Data Directions: DB2/400 V4R3 Closer and Closer to Home

Not too long ago, we could rely on a new version of the AS/400 operating system every 18 months. That was just about enough time to get used to it, take advantage of some of the new features, and prepare for the upgrade.

Now, OS/400 upgrades happen every six to eight months. Changes are dramatic and our ability to keep up is falling behind. Unfortunately, this is a no win for IBM. We complain that the system does not do this or that, and IBM needs to get current with other technologies out there, then we complain again when they do what we asked!

Oh well, now we have OS400 version 4 release 3. What could possibly be different in this new release? Version 4 was a new launching of OS/400. It opened it up, brought us the Internet, teased us with a GUI with Java, stabilized the database triggers and referential integrity, and introduced more integrated function with Domino (Lotus Notes). IBM renamed the native database in OS/400 a couple of years ago to DB2/400 even though it had little resemblance to DB2. However, each release brings us closer to the full capabilities of DB2 without losing some of the features we have come to know and love (DDS as an example.)

So what is new in this release? Lots from what I see.

New capabilities include better Internet access for database integration, some new data types in the database, and much better facilities for data propagation from one database to another or across DB2 databases. Some of the facilities that have been part of PTF releases are making their way into the core database. Business Intelligence (BI) is starting to become a standard feature in most databases, and this release is full of BI capabilities and functions.

Security for Internet applications has been enhanced, and new tools make it even easier to build and access databases from Internet applications. This should be especially good news for those developing intranets too.

Graphical access is getting better, both through Client Access and with Java-enabled functions. We will be getting graphical data management tools that should make managing the database more like what happens in SQL Server on NT. Don’t be too concerned, our favorite DDS commands are not going away.

One of the big problems that databases have as they get larger is that of performance. This is critical as we keep more and more data, and we let more and more users create their own inquiries. This is an obvious trend and one that makes sense, but try to explain to your users why joining eight files then sorting them trashes performance. They can do that on the PC without any problem. Right! The query optimize has gained additional smarts to build and store paths that it views as frequently used.

Enhancements have been made to the data propagator, allowing the database to be defined on different platforms and updated by the system. This is very nice for multiplatform environments as well as ones with more than one AS/400.

The ODBC connection continues to get faster (Project Lightning not withstanding). This is good news for all of us building more capabilities with VB or some other PC tool. The ability for the AS/400 to host true client/server applications is critical for the future success of the platform. This will help.

For the larger folks, the data mining tools are getting better, such as the neural network facility that assists in finding patterns in your data. This competes with many of the tools that are coming out from most of the major vendors as data warehousing matures. New tools are needed to make building them easier and extracting the right data simpler.

Whether we like it or not, there are new capabilities, and a lot of functions that we have been asking for. Now we have to figure out what to do with them, have our vendors provide viable products and have our developers learn how to take advantage of them. Other than that, it was just another ho-hum release that we can expect every eight months or so.

Over the next few months we will take a look at each of these facilities after I get a chance to install and try them. All in all, there are a lot of new things that IBM is doing to continue to make the AS/400 a very viable machine. If only the rest of the world thought so.

John Bussert is president of Swift Technologies (Marengo, Ill.), a company specializing in AS/400 and Windows NT software. jbussert@stecnet.com