Move from MySQL to DB2 via the Cloud

24 November 2010 » Cloud, DB2, developerWorks, Linux, PHP, Zend

IBM developerWorks has just published the first article in a series that Mark Nusekabel, Yan Li Mu and I wrote about our experience migrating a large PHP and MySQL application to DB2.

In the four part series we look at preparation, switching databases, porting code, and finally deploying the application. This first installment covers the steps to plan and resources to consult when starting a migration project.

Along with the MySQL to DB2 migration Redbook, a key technology supplementing each step in the process is the IBM Smart Business Development and Test Cloud.

If you already have access to the Development and Test pilot, the PHP developer’s guide (PDF) can give you some tips for configuring Zend Server along with DB2 using virtual machines in that cloud.

The article series and the developer’s guide may also be useful to those who have a contract for the GA version of Development and Test.

Another option to evaluate DB2 for a migration is to use the Amazon EC2 AMIs pre-configured with IBM software individually.

Or, if you’re interested in managing several instances or more complex configurations, RightScale and IBM have collaborated (PDF) to bridge the Amazon and IBM clouds.

So, if you’re considering a new relational backend for your application, the developerWorks migration series, the PHP developer’s guide for the IBM cloud, and the images within the Amazon and IBM clouds will give you a new set of tools to make evaluating the move and executing the switchover much easier.

Everything old is new again

05 August 2010 » Opinion, Thoughts, Writing

The New York Times has published two articles recently about the perception of a rise in plagiarism in the current school-age, digitally native generation:

In a highly technologized culture where information is cheap and easily copied, students can no longer be trusted or expected to make the effort to be creative, critical and original thinkers.

It’s far too easy nowadays to remix what’s already out there and in so doing, not to properly attribute a source.

Laziness and unoriginality
In the latter Times article, Sarah Wilensky – a college student herself – decries what she sees as both laziness and unoriginality in her peers. Institutions that don’t stridently enforce the rules only accelerate the disturbing trend.

“…Relaxing plagiarism standards “does not foster creativity, it fosters laziness… You’re not coming up with new ideas if you’re grabbing and mixing and matching,” said Ms. Wilensky… in a column in her student newspaper headlined “Generation Plagiarism.”

“It may be increasingly accepted, but there are still plenty of creative people — authors and artists and scholars — who are doing original work… It’s kind of an insult that that ideal is gone, and now we’re left only to make collages of the work of previous generations.”

Combining old elements
But it’s very interesting to contrast this urgent, modern lament against some thoughts from a 1965 book on advertising, “A Technique for Producing Ideas” by James Webb Young, in a chapter titled “Combining Old Elements”:

With regard to the general principles which underlie the production of ideas, it seems to me that there are two which are important.

The first of these has already been touched upon in the quotation from Pareto: namely, that an idea is nothing more or less than a new combination of old elements.

This is, perhaps, the most important fact in connection with the production of ideas…

The second important principle involved is that the capacity to bring old elements into new combinations depends largely on the ability to see relationships.

Here, I suspect, is where minds differ to the greatest degree when it comes to the production of ideas. To some minds each fact is a separate bit of knowledge. to others it is a link in a chain of knowledge. It has relationships and similarities. It is not so much a fact as it is an illustration of a general law applying to a whole series of facts…

The point is, of course, that when relationships… are seen they lead to the extraction of a general principle. This general principle, when grasped, suggests the key to a new application, a new combinations, and the result is an idea.

Consequently the habit of mind which leads to a search for relationships between facts becomes of the highest importance in the production of ideas.

Prior art is everywhere
Young argues that there’s nothing fundamentally wrong with leveraging work done by others, in fact it’s the only sensible way to make progress in a society (and run a successful ad campaign). He doesn’t ever consider attribution of these newly forged ideas in his essay.

Moving from abstract ideas to a concrete example, consider a beautiful and unique building near you. It’s largely created from well accepted architectural patterns, common construction tools, and zoning standards. You don’t see attributions on these edifices. They’re not in the blueprints or on the cranes either.

Maybe educating students and aspiring authors to properly credit their sources is the wrong approach altogether. In many ways, it’s a distraction from original thought and pure innovation.

A proposal for a read-mostly society
I believe it should no longer be the burden of the student or writer or speaker to quote his source… it should be assumed, by default, he is building on the work of others and attempting to convey a new idea built on those foundations.

Instead, it should now be up to the reader to accept that the work is derivative and take on the responsibility to vet the work.

Current plagiarism software should instead help suggest attributions… it does, in fact, rely on the same technology to check content against an existing pool of sources. With networked e-book readers and smartphones paired to efficient search algorithms, this should become ever easier.

How can you tell if a piece of work contains original research, legitimate sources or draws reasonable conclusions? Use the reader technology, find the sources and judge for yourself.

Beyond lifting the burden on authors to free them to focus on their original idea, this shift would empower readers to engage their critical thinking facilities through constant and simple source checking. This approach could also neutralize writers with an agenda who may decide to remix ideas selectively to skew a point.

In a technological society formed mostly of passive content consumers and relatively few active content producers this can only be a good thing.

Oh, and as far as the unoriginal title to this blog post. Who should I attribute it to, Duke University or the Barenaked Ladies?

I’ll let you and Google decide.

PHP 5.3 at New York PHP this Tuesday

25 July 2010 » New York PHP, PHP

This month Hans Zaunere and Nate Abele will give us a look at the new features in PHP 5.3 and how they’re used in production today.

Specifically, these NYPHP regulars will cover three new major language features: namespaces, late static binding, and closures.

RSVP now for the meeting at IBM in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday July 27th.

Facebook and HipHop at New York PHP

27 April 2010 » New York PHP, PHP, Web development

Tonight we’re hosting Scott MacVicar from Facebook as he presents their highly optimized version of PHP called HipHop.

HipHop translates and compiles regular PHP source into a C++ binary that reduces CPU and memory usage and thus helps Facebook serve twice the content with a two-thirds the resources of a stock Apache and PHP system.

Look for the slides in our New York PHP user group archives shortly.

Follow development of the open source HipHop project at github and keep up with Scott via his blog.

Learning to write Java apps for the BlackBerry

22 April 2010 » BlackBerry, Java, Potpourri

Early in 2009 I decided to start writing Java applications for BlackBerry devices.

I’ll tell you why I chose this particular smartphone platform and how three books that I later received as review copies from Apress can help you get started too.

I’ll also share some thoughts on a gap I see in the BlackBerry developer’s bookshelf.

BlackBerry leads US smartphone market share
With the Apple iPhone garnering all the the mobile application exposure, it’s easy to see why RIM’s BlackBerry devices get less developer attention these days.

However, BlackBerry devices still hold a larger share of the smartphone market than either the iPhone or Android devices.

According to comScore, RIM comprises about 40% of devices sold, with Apple at 25% and Google at around 10%. The iPod and iPad aren’t included in this category, of course.

Other reasons I chose to develop for the BlackBerry platform
Besides the sizable marketshare, there are three major reasons that I’ve been learning to build BlackBerry apps over the past year or so.

  • My wife and I have owned several personal BlackBerry devices over the years and continue to use them daily.
  • Java development is a major part of my day job and it’s nice to reuse those skills on a new platform.
  • I work for a company that uses the BlackBerry Enterprise Server to manage its mobile workforce and therefore I already have a sizable audience of users to target for new projects beyond standard Web applications.

Where to start?
When I started learning about the BlackBerry platform there weren’t that many recent books on the market, which surprised me.

Instead, I needed to learn what I could through trial and error and the help of the large, but somewhat disjointed, collection of official documentation from RIM on the BlackBerry Developer Zone.

While there is a lot of material there, it’s hard to understand what’s most relevant and up-to-date, and what sort of roadmap the beginner should follow to learn the platform given those resources.

Getting started gets much easier
Fortunately, the BlackBerry book landscape has improved in the past few months, but the number of new releases still pales in comparison with the glut of iPhone development titles on the market.

I’ve had a chance to work through a few of these new books, two of which Apress provided me for free as review copies, and another that I have access to via Books24x7 thanks to my place of employment.

I suppose it’s only slightly ironic that as I read the latter book online, I wished I had an iPad to curl up with rather than a run-of-the-mill laptop or smartphone. :)

Apress book overview
By all indications, Apress has emerged as the leading publisher of BlackBerry books in late 2009 going into 2010. In particular, the first title below is one that would have saved me a lot of time when I got started early in 2009.

In any case, I can recommend any of these books, but obviously they all have their own target audience and don’t necessarily need to be read in sequence.

Also, keep in mind that these books focus on the development of native Java applications rather than tailoring Web sites to the BlackBerry browser.

  • Beginning BlackBerry Development by Anthony Rizk.
    This book provides an excellent introduction to the key topics that most interest a Java developer new to the platform.

    It covers the basics of setting up an IDE, putting together a user interface, using local storage, making network connections, using GPS, and distributing your application. All the steps are approached in an easy to follow tutorial format.

    The fact that Anthony Rizk was a founder of Rove Mobile – which produces the admin tools I depend on on my BlackBerry – lends this book extra credibility.

  • Advanced BlackBerry Development by Chris King.
    This book covers some of the same ground as the title above but takes a deep dive into audio and video development, text and email messaging, encryption and access control, and integration with the BlackBerry operating system and its built in applications such as the Address Book, Calendar, and Browser.

    It also provides valuable lessons on packaging your application for many different BlackBerry models and carriers and automating the build, versioning and deployment processes.

  • Learn BlackBerry Games Development by Carol Hamer and Andrew Davison.
    While this book’s subject matter has less in common with the type of business applications I write, it was an interesting read.

    Some of the compelling chapters include information on using Antenna for builds, using OpenGL ES and JSR 239 for 3D graphics, and how to license, release and commercialize your application.

    There’s even a thoroughly geeky chapter on using a BlackBerry connected to a PC via BlueTooth to drive a toy car attached to the computer by USB.

What’s also nice about these books – and what sets them apart from the official RIM documentation – is that they are pretty straightforward about the limitations of the platform and can be quite frank with their assessments of certain capabilities.

What I’d like to see in upcoming books
I set a goal for myself to deepen my BlackBerry skills this year. One of the best ways that I’ve found to thoroughly understand a platform – even one that you’ve been using for years – is to attempt certification or at least know the study materials inside-and-out.

RIM has recently introduced a certification program in order to achieve the BlackBerry Certified Application Developer credential via Java or Web development tracks.

Given how new the exams are, there aren’t yet any guides on the market to help the candidate pass both exams needed for certification.

Addison Wesley’s BlackBerry Development Fundamentals by John M. Wargo claims to be a good guide for the prerequisite exam (BCP-810), but does not cover the second exam on either Java (BCP-811) or Web development (BCX-812, understandably, which is still in beta).

Given that RIM’s study guides are so sparse, I see a great opportunity for any publisher to hit the market with a certification guide on these two exams in 2010.

Final thoughts
If you’re looking to get into Java development for BlackBerry smartphones, I recommend you at least have a look at Beginning BlackBerry Development.

Of course, supplement your learning by staying on top of news from the BlackBerry Developer’s Blog and of course the BlackBerry Developer Zone.

If you find the platform interesting, have a look at either Advanced BlackBerry Development or Learn BlackBerry Games Development.

Finally, I recommend you keep an eye out for news from the WES conference next week. I hope RIM gives developers even more compelling reasons to look at the BlackBerry platform.

Easter egg in the AIX InfoCenter

01 April 2010 » IBM, Potpourri, System administration

I had to double check the calendar when I first saw this gem in the AIX online documentation yesterday, but it was still March, not yet April first.

AIX 6.1 information > Commands > Categorical list of commands

Purpose: Starts the hunt the wumpus game.
Syntax: wump
Description: A wumpus is a creature living in a cave with many rooms interconnected by tunnels. You move among the rooms trying to shoot the wumpus with an arrow and trying to avoid being eaten by the wumpus or falling into bottomless pits.

As far as I can tell, this command is a hand-me-down from when the System V UNIX-based AIX incorporated bits from BSD.

I suppose this and the other games are still there for those customers using AIX on workstations (rather than bored sysadmins monitoring high-end servers… I hope).

Develop and test your apps on the IBM Cloud

I moved to a new position within IBM at the beginning of the year, joining the Enterprise Initiatives organization responsible for delivering IBM Smart Business Development and Test on the IBM Cloud.

Before I joined this team, Development and Test launched as a free public beta in 2009. Throughout 2010 we’ve incrementally improved the pilot and in the near future a generally available pay-per-use version will go live.

I’ll describe some of the features that Development and Test beta has now, highlight some usage scenarios that it can enable or improve, and along the way tell you where to learn more. As always, the standard disclaimer applies.

In a future post, I may put together step-by-step instructions on using the virtual machines on the IBM Cloud to:

  • Build PHP with an instance of DB2 as a way to illustrate how system administrators can evaluate the platform or practice configuration.
  • Verify that a sample Java EE application written for Tomcat works unmodified on WebSphere.

IBM Smart Business Development and Test on the IBM Cloud
Like many Cloud technologies, Development and Test aims to reduce the time and money spent by customers to procure, configure, and run IT infrastructure, platforms and software.

But the target of this particular system is to:

  • Give developers and testers hands-on access to IBM software in minutes rather than days or weeks.
  • Provide application developers with an environment to write and run their applications.
  • Allow usage to scale up or down depending on the phase of the project.

As a result, users will have more confidence in the quality of their work and are able to make better informed choices about its hosting environment when they deploy.

Feature overview
The Development and Test beta is a Web application that provides a dashboard for managing Cloud resources, a catalog of images to start with, and a set of APIs (Web service and command line) for accessing assets programmatically.

With it, you can:

  • Provision virtual servers
    An application developer can quickly start up an instance of a server OS, such as Red Hat Enterprise Linux, that is pre-configured with WebSphere or DB2, for example.

    With an operating system and middleware in place, the developer can try out the software setup or verify that their application works on that particular configuration.

  • Set up virtual development environments
    A developer can request a fully configured IDE instance, such as the Eclipse-based Rational Software Architect, and connect to it using a virtual desktop like FreeNX.

    Alternatively, the user can integrate with a hosted instance of Rational source control, automated testing, and project management software from the physical workstation they already use.

  • Save and extend configurations
    Once the team is satisfied with the product or system at a point in time, they can save a snapshot image of the configured instance.

    That image can then be used as a template from which to create new instances that can be shared with others. Those images can also be tagged as a test release or captured as a known good savepoint to build upon.

    Beyond the catalog of pre-configured IBM software stacks in the system now, IBM is working with partners to add third-party pre-configured packages on the Cloud.

In all cases, the user acquires the resources s/he needs right away without the need to find and run hardware or download, install and configure software.

This shortens project start time, reduces time spent on configuration trial and error, allows for more development iterations in the schedule given the same project length.

If you want to get a hands on introduction now, have a look at the developerWorks overview article or user guide (PDF).

Otherwise, if you want to hear my take how I think this particular Cloud platform can make life a whole lot easier for anyone involved in software development, read on.

New possibilities
Since this approach reduces much of the time and money to get hardware and set up software, several new possibilities and potential use cases come to mind.

Imagine the following scenarios that can be made possible or made much easier:

  • You are an innovator who needs a place to demo an early prototype to potential investors in order to justify further development.
  • You are a developer who has created an application on your laptop with a Personal or Express edition of IBM software and you want to see if it will run on a WebSphere and DB2 server to see if there are unexpected differences.
  • You are an independent software vendor who has verified your software on Tomcat (or PHP) and MySQL and wants to widen your potential customer base to include those customers who have an IBM infrastructure.
  • You are a committer to an open source project, and you want to replicate an issue reported by a user and and debug it using the configuration they have on their system.
  • You are a student who wants to build skills or experience hands on or do comparative research between operating systems and software vendors.
  • You are a standards body member, such as for ODF or Java EE, and want to see how a vendor implementation adheres to the specifications.
  • You are an author, you can make sure your readers have a copy of your sample code.
  • You are an instructor, you can make sure your students have an identical setup to reduce class prerequisite setup time.
  • You are a system administrator, and you want to test out an upgrade on an identical server before committing changes that are time-consuming or difficult to reverse on your own system.

Sound interesting?
The Development and Test on the IBM Cloud beta is available to use for free right now. In the coming weeks, a paid, stable and supported version will be available that charges on a usage basis.

If you want to take it for a spin, have a look at the developerWorks overview article or user guide (PDF) in order to get started with the beta. The support page offers forums, FAQs and getting started videos.

You may also want to follow the new developerWorks section and join the user community to learn more about this platform in particular and Cloud computing in general.

If you’re interested in the upcoming paid version check out the data sheet (PDF) on the IBM Middleware Services page. This video also makes a compelling introduction.

Enjoy, and don’t forget to check back here in the coming weeks to see those step-by-step PHP/DB2 and Tomcat/WebSphere tutorials.