Tag Archives: IBM

When “end of an era” doesn’t cover it

This week, I tendered my resignation at IBM, after 10 years and 4 months, to a manager who has been my team leader and friend for the past 3 years. I can honestly say that it was a really hard moment; but also the right moment to make this particular transition.

As I’ve repeatedly written over the past few years – IBM has been a company I always aspired to work for, and once I had the chance, one that I’ve been immensely proud to represent. It’s a company that has endured over a century, and one that I was able to spend time with for a tenth of its existence – it was really the age of both WebSphere and the rise of IBM Software Group, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been there.

I have brilliant memories of the past decade. IBM is an amazing company and I will always value the chance to be a part of it, particularly in a wonderful location like the Hursley Lab. The people I’ve worked with, and with whom I’ve formed what I believe will be enduring friendships, have been simply outstanding. There were so many opportunities to do great things, not only in “the day job” but also as a BlueIQ Ambassador and social collaboration advocate, with IBM developer communities, in the universities programme representing IBM at careers fairs and as a guest lecturer in degree programmes, and the schools and community programme as a BlueFusion volunteer and mentor to kids at schools in deprived areas. I’ve also loved the chances to learn from others formally and informally, and to act as a mentor to others.

This will sound like a total paean, but it’s very true that there are amazing talents around IBM. In 7 years in IBM Software Services, and more than 3 years representing the development, strategy and product management teams in the lab back out to the field, I amassed a list of friends and colleagues from across continents, business units, and brands. It’s amazing to think of the broad reach of my network and I can’t help but be grateful for that.

My next steps are still forming; but I’m looking forward to spending more time with Open Source communities, with developers, with new technology, with connected systems and the Internet of Things, and as a speaker and writer. I’m also grateful to a range of friends for their support, particularly in taking over initiatives like eightbar, and in enabling me to remain involved in strands like Eclipse and MQTT.

Thanks for following me, reading my blog, sharing my thoughts, and joining the journey. I hope what comes next will be a continuation of the path I’ve been on; and an exciting next step in developing the direction I’ve been headed in.

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Reflections on IBM

For the past couple of weeks I’ve been thinking about the company I’ve spent the last 10 years of my life with – IBM. A few months ago I wrote about the company’s centennial. As an historian this has had me extremely engaged, excited, and interested.

In the last week I’ve had a couple of interesting experiences related to IBM.

First of all, I visited the Oxford University Careers in Computing Event.  I’d been up to Oxford in November for the wider University careers event, but I enjoyed the opportunity to talk with science students about what the company is all about. IBM helped to invent modern computing; to put man on the moon; it invented the PC, the floppy disk, various storage advances; it helped decode the human genome; it built the machines that defeated humans at chess and at Jeopardy; it is helping to build a Smarter Planet. It’s a great place to be.

Secondly, I helped to host some US colleagues in our UK lab at Hursley. I love Hursley and I’ve been enormously privileged to work there for the past few years. I remember my first experience of visiting IBM there as a customer in ~2000 – seeing the wonderful Wedgewood Room, the IBM consultant I was working with dropped the thought that one day I could work there into my head, and I’ve spent a long time wanting to work there, getting to work there, and then learning the history and showing it to others. Wonderful place.

I’m proud to have had the chance to work with an organisation that has helped to reshape and change the world. The quality of the people, the history of the organisation, and the amazing technology, has transformed my life.

WebSphere Message Broker version 8 is out!

Hot on the heels of the latest goodness in WebSphere MQ, it’s the turn of IBM’s Enterprise Service Bus – WebSphere Message Broker – to get a major new update.

WMB v8.0 was announced back in early October and has just arrived ready for  download in versions for distributed platforms, System z mainframes, and as a Hypervisor Edition for Linux and AIX (to be provisioned via the IBM Workload Deployer appliance).

As I did with WMQ last month, I wanted to take a moment to break out and highlight some of the key things in this release that you may have missed from the announcement letter. This won’t be a comprehensive list of everything, but I  want to point out some of the cooler features that you’ll want to be aware of. So, here we go…

(I’ve included a few screenshots to whet your appetite, click for larger versions!)

A simpler development experience

Version 8 brings a number of enhancements to the development experience, but one worth highlighting is what we call “Apps and Libs” – the idea that sets of message flows may be grouped into a unit called an Application which can be deployed, stopped and started as a whole. With Libraries, there are also truly re-usable assets like .esql files, or sub-flows, which can be deployed and updated separately, and invoked dynamically at runtime. This is a key change in the way that the Broker works – previously, sub-flows were compiled into the main flow and changing one required redeployment of all flows using it… they are now dynamically linked when needed, so they can be deployed and replaced more easily.

A new standards-based parser and message modeler

A new Data Format Description Language (DFDL, which you’ll sometimes hear called “daffodil”) enables any text or binary data to be understood within the message model. The Broker has had the “MRM” for many years, so of course could already do this, but DFDL is a new industry standard which can supersede the MRM (of course, you can continue to use your existing flows and message formats – you’re not forced to use DFDL). There’s a new mapper, too.

More importantly, coming along with DFDL and the mapper is a really, really nice set of utilities for testing message models inside the Toolkit – you’ll now be able to confirm that the model matches the test data without having to go through a full model->deploy-> test-at-runtime cycle. I saw this demo’ed at the WebSphere Technical Conference in Berlin during October and was blown away by it – it would have saved me a lot of time back in my consulting days!

Comprehensive .NET support

If you have .NET applications, assemblies, or services on the Windows platform, and you want to access those from your message flows – you can. If you want to write your message flow logic using C# or VB.NET or any .NET 4.0 CLR-supported language, using Visual Studio – you can.

If you don’t know how to get started with this stuff, the Toolkit has a new .NET Pattern to lead you by the hand and get you going quickly, and project wizards for Visual Studio.So, if you want a high-performance ESB platform that connects “anything to anything”, with minimal need to learn new skills, and run it on Windows with deep .NET integration – this release is going to cover your requirements.

Web administration

Delivered in version 8 is a first stage in making the Broker more easy to administer from a lightweight client – a web browser. Whilst power users and existing administrators can continue to use the Message Broker Explorer GUI, there is now an easy way to enable an optional web interface for basic administration tasks. Continuing the theme of simplicity the product has followed for a while, no additional moving parts (app or web servers) are required! Version 8.0 provides read-only views of running Applications and access to the log – more capabilities will be rolled into this interface in the future.

Record and Replay

Sometimes, when you are dealing with a set of end-to-end flows of data between applications, you may want the capability to record what is going on, and to replay specific scenarios and sets of events. This could be the case in audit, test, and many other scenarios. Another of the massive enhancements in version 8 is the Broker’s response to this requirement – again delivered using the same simple, lightweight interface offered by the web administration tool.

This also builds on technology around monitoring that has been progressively built into the Broker over the past couple of releases, so there are some really solid foundations and it is straightforward to set up.

Richer, yet easier to use

Just as I highlighted in my piece about WebSphere MQ 7.1, the Hursley teams have been strongly focused on “consumability” (translation for non-IBM-speakers = UX) for a number of years now. WMB continues to add capabilities that make it a richer, stronger integration platform, but also smooths out rough edges seen in earlier releases and is just… well… more productive to use. There’s even a drive to reduce the jargon and make the Broker logs more easy to understand, with new Activity Logging which aims to explain what a flow is doing in plain language (“GET message queue X”, “Update DB table Z”, and so on).

Taken together, the new wizards, web interfaces, integrated testing tools, message modelling tools, reduced dependencies, lightweight deployment with apps and libs… the combination just makes it a much more enjoyable experience for developer and administrators. And there’s a new installer, too.

The “papercuts” and node additions lists are huge: new JMSReceive node; new options for the File nodes; new Connect:Direct nodes; WS-ReliableMessaging support in the SOAP nodes; ability to install without root privileges; dynamic configuration of services without the need to restart execution groups… the list just goes on! Check out the product Information Center for more details on all of the features I just don’t have space to list.

… and finally…

Huge congratulations to some hard-working development teams in Hursley, Toronto and Bangalore in getting this release out there. As I’ve said before, I’ve been using the Broker for 10 years now and it just keeps getting better, and better. These guys are a very strong set of developers who turn out a fantastic, high quality product every time. Special thanks to MGK, @mqmatt, and @domstorey for some of the screenshots in this post 🙂

Footnote: version 8.0 is friendly to developers who use Ubuntu, too! 🙂 Anton (my go-to guy on all things Debian – listen to him!) has some good advice about running WMB or WMQ on Ubuntu and Debian.

WebSphere MQ 7.1 is out – here’s why it is cool…

I’ve been fairly quiet about the latest software from the Hursley lab here on my blog – although, over the past few weeks since the announcements back at the start of October during the European WebSphere Technical Conference, I’ve definitely been speaking about WebSphere MQ v7.1 and WebSphere Message Broker v8.0 – two exciting product releases.

I’m going to spend this post talking about WMQ 7.1, which became available in electronic download form for the distributed platforms last Friday (z/OS will follow shortly). I’ll return to talk about all the (über)-coolness in Message Broker a little closer to the release date for that product.

So what is the big deal in this release?

It brings parallel / multi-version install

From version 7.1 onwards, there is now the capability to install more than one copy of WMQ on a system, for Windows and UNIX platforms. This includes installing alongside WMQ v7.0.1.6 (fixpack 6 on v7.0.1, the minimum level for multi-version install to work) – you can have one copy of v7.0.1.6, and multiple copies of 7.1, for example – and future versions will also be able to be installed in parallel, should the need arise. This should make migration and testing simpler. Applications can now point to their “own” install of WMQ if required. The GSKit installation, which provides some of the security functions for the queue manager, now gets installed “inside” the main installation as well, to make the whole thing more self-contained, and potentially easier to embed into other solutions if needed.

Here’s a teaser image from a Windows system that my colleague “mqjeff” sent me earlier today 🙂 he has 7.0.1.6 and 7.1 on the same machine.

It’s (even more) secure

WebSphere MQ has always had a number of strong security capabilities, including SSL for channel authentication and encryption, and fine-grained access control of queue manager objects via the Object Authority Manager. It has also been possible to add transparent, per-message / per-queue / per-policy on-disk encryption and signing of message data via the Advanced Message Security feature. In v7.1, a renewed focus on end-to-end security adds the ability to authorise on a per-IP/user connection basis, as well as adding more crypto algorithms and additional authorisation options, and making much more of that security function available via the MQSC administration tool. T-Rob has a much more complete post about these changes so I won’t go into any more detail here.

It runs better, on bigger systems

Bigger systems… like the z196 mainframes? Well, that’s one example, yes, but WMQ v7.1 has been more optimised for big and multicore systems in general. On the mainframe, there are a bunch of great enhancements such as increased resilience in dealing with shared queues in a coupling facility, and the introduction of Shared Message Data Sets (SMDS) to significantly improve performance there as well. Let’s just say that the performance numbers for z/OS are looking really, really good… which brings me on to…

It continues to push the performance envelope

A major focus on performance in the v7.1 cycle has produced some fantastic results, and when the performance reports appear (as SupportPacs, within the next few weeks), you’ll see the “fastest WMQ ever”. This theme runs throughout everything: not just the base runtime messaging, but also things like making the WMQ Explorer tooling significantly snappier to operate as well (oh, and that’s now 60% smaller, and more sleek!)

There is also a new option for publish/subscribe applications – the ability to publish on a topic via multicast. This re-uses some of the technology from the WebSphere MQ Low Latency product so that it can run very fast. After the initial application startup, it means that applications can also operate when the queue manager is not available.

It adds Telemetry to the base install

No surprise that I’d highlight this one (it is also an important part of the overall story, per the next heading!) – I’ve been talking about the IBM implementation of MQTT, the open protocol which is being standardised and which it was just-announced will be part of the Eclipse Paho M2M project, for the past couple of years.

In WMQ v7.1, there is no longer a separate installation to run in order to add this support. On the platforms where the Telemetry feature is supported – Windows, Linux IA64, and (new in v7.1) AIX – this is now an optional part of the base installation. That means it is very easy to try out. Oh, and as well as being integrated with WMQ Explorer, the full range of Telemetry objects can now also be administered via the MQSC command line.

It brings the family together

This is a big one, in my opinion. I’ve mentioned that WMQ “base” can now interoperate with WMQLLM via the multicast publish-and-subscribe support; and the WMQ Telemetry functionality is “in the box” as part of the installer on the relevant platforms.

Why do these things that matter? Well, as I mentioned in my recent MQTT FAQ, something that IBM has observed over a number of years of building and delivering production-ready messaging middleware is that one size does not fit all. There’s the fundamental transactional messaging backbone (WMQ base) which needs to be solid, reliable, and easy to administer through comprehensive scripted and graphical tools… but beyond that, there are some additional qualities of service that need to be considered. There’s the very high speed, low latency use case which may be very specialised (WMQLLM), and there’s the need to deal with small and constrained devices and less-reliable networks (WMQ Telemetry / MQTT). Of course, you may also want to perform file transfer over that infrastructure (WMQ File Transfer Edition), secure your messaging (WMQ AMS), or route and transform your data and connect with “foreign” systems via different protocols (WebSphere Message Broker). I’ve been talking about this as part of IBM’s Messaging Vision for a number of years and it is really showing through in this release of WebSphere MQ. It’s a complete story.

It addresses many “papercuts”

On top of all of that… the team has really tried to address many of the common papercut issues, by which I mean the gotchas, annoyances, and the “wouldn’t it be so much better if….”s. Things like, gosh, I wish I knew what version of WMQ that client is using to connect to me? (yep, you can find out now).  How about “bind on group” for messages in a cluster? The ability to backup / dump and restore the configuration of a queue manager without needing to use a SupportPac? There’s a real sense of “fit and finish”, and I believe that shows that the development team have been listening to feedback and making the tweaks that users have been asking for where possible.

So – all-in-all, there’s a lot in this release that makes it worth a look, either from the perspective of users who are looking at an upgrade to gain performance, security and usability benefits; or for those looking for a solid, dependable messaging platform which can support modern applications. There’s a lot of excitement and innovation going on in the “traditional Message Oriented Middleware” space at the moment and WMQ and the related protocols like MQTT are right at the heart of those trends.

To learn more about the features I’ve talked about, and some that I haven’t, check out the online Infocenter. You can also check out the “What’s New in WMQ v7.1” presentation from the WebSphere Technical Conference, via T-Rob’s blog.

MQTT goes free – a personal Q&A

There has been a lot of coverage over the past couple of days of some exciting announcements that I’ve been involved with at work. I’ve spent the past three days at EclipseCon Europe 2011, which doubled as the 10th birthday celebration for the Eclipse initiative. It was a funny feeling, because Eclipse started just a few weeks after I first joined IBM, and although I’ve used it and watch it “grow up”, I’ve never done EclipseCon before. The reason I’ve been out there for three days this time (as a WebSphere Messaging guy rather than a Rational tooling or build person, for example) was to get involved with activities around these announcements.

It’s all about machine-to-machine (or M2M) communications, Smarter Planet, and the Internet of Things.

Before I dive in to this, a few clarifications. First, I’m being described in a couple of news stories as “an IBM distinguished engineer”, and whilst I wish that was true, I’ve yet to ascend to those heights! Also, there are various numbers being quoted – note that the figures in the press release were not invented by IBM, the headline number of an expected 50 billion connected devices by 2020 comes from a recent study conducted by Ericsson AB. Oh, and this isn’t about a “new” protocol – MQTT has been in use since 1999.

The other clarification is that some articles seem to suggest that IBM is out to create some kind of new, alternative, Web – that’s not what has been announced, and I’m certainly not aware of any such plan! It’s about connecting “things” – sensors, mobile devices, embedded systems, even small appliances or medical devices for example – to the Web and the associated platform and ecosystem of technologies, not about reinventing or recreating them. I’m personally a huge fan of the Web as a platform 🙂

Oh, and of course, the obligatory “all opinions expressed are my own” – this is my understanding of where things are going, although of course I’m talking about events I’m directly involved in!

So what is this all about?

Two things.

1. On Nov 2, IBM, Eurotech, Sierra Wireless and Eclipse formed a new M2M Industry Working Group at Eclipse. Sierra had already started the “Koneki” project at Eclipse to work on M2M tools, and the Working Group will look at a range of topics together, such as M2M tooling, software components, open communication and messaging protocols, data formats, and APIs.

2. On Nov 3, IBM and Eurotech announced the donation of their C and Java clients for MQTT to a new Eclipse project called “Paho” which is under proposal in the incubator – with code expected to hit the repository within the next couple of months. MQTT is being given to Eclipse to live within the M2M ecosystem that is emerging there, and to provide an avenue for adoption of the protocol as a more pervasive standard for connected devices.

How is that news? Isn’t MQTT already open / free?

Technically… kinda, sorta 🙂

The MQTT specification has been published under a royalty-free license for some time, and that has led to a fantastic community contributing a range of different projects. IBM and Eurotech took this approach from early on, because it wouldn’t have been possible to compile and support code on every embedded platform that might come along – far simpler to set the protocol free.

Initially the specification was hidden away in the WebSphere Message Broker documentation, but last year it was republished, moved to a new home on developerWorks, and the license was clarified.

In August, IBM and Eurotech announced their intention to take MQTT to a standards organisation. The specific organisation has not yet been finalised, but this is also an important step in ensuring that MQTT is not “just” an IBM protocol, but something of general use which the community can feel comfortable with. If you’d like to join that discussion then there’s a Get Involved page on the mqtt.org community site.

The missing piece was code – a reference implementation, if you like. That’s one reason why the Eclipse Paho announcement is significant.

Why else is this significant?

Well, here are some of my musings on that one:

  • it shows IBM is serious, by committing code and open sourcing it (as with the original Eclipse donation in 2001);
  • the M2M Industry Working Group exists to foster the discussion in this space;
  • it makes high-quality reference Java and C client implementations freely available in source form, with a good Java implementation something that has been particularly lacking;
  • it creates an opportunity for Eclipse projects to use MQTT, and to develop tools on top of it.

The press release and Paho project proposals aren’t clear (to me) – what exactly is being donated?

IBM is seeding Eclipse Paho with C and Java client implementations of MQTT. Eurotech is donating a framework and sample applications which device and client developers can use when integrating and testing messaging components.

Why C and Java clients (aren’t they “dying” languages?) Where’s my Perl and Ruby code?!

IBM had previously made some C and Java code available in some SupportPacs, but those are outdated and the license for reuse was never clear.

It’s important to realise that this stuff came from the embedded world of 10 (and more) years ago, and continues to be applied in that industrial space. That category of device typically runs some kind of realtime Java-based OS, or a Linux-based or other runtime with a GCC toolchain for the CPU in question. C and Java are genuinely the most useful implementations to get out there. Oh, and on that “those old languages” thing – I think you’ll find they are very widely used (Android, iOS etc run variants of sorts, most non-web app development is likely to be in one or the other).

We’re very fortunate that clients libraries for a wide range of languages already exist thanks to the MQTT community – see the list at mqtt.org!

Hold on… don’t we need a broker / server / gateway?

Yes. But, one step at a time! 🙂

There are brokers available for free today, either as precompiled binaries or as full Open Source implementations, so this is not a dead end from day one.

The Paho project scope outlines the intention to add a broker to the project in the future, and to host an M2M sandbox for developers as well. That is where we are today, and this position will evolve over time.

Why Eclipse?

10 years of Eclipse The Eclipse Foundation has been a fantastic success story (oh, and, Happy 10th Birthday, Eclipse!). As the scope of their mission has broadened beyond an IDE to the web, build environments, and all kinds of other tools, it was a good place for Sierra Wireless to kick off the Eclipse Koneki M2M tools project, and is now a natural place for this primarily M2M protocol to be hosted under Paho. As James Governor notes in his write-up of the news:

… the Eclipse Public License is designed to support derivative works and embedding, while the Eclipse Foundation can provide the stewardship of same. One of the main reasons Eclipse has been so successful is that rather than separate software from specification it brings them together – in freely available open source code – while still allowing for proprietary extensions which vendors can sell.

How quickly will the code donation happen?

The Paho proposal tentatively includes dates in November and December 2011 – there will need to be various approvals as code is accepted into Eclipse, so that may “flex” a little, but it is all in the pipeline.

OK… Why MQTT? Why not HTTP/XMPP/AMQP/PubSubHubbub/WebSockets/etcetcetc?

To answer this one adequately I’d probably end up addressing each individual difference between protocols in turn, and if you’ve heard me speak about MQTT I’ve covered some of this before – so I’ll keep this answer relatively brief. I will admit that I’ve been asked about all of these by journalists in the past couple of days.

There is space for a range of protocols to coexist, because they address different areas. In the messaging space, we’ve found over time that whilst efforts to create a single protocol have been made, that has often ended up as focused around a particular set of qualities of service, and not optimised to cover the the whole range of them.

For example, if we look at IBM’s own messaging protocols – there are several. There’s WebSphere MQ which is all about reliable, transactional, solid, clusterable, enterprise, JMS and other APIs, etc etc.. WMQ itself isn’t ideal for very high-speed in-memory or multicast scenarios, so there is also WMQ Low Latency (interoperable with the new multicast feature in WMQ 7.1, but a separate protocol). Neither WMQ LLM or WMQ scales down to unreliable device networks and embedded systems, so there is WMQ Telemetry (aka MQTT), which was specifically designed for constrained devices and networks, and that can interoperate with the main queue manager, too. Oh, and sometimes you want to deal with files (WMQ File Transfer Edition), or access message data via HTTP (WMQ HTTP Bridge). You need to address a range of requirements in a messaging story.

So why not those others? In this case, IBM believes that MQTT is ideally-suited to the Smarter Planet Instrumented->Interconnected layer – it’s tiny, not synchronous and brittle, isn’t specific to the web as it is all about data rather than documents, XML etc etc. In these scenarios, REST principles may add an overhead. Oh, and it has been around for over 10 years, and has been proven across a range of industries and in a range of extreme conditions. IBM’s commercial implementation is known to scale to hundreds of thousands of connected devices, and we know that is the direction that this space is heading.

Congratulations! / Thank you!

Thanks, but don’t congratulate or thank me! I’m familiar with this stuff, I’ve coded with this stuff, but I didn’t invent it and I didn’t write it. There are some amazing folks at both IBM and Eurotech (and some who have moved on) who started this all off in 1999, and who have helped to implement solutions using this protocol since then, and who have of course developed it. Several of them are on Twitter if you want to say hi! And huge thanks again to the community of folks that formed around mqtt.org and contributed client and server implementations – that absolutely helped to move things forward to this point.

HERE ENDS TODAY’S Q&A!

That, hopefully helps to clarify a few things and answers some of the questions I’ve seen via Twitter, forums, and mailing lists over the past few days. It has been something of a blur, to be honest, but a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to the next stage – working with the community more, working with our friends at Eurotech, Sierra Wireless and elsewhere, and making the M2M space much more real.

For more, here are a bunch of stories I’ve seen in the past couple of days… no particular order, just my cut-and-paste list!