hasn’t received any updates since January 2008. That means all features added to RPG in the past 10 years – which includes three major releases of the operating system –will show as syntax errors in SEU.

About ILEditor

ILEditor is open source, runs on Windows and was released as open source under the GNU GPL 3.0 license. That means it is free and can be used for both private and commercial use. If you like, you can even download the source code and make your own changes. It can read source from source members or IFS files. In addition to editing the source, it can compile programs, show you the errors in your programs, work with system objects and display spooled files. It even has an Outline View (like RDi does) that will show you the variables and routines in your program.

The main web site for ILEditor is: worksofbarry.com/ileditor/.

If you want to see the source code, you’ll find the Github project here.

You do not need to install any software on your IBM i to use ILEditor. Instead, the Windows program uses the standard FTP server that is provided with the IBM i operating system to get object and source information and to run compile commands. An FTPES (FTP over SSL) option is provided if a more secure connection is desired.

Connecting for the First Time

When you start ILEditor, it will present you with a box where you can select the host to connect to. Naturally, the first time you run it there will be no hosts defined, so the box will be empty. You can click “New Host” to define one.

Once you have a host defined, it will be visible as an icon, and double-clicking the icon will begin the connection.

When you set up a new system, there are five fields you must supply, as shown in the screenshot below:

Alias name = You can set this to whatever you wish. ILEditor will display this name when asking you the host to connect to, so pick something that is easy to remember.

Host name / IP address = the DNS name or IP address of the IBM i to connect to.

Username = Your IBM i user profile name.

Password = Your IBM i password – you can leave this blank if you want it to ask you every time you connect.

Use FTPES = This stands for FTP over Explicit SSL. Check this box if your IBM i FTP server has been configured to allow SSL and you’d like the additional security of using an encrypted connection.

The Main IDE Display

Once you’ve connected, you’ll be presented with a screen that shows the “Toolbox” on the left and a welcome screen containing getting started information and developer news, as shown in the screenshot below.

Any of the panels in ILEditor, including these two, can dragged to different places on the display or closed by clicking the “X” button in the corner of the panel. There is also an icon of a pin that you can click to toggle whether a panel is always open or whether it is hidden when you’re not using it. If you look carefully on the right edge of the window, you’ll see a bar titled “Outline View”. This is an example of a hidden panel. If you click on the panel title, the panel will open. If you click the pin, it will stay open. You can adjust the size of any panel by dragging its border.

When you open source code, it will be placed in tabs in the center of the display (just as the welcome screen is initially.) These can also be resized or moved with the mouse. This makes the UI very flexible and simple to rearrange to best fit your needs.

The Toolbox

Perhaps the best place to start is with the toolbox.  Here’s what that panel looks like:

Most of the options in this panel are self-explanatory. I will not explain them all but will point out a few interesting things that I discovered when using ILEditor:

  • The “Library List” is primarily used when compiling a program. This is the library list to find file definitions and other dependencies that your program will need.
  • The “Compile Settings” lets you customize your compile commands. Perhaps you have a custom command you use when compiling. Or perhaps you use the regular IBM commands but want to change some of the options used. In either case, you’ll want to look at the Compile Settings.
  • As you might expect, “Connection Settings” has the host name, whether to use FTPES and other settings that are needed to connect to the host. In addition to that, there are some other useful options hidden away in the connection settings:
    • On the IFS tab, you’ll find a place to configure where your IFS source code is stored and which library it should be compiled into.
    • On the Editor tab, there is a setting to enable the “Outline View”. You’ll want to make sure this is checked, otherwise you’ll be missing out on this feature.
    • On the ILEditor tab, there’s a setting called “Use Dark Mode”. This will change the colors when it displays your source code to use a black background (as opposed to the default white background), which many people, myself included, find easier on the eyes.
  • When you change something in the “Connection Settings” (including the options described above), you will need to disconnect from the server and reconnect so that the new settings take effect.

Opening Source Code from a Member List

ILEditor allows you to open source code from either an IFS file or a traditional source member. You can use the Member Browser or IFS Browser options in the toolbox to browse your IBM i to find the source you wish to open and open it.

The Member Browser opens as a blank panel with two text fields at the top. At first, I wasn’t sure exactly what these were for as there wasn’t any explanation. I guessed that this was where you specified the library (on the left) and the source physical file (on the right) that you wanted to browse. Iit turned out that I was correct. If you type the library and filename and click the magnifying glass, it will show you all the members in that file.

I have a lot of source members that I keep in my personal library, and I often get impatient waiting for the member list to load in RDi. I was pleasantly surprised to see that the member browser in ILEditor loads considerably faster.

There is also a “hidden” feature where you can press Ctrl-P to search the list of recent members that you listed in the member browser. Just press Ctrl-P and start typing, and it’ll show the members that match the search string. This was a very convenient way to find members.

Once you’ve found the member (in either the regular member browser or the “search recent” dialog), you can double-click on the member name to open it.

Create or Open a Member Without Browsing

In the upper-left of the ILEditor window, there is a File menu that works like the file menus found in most other Windows programs. You can click File/New to create a new member or IFS file or File/Open to open an existing member or IFS file when you know the name and therefore don’t need to browse for it.

The File Menu also offers keyboard shortcuts to save time. You can press Ctrl-O for Open, or Ctrl-N for New to bypass the menu.

One thing that I found a little unusual is that you must specify the source type when you open an existing member. I expected this when creating a new member, since the system doesn’t know what it is. But when opening an existing member, I expected it to default to the source type of the member so that you don’t have to specify it every time. I discovered that if you do not specify the type, it will default to plain text. I spoke to Liam about this, and he assured me that this is something he plans to improve in the future. Thankfully, this is not the case when using the member browser. It only happens when opening the member directly.

Working with IFS Files

The IFS Browser can be used to browse the IFS on your IBM i and find the source code that you’d like to open. It will begin browsing the IFS in the directory that you’ve specified in the IFS tab in your connection settings. Any subdirectories found beneath that starting directory can be expanded as well to see the files inside of it.

Like the member browser, double-clicking on an IFS file will open it in the editor.

The File menu also has options for creating a new IFS file or opening an existing IFS file when you know the exact path name. In that case, you do have to type the entire IFS path. There is no option to browse folders as you’d find in the open dialogs of other Windows software. That didn’t seem like a problem to me. If I wanted to see the folders, I’d use the IFS browser instead.

The Source Editor

I found the editor to be very intuitive, since it works the same as you’d expect from a PC file editor. It provides syntax highlighting and an outline view that make the source code very easy to read. In the screenshot below, I’m using “dark mode”, so you’ll see that my source code has a black background.

 

Syntax highlighting worked very nicely in free format RPG, CL and C/C++ code, including code that used the embedded SQL preprocessor.

Unfortunately, it did not work in fixed format RPG code. Liam tells me that fixed format RPG is especially difficult to implement because he codes ILEditor’s syntax highlighting using regular expressions, and regular expressions are difficult to make work for position-dependent source. However, he assured me that he does plan to support fixed format RPG code and is working on solving this problem.

I noticed that I could still type fixed format code and make changes to it, and aside from the source not being colored correctly, it worked fine.

The Outline View was a pleasant surprise, because I wasn’t really expecting an editor other than RDi to have one. It does not have as many features as the RDi outline view, but it worked very nicely for what I needed it for. I was also pleasantly surprised that the Outline View worked with CL code.

Compiling Programs

The compile option can be run by using the Compile menu at the top of the screen, the compile icon (shown in the picture below) or by pressing Ctrl-Shift-C.

I discovered that the compile option does not ask for any parameters. Instead, it uses the options that you specified in your connection and compile settings options in the toolbar. So if you want to change one of the default compiler options, you need to change them in the compile settings each time.

There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. The advantage is that it’s very quick and easy to compile a program. When you’re developing software, you often have to compile it many times, and it’s very nice to be able to skip the dialog and just have it compile. The disadvantage is when you want to do something different in a one-off situation. You have to go into the compile settings to change it, so that’s a little bit of extra work. However, I find that I don’t need to do that very often, so this wasn’t a big deal to me.

When an error occurs during the compile, an error listing will open showing you what went wrong, very similar to what you’d find in RDi. Like RDi, you can click on the error and it will position the editor to the exact line of code where the error was found.

One thing that surprised me about the compile and the error message dialog was that it is considerably faster than RDi. That seems strange to me, since both tools are connecting to the IBM i and running the same IBM compiler for RPG. However, I found that depending on the size of the member, the ILEditor compile was 10-20 seconds faster than the RDi one.

RPG Fixed Format to Free Format Converter

One feature of ILEditor that simply did not work well was the RPG converter. Some of the fixed format code in my program would convert, but other things (including things that should’ve converted easily) did not. Code that spanned multiple lines did not convert at all.

In my opinion, the converter needs a lot of work before it will be useful. I pointed this out to Liam, and he told me that he agrees and has a complete rewrite of the converter on his to-do list.

Other Features

I’d like to mention some of the other features of ILEditor that I did not have time to try out before writing this article. Since I didn’t have time, I can’t review them and give my opinion – but, I wanted to mention them. That way, if you’re looking for these features, you can give them a try yourself and see what you think.

  • Source Diff = compares two sources (members or IFS files) and highlights what is different about them.
  • Spooled File Viewer = Lets you view spooled files that are in an output queue
  • SQL Generator = Generates SQL DDL code from an existing database object
  • Offline mode = lets you download source from the IBM i to store on your PC and work on it while you are not connected (for example, when traveling on a plane or train without good internet access), uploading the results later.

My Conclusion

I was extremely impressed by ILEditor. RDi has more features, such as debugging, refactoring and screen/report design, but I was surprised at just how many features ILEditor has, considering it was written by one man in his free time and costing nothing. I was pleasantly surprised by the performance of ILEditor, which was consistently faster than RDi while using far less memory.

Unfortunately, the lack of syntax highlighting for fixed format RPG will be a problem for many RPG developers, and I sincerely hope that does not discourage them from at least trying ILEditor.

If a lot of people try it, and some of them donate money or give their time to help with development, this tool could easily become a serious competitor to RDi.

Study Shows IBM i Has Big Cost Advantage Over Alternatives

According to an August 2017 study conducted by Quark + Lepton, an independent research and management consulting firm, IBM i on Power Systems servers provides a substantial TCO (total cost of ownership) advantage over equivalent Windows or Linux platforms.

For the study, which was funded by IBM, Quark + Lepton used three different server/database configurations: an IBM Power Systems server running IBM i Operating System V7.3 with DB2, an x86 server running Windows Server 2016 and SQL Server 2016 and an x86 with Linux and Oracle Database 12c. TCO estimates were based on the costs of hardware acquisition and maintenance, OS and database licenses and support, system and database admin personnel salaries and facilities expenses. Several different use cases were analyzed.

A Big TCO Advantage

The results of the study showed the projected three-year TCO for the three setups to be as follows:

  • Power Systems/IBM i/DB2 – $430,815
  • x86/Windows/SQL Server – $1.18 million
  • x86/Linux/Oracle – $1.27 million

The study concludes that “costs for use of IBM i on Power Systems are lower across the board”. For example, initial hardware and software acquisition costs for the IBM i systems averaged 8% less than the Windows systems, and fully 24 % less than the Linux systems.

Perhaps the most surprising factor in the stark differential between the IBM i solution and the others was in the cost of required support staff. Based on a 300-user scenario, IBM i required 0.3 FTE (full time equivalent) support personnel, compared to 0.5 FTE for the Windows setup and 0.55 FTE for Linux.

But the biggest differential in staff costs arose from the fact that IBM i admins could handle both the OS and the database. Those double-duty IBM i personnel commanded salaries of about $86,000, while Windows and Linux sysadmins were paid $71,564 and $86,843 respectively. However, the Windows and Linux setups also required the support of separate database admins, adding $100,699 (SQL Server) and $103,283 (Oracle) to the personnel costs for those solutions.

Simplicity

In its conclusion the report notes that while the industry is trending toward ever-greater complexity, the simplicity of IBM i makes it by far the most cost-effective platform on which to base an organization’s IT infrastructure.

Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI) Now Runs on IBM Power Systems

Stefanie ChirasToday’s corporate data centers are using more and more compute and storage resources to meet rapidly increasing operational requirements. Because traditional data center architectures are experiencing great difficulty in meeting these new demands, an alternative technology is swiftly gaining acceptance. Hyperconverged Infrastructure, or HCI, is on what Stefanie Chrias, IBM’s VP Power Systems, calls “a rapid growth trajectory.” And now, for the first time, this new technology that is so swiftly penetrating enterprise data centers is available to run on IBM’s Power Systems platforms.

But what, exactly, is hyperconverged infrastructure?

HCI takes the fundamental elements of the data center, servers, data storage, and networking, and packages them together in a single unified appliance. The entire unit, as well as its component parts, is controlled entirely by sophisticated software under the direction of detailed policies established by IT administrators. Both the compute engine and the storage controller run on the same server platform, and each appliance functions as a node in a cluster.

The constituent parts of the HCI appliance are hidden behind a unified “single pane of glass” software interface. So, there is no need for users or applications to deal directly with the hardware or its particular characteristics. The software can automatically and transparently carry out tasks such as performing data backups, scaling out (simply by adding nodes) to provision additional storage as needed, or swapping out nodes that fail. This approach greatly simplifies the IT management task.

Part of the appeal of HCI is that it was designed to run on inexpensive industry-standard x86-compatible servers and storage devices. But that meant IBM’s RISC-based Power Systems line was shut out of this fast-growing market.

HCI and Power Systems

IBM Power SystemsNow, however, IBM has announced that it is partnering with Nutanix, which 451 Research has named as the leading HCI provider, to market appliances based on the Power Systems line rather than x86 servers. Because of the superior compute and data handling capabilities of the Power architecture, IBM believes this new platform will allow enterprise customers to “run any mission critical workload, at any scale, with world-class virtualization and automation capabilities.” The platform is particularly suited to running high performance database, analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence applications.

For IBM, HCI is “a fundamentally different approach to enterprise application needs.” It also represents an important emerging market that IBM didn’t want to be left out of.


Looking for Power Systems education? Take a look at COMMON’s online offerings.

IBM Power Systems Benefits

IBM Power Systems provides one of the leading IT management systems in the market. In the past, it was primarily focused on simply running a smooth operating system and solving key problems. However today it has migrated to new applications. In particular, the IBM Power Systems Linux based servers, called the OpenPOWER LC servers, are a hardware solution that many managers will find intriguing.

IBM Power Systems

Speed and Storage

OpenPOWER LC servers have two key benefits. The first is simply the speed and storage capabilities. The key specs are:

  • Up to 20 cores (2.9-3.3Ghz)
  • 2 sockets
  • 512 GB memory (16 DIMMs)
  • 115 GB/sec max sustained memory bandwidth
  • 12 3.5” SATA drives, 96 TB storage
  • 5 PCIe slots, 2 CAPI enabled
  • 2 Nvidia K80 GPU capable

That means that the analytical and big data capabilities are off the chart. In fact, MongoDB runs twice as fast and EDB Postgress runs 1.8 times as fast on the system.

Companies are dealing with more complex problems that require even more power than ever before. Firms are dealing with analytics issues such as supply chain optimization, agile asset management, fraud prevention and enterprise data management that only can be handled with a powerful big data server like the OpenPOWER LC.

Integration

The second benefit is that the server integrates nicely with existing data systems and other servers. This product is fully compatible to be plugged right into a server farm. There is no need to do extensive customization or back-end fixes.  Instead, IT managers can add it into the existing stock as a powerful new tool.

COMMON is a leading organization helping Power Systems professionals through educational events, certification, and ongoing training. For more information, please visit our website.

The Benefits of Certification

There’s still a lot of competition in today’s job market. Even skilled IT professionals will tend to struggle to get jobs today. Getting specialized certifications can make all the difference for people who are looking for a job or trying to succeed in a career.

Career Advancement

Having IT certification can mean the difference between getting the job and staying in the job market for even longer. Some employers will actually narrow down the applicant pool based on who has certification and who doesn’t. Certified individuals will also find it easier to network with people who have similar certifications, which can enhance their career opportunities.

Rising in a company and getting a higher salary often requires people to familiarize themselves with new technologies and acquire new skills. People will usually need to provide some documented evidence that they have such skills and knowledge, and earning new certifications can make that happen.

Career Stability

Employers are more likely to keep certified employees on staff during difficult times. People with high-level certifications have documented skills that other employees won’t have. People who earn new certifications will make themselves more valuable employees.

New certifications allow IT professionals to stay relevant. The technological world changes very quickly. Skills can become obsolete just as rapidly. The people who are progressing further with certifications immediately send the message that they’re able to adapt to this transitory environment. These are the people who will keep their jobs or get new jobs more easily. Certified people know their field and they can network within the field more effectively.

Learn more about COMMON Certification.

IBM Watson For Oncology Going Live in a U.S. Community Hospital

In a first for the U.S., IBM’s Watson For Oncology (WFO) is essentially joining the clinical staff at an American community hospital. After being trained at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, and being tested in hospitals in several parts of the world, Watson will assist doctors at the 327-bed Jupiter Medical Center of Jupiter, Florida, in developing personalized treatment plans for cancer patients.

Why Watson?

What Watson brings to the table is its ability to quickly sift through reams of data from medical journals, textbooks, and clinical trials in order to provide doctors with rankings of the most appropriate treatment options for a particular patient. Identifying the proper treatment regime for cancer patients has always been difficult. Now, with rapid advancements in cancer research and clinical practice, the amount of data available to doctors is far outstripping their ability to keep up with current best practices.

WFO can lift much of what is essentially an information processing task off the shoulders of physicians. By combining information from the medical literature with the patient’s own records and physicians’ notes, Watson can provide a ranked list of personalized treatment options. And if patient records don’t provide all the information it needs for its analysis, Watson will even prompt the physician for more data.

Humans Still Required

Of course WFO is not intended to in any way replace or supersede human physicians. Dr. Abraham Schwarzberg, chief of oncology at Jupiter, thinks of Watson as providing a “second opinion” in the examination room. Doctors can access Watson’s recommendations on a tablet device while the examination of the patient is in progress. “We want a tool that interacts with physicians on the front end as they are prospectively going into making decisions,” says Dr. Schwarzberg.

Results

HospitalIn a study of 638 breast cancer cases conducted at a hospital in Bengaluru, India, WFO’s treatment recommendations achieved an overall 90 percent rate of agreement with those of a human tumor board. Still, IBM acknowledges that it’s too early to claim that Watson will actually improve outcomes for cancer patients. But with the vastly improved ability to personalize treatment options for individual patients that Watson provides, there’s every reason for optimism. As Nancy Fabozzi, a health analyst at Frost & Sullivan puts it, “Watson for Oncology is fundamentally reshaping how oncologists derive insights that enable the best possible decision making and highest quality patient care.”

2017 Fall Conference Call for Presentations

The Call for Presentations is now open for the COMMON 2017 Fall Conference & Expo, which takes place October 2-4, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency St. Louis at the Arch in St. Louis, Missouri.

This three-day Power Systems educational and networking event will be packed with educational sessions on a variety of topics, including vendor-led sessions, an Expo and numerous networking opportunities. The conference will consist of stand-alone sessions of 75 or 165 minutes in length, lecture and demos and preconference workshops.

The education team is looking for content in every Course of Study. But we are particularly interested in sessions on External Storage, Virtualization, Managing Source Code in the IFS using GIT and general Systems Management courses. We are also looking for intermediate to advanced sessions on Node.js, Python, and Ruby.

The deadline to submit a session for consideration is June 5, 2017. To submit a session, you must first log-on to your Cosmo account.

If this is your first time using COSMO, click on password in “I don’t know my username or password.” For your username, use the email address you have on file with COMMON. Follow the instructions to retrieve your password. (Issues signing on? Call us at 1.312.279.0192.)

Once you are in the system, hover on CALL FOR PRESENTATIONS on any page and then select Submit a New Session. See the screen shot below.

Call for Presentations

If you are a returning speaker as would like to resubmit a session you have previously submitted, go to My Sessions and click Select next to the session in your session list to edit the status.

You can view and edit any of your submissions up until the June 5, 2017 deadline by visiting My Sessions.

COMMON Announces 2017-2018 Board of Directors

ORLANDO, Florida, May 10, 2017: COMMON, the largest association of IBM Power Systems and Business Computing users, announced its new Board of Directors members during the Meeting of the Members at the Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando today. With election results in, Larry Bolhuis was reelected to the Board of Directors. He is joined by Charles Guarino and John Valance, all serving three-year terms.

At the meeting, COMMON also announced the new Board of Directors officers for 2017-2018:

  • President – Justin Porter
  • Vice President – Larry Bolhuis
  • Treasurer – Amy Hoerle
  • Secretary – Yvonne Enselman
  • Immediate Past President – Jeff Carey

Other members of the Board of Directors are Randy Dufault, Gordon Leary and Steve Pitcher. Manzoor Siddiqui, Executive Director of COMMON, and Alison Butterill, World-Wide Product Offering Manager for IBM i, also serve on the Board.

The COMMON Board of Directors is made up of dedicated volunteers elected by the association’s membership to provide stewardship to the organization.

Tips from an Insider – Navigating the Annual Meeting

As a former Board Member, on behalf of COMMON, I want to thank you for choosing to attend the upcoming 2017 Annual Meeting and Exposition at the amazing Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando. The fact that you are investing in yourself and your future by attending says a lot about you. COMMON is committed to ensuring your return on this investment by providing the best possible conference. Try and make sure you take advantage of everything the conference offers.

I’ve been attending COMMON conferences for what seems like decades, both as an attendee and as a volunteer. Here, I want to share tips that have resulted in great conference experiences.

  1. Dress comfortably for the conference and wear comfortable shoes. Bring a light jacket (or a long-sleeve shirt) as session rooms can be chilly at times. Remember, the typical dress code is business casual for the conference. You will do more walking than you realize, so I can’t stress comfortable shoes enough.
  2. COMMON will provide a backpack at registration that can be used to carry the items you need with you each day. If possible, register on Saturday so you can go back to your room, read everything inside the backpack and then fill it with some of the items below.
  3. Don’t forget your phone charger. You’ll find that your battery is drained by the end of each day. If you have a portable charging unit, they are great as well.
  4. Bring a few breakfast bars with you so you will always have a bite to eat if the day gets a little hectic or if you can’t find a quick lunch.
  5. Go online to www.common.org/sessions and create your session grid before leaving for Orlando. This gives you plenty of time to map out which sessions are interesting to you. I always choose two sessions for each period so I have a primary and a backup session. Then, I can decide the day of the conference which sessions I am going to attend. Sometimes I make my decision by the speaker, by the topic or just what I feel like.
  6. Even if it’s not your first time to the Annual Meeting, stop by the First Timer’s Session on Saturday evening from 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. Trevor Perry leads this very informative session. You’ll get great nuggets of information to enhance your conference experience. It’s also a great way to start making friends that will explore Universal with you afterwards.
  7. Put your phone on vibrate during sessions so you will not be the person everyone looks at when the phone starts ringing, interrupting the speaker.
  8. Arrive to sessions 7 to 10 minutes early to find a good seat and to settle in before the speaker starts. This is also a great time to start a conversation with others since they are interested in learning about the same subject. You already know you have something in common. Also, once the speaker is prepared, it can be a great time to ask a question.
  9. Bring business cards with you to exchange contact information with your peers and experts. Plus, some vendors have raffles that you can throw your cards into.
  10. Take advantage of the Exposition and learn about the latest products and solutions in the industry. If you want to receive additional information, just have your badge scanned. It’s a quick and easy way to connect with exhibitors.
  11. Before going to the Exposition on Sunday and Monday nights, I like to go back to my room, drop off my backpack and then return to wander the expo. I find it easier to walk the expo without my bag, but the drawback is not having it available to put things into. Another option is to just lighten your bag in your room and then come back down. Perhaps leave your PC or tablet safely secured in the in-room safe.
  12. Try to get a good breakfast before Opening Session on Sunday morning where Jeff Carey, our President, will kick-off the conference promptly at 9:00 a.m. I recommend getting there no later than 8:45 a.m. to get a seat. Make sure you stop at the restroom beforehand as this session goes until 10:30 a.m. Lunch is not provided on Sunday, so those breakfast bars come in handy. Otherwise, you have 45 minutes to get a little something during the midday break. The Welcome Reception starts at 5:00 p.m. in the Exposition on Sunday and will include food and drinks. Come hungry and thirsty. There is enough there for dinner.
  13. On Monday and Tuesday, lunch is served in the Exposition. It’s a good lunch. Arrive early, eat quickly and then spend the remaining time walking the expo. Make a friend or two at your table and ask if they want to walk around the expo. They wanted to ask you the same thing but were too shy.
  14. After the sessions are done each day, don’t just go up to your room and stay there. Take part in the evening events. These are great opportunities to continue your learning by getting one-on-one time with the experts and your peers. It’s amazing how much you can learn by just talking to your fellow attendees. If you are a little shy, don’t worry. Everyone is friendly and just as shy. They want to talk with you just as much as you want to talk with them. Take the first step. Walk up, introduce yourself and tell them what you do. In fact, go to the Exposition on Monday night and meet up with people you saw in your sessions. Take advantage of the many restaurants and bars at Universal’s CityWalk afterwards with your new friends.
  15. Be sure to attend the CEF Closing Reception on Wednesday night. The evening starts with dinner at Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville. (Don’t forget to bring your island/beach inspired apparel to wear.) This will be followed by dessert, rides and entertainment in The Wizarding World of Harry Potter – Hogsmeade. Explore Hogsmeade and don’t forget to try some of the butterbeer (don’t worry it is non-alcoholic). We will be able to ride attractions like Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey, Dragon Challenge and Flight of the Hippogriff without the daytime lines! While in Hogsmeade, don’t forget to stop at Ollivander’s Wand Shop, which will be open for your wizarding needs. Remember, the wand chooses the wizard. You will have a great night relaxing and having fun after four days of learning. It’s a memorable way to end the conference.
  16. The COMMON staff will wear shirts with the COMMON logo on them. If you have a question, they can help you. Just ask. The COMMON Board of Directors will have purple ribbons on their badge holders. Don’t hesitate to tell them what you need to make COMMON more effective for you.
  17. On Wednesday is the Meeting of the Members, held at 12:45 p.m. Get your lunch beforehand and then come listen to what your association is doing for you. This session is all about what COMMON is doing now and where it is going.
  18. Have a piece of paper available to jot down notes regarding things you learned at each session. When you get back to the office, talk with your management to show them what you learned and how it will help the company. This is your ticket to the 2018 Annual Meeting in San Antonio.

Remember, these are just a few of my own personal tips on how to get the most out of your investment and have a kick-ass conference. The goal is for you to learn new things, expand your horizon, meet new people and have fun.

Thank you, and I look forward to seeing you in Orlando. Safe travels.

Pete Massiello

About the Author

Pete Massiello

Pete Massiello

Pete has been working with the AS/400, iSeries, IBM i since 1989, focusing on systems management and technical support. He has held numerous technical positions through out his career. Pete is the President of iTech Solutions Group, an IBM Premier Business Partner delivering solutions and services to IBM i shops throughout the world. He is a member of IBM’s certification test writing team, an IBM Certified Systems Expert with certifications in IBM i Design, Administration, LPAR, Virtualization, Implementation, and HMC management. Pete has a BS in Computer Science from Hofstra University, and an MBA from the University of New Haven. He was President of COMMON from 2010 to 2012, and again in 2014. He is a COMMON Hall of Fame speaker and a frequent speaker at user groups all over the world. In 2011, IBM established the Champions award for Power Systems. Pete was one of the first recipients. Recently, Pete was re-nominated as a Power Systems Champion in 2016.

Spreading the MAGIC of IBM i

MAGICOne of the newest Power Systems/IBM i users’ groups is the Mid-Atlantic Group of IBM i Collaborators – or MAGIC for short. Serving Virginia Beach and the Chesapeake Bay area, MAGIC brings education and networking to this community. To learn more about MAGIC, visit www.magic-ug.org.

Thank you to Laura Hamway for answering a few questions regarding the group.

Why do Power Systems and IBM i users need MAGIC now?

MAGIC and all user groups are needed to help assist the user base with the latest offerings in the IBM i world. Currently many users are not aware of technologies available on the i. For example, open source, PHP etc. Even the advancements in RPG, utilizing RDi. These developments play a significant role in staying current. Also, user groups are great for networking. The knowledge you can learn from your peers is tremendous, and these groups bring people together to share what they have done and what issues/challenges they may face.

What gives MAGIC it’s “magic”?

MAGIC is made up of very enthusiastic IBM i users, and they want to see the platform succeed and expand. We want to educate and bring more IBM i users together. Additionally, we want to share with everyone what a great platform this is and that the IBM i can do everything other platforms can do.

What are the most important IT issues facing MAGIC members?

Currently staffing is a huge concern for IBM i shops. The user group provides a place to learn new techniques on the IBM i, and in return, this opens up the talent pool. Taking advantage of PHP, .Net and other technologies means these IBM i shops do not need to only look for RPG talent. For individuals currently on the IBM i, this means you do not have to just work in RPG. You have an opportunity to learn and utilize other great technologies and enhance your skill level.

MAGIC covers a wide geographic area. How will the organization bring its members together?

Most meetings will be online with several satellite locations. All meetings will utilize webcam. The use of the webcam will make the meetings more personable. Attendees agree that watching a presenter while they are speaking is more engaging then just watching a screen and hearing a voice. We also utilize a webcam at the satellite locations so the presenters can see how the audience is reacting and if people have questions. This method has proven to be more interactive. With this methodology, we can reach a wider audience. If you are able to attend one of the satellite meetings – that is great. You get to network with your fellow IBM i peers. If you cannot make it to a satellite location, then you can participate online. Our focus is to get the most information out to all that want to participate.

Can you share a fun or inspiring story from one of your first events?

MAGIC ConferenceOur first annual event was in Virginia Beach, a two-day conference. The challenge was getting the word out. We were new and didn’t have a name yet, but we knew there were users that would benefit. Usually Virginia Beach is beautiful with fall weather temperatures in the 70s. We thought…what a great place to come for a conference, a small beach town. A hotel right on the beach! We confirmed Charlie Guarino as a speaker at the conference. He was excited to stay in the area with the beach and sunshine. Mike Larsen even extended his trip through the weekend to take in all the sites of Virginia Beach. Well, then Hurricane Matthew decided to threaten the area. The weather was horrible! It was windy with rain the entire time. Charlie luckily got out after the conference. I think Lee Paul was stuck due to weather, and Mike got to spend the weekend in a flooded hotel! It was a conference to remember!

Besides the weather, with some cancelling due to the storm, we had a great turn out. The event was a success, and the users were fired up about all the possibilities on the i. They couldn’t wait to start a new user group. During the conference, we had a competition to see who could come up with the name for the group. Tom Rainey suggested MAGIC – Mid-Atlantic Group of IBM i Collaborators.

MAGIC is holding a Modernization Seminar on March 30, 2017. Click here to learn more.