About nine years ago I accepted my first software developer job after decades in the electrical engineering field. I was ready to start developing the coolest apps using the latest and greatest programming languages—you know, all those cool kid languages you learn in college. It was a move in the organization I was already employed with, so I didn’t take much time to learn what language I was going to be developing in. I was told it was mainly .Net, for which I had taken several courses in school, so I didn’t give it a second thought. On my first day reporting to the department, I was greeted with green screens and my first lesson in RPG. What is this archaic language, and why are we using an archaic IBM instead of a fancy new server? Little did I know at that time we actually had a newer POWER5. I thought I knew it all as a new hot-shot developer, and I thought this was old school for sure. Fast forward a year and I had the chance to attend an IBM i seminar with Steve Will, Chief Architect of IBM i, as the speaker. I was amazed by how powerful, secure, reliable, and modern the IBM i actually was. With chipsets designed for moving data faster than their competitors, IBM truly has the most powerful business machine.
When I took over as IT manager, my first goal was to unlock the full power of our IBM i and start modernizing our older green screen applications with new apps. However, I soon found out that, even though the IBM i can run a plethora of modern languages, updating 30 years of RPG code is a daunting task. It is not as easy as just installing JAVA and starting to write new applications. You have to consider a few things: How will they access the new applications? Will there be a framework or several different apps? How do you rewrite an entirely new custom ERP while maintaining the old? Another observation was how much more powerful the IBM i was at processing data than a standard Windows machine, so I needed to make sure we harnessed that power by doing all heavy processing on the IBM i.
While performing research for my modernization project, I came across several products from LANSA that really seemed to check all my modernization boxes. Visual LANSA is a low-code software package that lets you quickly create new applications (web, mobile, or Windows) as well as an entire enterprise framework. It installs and runs directly on the IBM i (as well as WIndows or the cloud), so it harnesses the speed and power of the IBM i. Also, because Visual LANSA runs on the IBM i, it can access all your files, call RPG and CL programs, and access message queries.Visual LANSA was exactly what I needed to quickly create new applications that were as fast as the older RPG programs but with modern functionality. I also needed to integrate with existing SQL databases as well as a cloud application, and Visual LANSA was able to do it all! However, I still had the issue of having users logging into green screens and then logging into new Visual LANSA apps.
LANSA once again was the solution to my problem. They have two dedicated modernization software packages that are perfect for merging new apps with old apps. LANSA aXes takes 5250 green screens and converts them to browser-based apps in real time—no software to install on the client’s PC, and you can even add functionality without touching the source code. aXes converted our 5250 apps into modern browser apps, but we still needed to get the news apps into our Visual LANSA framework. Enter LANSA RAMP. RAMP allowed us to take our new browser-based 5250 apps and plug them right into our Visual LANSA framework. This allowed us to quickly modernize our 5250 apps and launch them from our new framework, which in turn let us focus on creating critical new applications. We can now go back and update any of the older applications at our own pace. Another great feature of RAMP is that it can add even more functionality to 5250 applications by creating quick navigation paths, reducing the number of menus users have to go through to reach their final destination.
IBM i is a powerful business machine with endless application possibilities. LANSA’s low-code solution, Visual LANSA, and their modernization tools, aXes and RAMP, are designed to run seamlessly on the IBM i. The integrated development environment (IDE), where all the application creation is performed, can be installed right on your Windows PC or laptop. When I was modernizing, I had a very specific list of needs I had to address, and LANSA was able to meet and exceed every item on my list.