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Devansh Bansal
Devansh Bansal Posted on Jun 20, 2024   |  5 Min Read

Organizations relying on legacy IBM i applications to drive critical operations are facing significant challenges in securing the platform’s longevity. Addressing security vulnerabilities has become vital as these applications age, especially in the face of rising cybersecurity threats. Another pressing concern is modernizing the user experience to meet evolving user expectations, as interfaces built decades ago now feel obsolete, despite the platform’s proven stability and reliability.

Future-Proofing IBM i Applications

Furthermore, as experienced IBM i experts retire, companies risk losing vital institutional knowledge that could undermine their age-old assets. In light of these hurdles, forward-looking organizations are committed to future-proofing their IBM i infrastructure, making sure it not only survives but continues to drive innovation across their operations. In this blog, we will deep dive into how businesses can build future-ready strategies to secure their IBM i systems for the long term.

Embracing a Blended Application Strategy

To future-proof their IBM i systems and harness the power of new technologies, companies are increasingly adopting a “blended” application strategy. So, while they continue to use the existing RPG, COBOL, and DB2 code for running core applications, they are incrementally introducing modern technologies to enhance functionality and user experience.

By pursuing a blended approach, businesses continue to benefit from the reliability, user-friendliness, and low cost of ownership of the IBM i technology, while simultaneously leveraging the capabilities of the emerging technologies.

As a part of this strategy, companies are modernizing their IBM i application code, user interfaces, and development tools, making it easier to onboard new skilled developers to work on their systems. They are also able to eliminate the risks associated with migrating to a completely new platform, saving on their hard-earned investments.

Creating a Blended Architecture

To support the ‘blended’ approach mentioned above, organizations require an architecture that allows different technologies to communicate seamlessly. If they introduce modern user interfaces or incorporate open-source modules built using languages such as JavaScript, C#, PHP, or Swift, they require an interface layer capable of translating between communication protocols of these languages and IBM i’s requirements.

The key to achieving this integration lies in embracing a loosely coupled architecture, ensuring that changes on either the open-source or the IBM i side do not disrupt the overall system’s functionality. This is where an API-driven structure shines-it provides a robust foundation for secure, authenticated, and efficient data exchange and routing.

APIs act as intermediaries, governed by well-defined “contracts” that specify the required input data fields and the expected responses. However, this loosely coupled API structure must be bidirectional, supporting both inbound requests from external systems to the IBM i, as well as outbound calls from the IBM i to other platforms and services in the broader ecosystem. This bidirectional capability makes sure your IBM i remains a fully integrated and collaborative component within your organization’s digital landscape.

Fortifying Security Defenses

Implementing modern-day security measures can safeguard your IBM i applications from both external and internal threats. Several organizations using IBM i still rely on basic authentication, an old-school identity verification method wherein the user is instructed to provide a username and password before they can be granted access to a resource (IBM i application in this case). Such an approach is regarded as risky as it involves a higher probability of data theft. Organizations can consider using encrypted JSON web tokens to secure their transmissions, OAuth (Open Authorization) for validating user identity, and multi-factor authentication to provide an additional layer of protection.

Besides, open-source security modules written in languages such as Python and JavaScript can be leveraged to implement advanced security capabilities. These modules, used by thousands across the globe, are updated constantly by security professionals. So, if any vulnerability is detected, it can be addressed swiftly. And the best part-most of these modules can be freely downloaded from the internet and incorporated into your IBM i environment.

The Ultimate Guide to Migrating IBM i Applications to the Cloud

Deep Dive

Modernizing With APIs

Embracing a loosely coupled API architecture can enhance your ability to leverage the latest UI/UX technologies. It simplifies the modernization of your codebase by seamlessly integrating open-source modules with your existing RPG/COBOL code using high-speed connections.

By utilizing next-gen UI frameworks like Angular, React, and Vue, you can efficiently build user interfaces for IBM i applications. These frameworks allow you to incorporate open-source UI components easily. Need a dropdown list or want to export data to Excel? Simply download the necessary code-there’s no need to write the code from scratch. For even greater simplicity, you can use low-code tools, feeding them data from your IBM i applications.

The primary challenge of modernization using APIs lies in the monolithic nature of IBM i programs. IBM i programs with hundreds and thousands of lines of code are not uncommon. These monolithic systems make it challenging to extract individual functions for API enablement. To overcome this, IBM i users are increasingly moving to open-source languages with built-in modules to enhance their applications.

IBM i users can now write new functions in open-source languages such as Python, JavaScript, and C# and use APIs to call these functions from their IBM i application. High-speed APIs facilitate this integration without slowing down IBM i processes. Users can also add email and text messaging, QR code scanning, and e-commerce capabilities to applications using free, open-source modules. They can also replace existing functions in IBM i programs with componentized open-source code. High-speed APIs enable you to decompose existing monolithic applications into components that can support emerging technologies.

Honing New Skills

This is possibly the most crucial yet challenging step in ensuring the longevity of your IBM i systems. Future-proofing IBM i demands an aggressive approach to continuous learning and embracing new technologies. Instead of responding to problems that necessitate change, businesses should proactively seek opportunities by leveraging the latest technologies to drive change. For instance, they can learn and experiment with new programming languages such as Python and JavaScript and explore the possibilities they offer for modernizing their legacy applications.

Organizations can encourage IBM i developers to adopt open-source development tools, such as Git, Jenkins, and Visual Studio Code, as promoted by IBM’s MERLIN initiative. Such a step will enable them to seek the expertise of new developers familiar with these tools to enhance their IBM i environment.

While this proactive mindset may seem obvious, we have grown complacent, opting for familiar and comfortable choices for far too long. In some ways, IBM has enabled this complacency by maintaining backward compatibility, allowing many IBM i users to continue running legacy System/36 code. While this backward compatibility is a strength that sets the IBM i apart, it has also inadvertently hindered our progress and innovation. If we want to truly future- proof our systems, we need to discard such short-sightedness and think long-term.

Thrive in the Digital Age with IBM i Modernization

Future-proofing your IBM i applications is essential to ensure they remain a driving force for innovation and growth. By embracing a blended strategy, fortifying security defenses, modernizing through APIs, and cultivating vital skills, organizations can maximize the value of their IBM i investments and position themselves for long-term success.

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