Two approaches, one great result: Modernizing with PHP

A recent study shows that the number one concern for IBM i customers is application modernization: how to maintain the high performance, resiliency, and security of the IBM i environment while delivering business data and logic to the web and mobile devices that users demand.

Worldwide, one of the most popular development languages for web and mobile computing is PHP. More than half of the world’s websites are built with PHP, and there are more than 5 million PHP developers worldwide.

Zend has been delivering PHP on IBM i since 2005. In addition to being an excellent server-side scripting language for application modernization on IBM i, PHP is extremely RPG- and Cobol-friendly. RPG and Cobol, the workhorse languages of IBM i, are procedural and prescriptive; they made the AS/400 and its successor systems (now the IBM i) so wildly successful.

But the thousands of applications built with RPG and Cobol have had a hard time moving into the web and mobile world. Users demand access to business logic and data from any device, any where, any time. And that level of flexibility requires a modular, object-oriented approach to application design.

PHP bridges the gap between the behemoth applications of the RPG and Cobol world and the API-oriented applications of the web and mobile world. Developers can start with a procedural approach to PHP, and their apps will have a comforting familiarity for RPG and Cobol developers. Over time, as the requirements for mobile applications expand and evolve, developers can move into a more framework-based development environment. And if the development team wants to move to fully featured object-oriented approach, PHP will move there with them.

Take the time to learn something new

IBM i development teams have been integrating PHP in two ways. On some teams, there’s an RPG or Cobol programmer who is eager to add new skills to his or her personal portfolio. This is a person who knows IBM i inside and out, and see the potential for an open source language like PHP. For this person, starting with a procedural approach to PHP is absolutely the right way to go.

Value Drug Mart, a large retailer in Canada had exactly that kind of person on staff. He started his programming career with the AS/400 and developed deep skills in RPG. A lifelong learner, he was naturally curious about PHP and enjoyed using it to build personal websites in his free time. Eventually, he approached his management and received approval to launch a strategic initiative for modernizing the company’s application portfolio around PHP.

Introduce new skills to the team

On other teams, RPG developers may not have the time or the breadth to delve into a new language. After all, many IBM i shops are supporting expansive business applications with one or two developers. In these situations, the best approach is to hire a PHP developer, someone with no background on IBM i, and pair him or her up with an RPG developer.

This was the case at MicroLease in the United Kingdom. Initially, the firm hired one PHP developer, who worked closely with the RPG developers to build a new web-based interface for their customer messaging system. The project was such a success that MicroLease moved even more applications from a proprietary, Windows-based interface to PHP. And along the way, they added three more PHP developers—with the full support and encouragement of the RPG team.

Training is always beneficial

Whether your RPG developers aspire to learn PHP, or your PHP developers aim to assimilate to IBM i, your team needs training. And although you can get training for open source PHP from a myriad of sources, only Zend provides PHP training that is specific to IBM i. Called “PHP Foundations for IBM i Professionals,” the course is designed for RPG and Cobol developers who are interested in learning PHP. It teaches the fundamentals of PHP, and culminates in building a challenge project that simulates a real world application: a web front end for an order inquiry application. For skilled PHP developers, the modules will introduce them to the terms and data structures that are specific to IBM i.

The PHP curricula is available online or in person, for individuals or teams. In addition, college professors can access the curricula through IBM’s Power Systems Academic Initiative (PSAI), a topic we’ll cover in our next blog.

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    Amy Anderson

    Amy Anderson is the director of business development at Rogue Wave Software. In this role, she is responsible for strategic alliances, including IBM, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure. Amy worked on the AS/400 and later the iSeries for ten years, where she focused on database technology and business continuity. She lives in Rochester, Minnesota, where she enjoys triathlons, landscaping, and rehabbing her family’s mid-century cottage in northern Minnesota.

    About Amy Anderson

    Amy Anderson is the director of business development at Rogue Wave Software. In this role, she is responsible for strategic alliances, including IBM, Amazon Web Services, and Microsoft Azure. Amy worked on the AS/400 and later the iSeries for ten years, where she focused on database technology and business continuity. She lives in Rochester, Minnesota, where she enjoys triathlons, landscaping, and rehabbing her family’s mid-century cottage in northern Minnesota.