Low-Code and the IBM i: Know Your Options

This tutorial is a hands-on review of the available options for the most efficient application development methods, Low-Code and the IBM i: 

We are in an exciting time for IBM i modernization. There have never been as many options available to IBM i developers as there are right now. From numerous open-source languages such as Node.js, Python, and JavaScript to various vendor-specific options, one of which is low-code platforms, the options seem endless.

Low-code has been speeding up enterprise application development for several years. Although low-code was seen as a novelty in its infancy, it has turned into one of the most efficient application development methods.

In fact, Forrester predicted low-code platforms to create 75% of enterprise applications by the end of 2021. There is no denying that low-code is a disruptor in the application development space.

For the most part, the perception has been that low-code is predominantly available to developers deploying to Windows servers or a cloud environment. In reality, the very first low-code platform was developed for IBM i and is still being used to develop powerful full-stack applications.

Low-Code and the IBM i – A Complete Study

Low-Code and the IBM i

While there are currently only a few low-code vendors with IBM i compatible offerings, the power and versatility of these platforms shouldn’t be overlooked. Low-code is primed to be the front runner for replacing legacy RPG and COBOL applications.

Let’s take a closer look at the available low-code options on the IBM i.

Low-code and IBM Cloud

Mendix positions itself as a leader in the low-code space for IBM modernization. The Mendix platform is a solid option when you need to cater to citizen developers and professional developers alike. Applications created with Mendix are enterprise-grade, but there are a few caveats when developing with Mendix.

Mendix does not run natively on the IBM i. This means that applications modernized using the Mendix platform are restricted to run only through IBM Cloud.

While you get the benefit of having IBM’s cloud performance and security, you have to give up the full control that on-prem offers. Depending on your specific situation, this may or may not fit your modernization needs.

Mendix’s platform focuses a great deal on enabling citizen developers and analysts. As a result, there tend to be more development restrictions compared to low-code platforms that focus exclusively on the professional developer audience.

Regardless, Mendix is a great low-code platform and is optimized to quickly churn out low complexity enterprise apps. Also, having a browser-based citizen developer-focused version of their IDE means developing applications is as easy as having an internet connection.

If you want to deploy to the cloud, Mendix needs to be on your shortlist of low-code options. There is a reason they are one of the leaders in cloud-based low-code platforms.

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Low-code and Open Source

Profound Logic’s Profound.js is a low-code platform that runs natively on the IBM i. As the IBM i’s second true low-code platform offers several unique features, however, it is in its infancy stage. It isn’t up to par with the other platforms on the list due to the limitations of Node.js and Javascript. Even with these limitations, its utilization of Node.js is what makes it appealing.

Profound places a heavy focus on JavaScript to extend their platform. The drag-and-drop interface, along with native IBM i capability makes this a viable option for IBM i modernization. Much like Mendix, there are some limitations that might make implementing Profound.JS not ideal for all shops.

Profound is more than capable of creating applications on the lighter side of the enterprise scale. Still, it may be difficult for non-JavaScript developers to create complex applications.

This is because Profound is designed to use JavaScript to extend beyond the capabilities of its platform. This means RPG developers may have trouble transitioning to the platform. It also means that creating complex full-stack applications is not a “one-platform” process.

However, if you have a few JavaScript/Node.JS developers on your team and are looking to create small web apps, this option is definitely worth a look. The potential to extend applications with a well-known open-source language and the ability to run natively on the IBM i means Profound.js could be a solid option for your low-code development.

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Hybrid Low-Code

Visual LANSA is the original low-code platform for IBM i. First introduced in 1987, the platform has grown up side-by-side with what is arguably IBM’s most impressive business server. Decades of improvements and refinements have left Visual LANSA as a low-code platform that can rival almost any application development process.

Visual LANSA’s hybrid low-code approach allows developers to combine low-code techniques with the flexibility to write code in LANSA’s own RDMLX language. This is a bit of a “double-edged” sword.

While the RDMLX language is proprietary, it’s the reason that Visual LANSA can position itself as the only low-code option where a developer can create an entire full-stack application inside a single IDE.

Utilizing RDMLX alongside low-code functionality without ever leaving the IDE allows RPG developers as well as object-oriented programmers to learn Visual LANSA quickly. RDMLX is an object-oriented language at its heart, but it is designed so developers can create most enterprise applications with just a handful of commands.

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RPG as well as junior developers reportedly find it easy to learn and are able to quickly transition into creating enterprise applications.

The main advantage of low-code is reducing repetitive and tedious hand-coding. Most low-code vendors focus on drag-and-drop techniques and workflows to accomplish this advantage. Visual LANSA offers a unique alternative to workflows, a Business Rules Engine featuring a central repository that allows developers to reduce not just repetitive coding but many repetitive low-code tasks as well.

If you’re looking to maximize the output of your current professional development team, want the option to create native IBM i apps, with either web or Windows interfaces, Visual LANSA should be on or near the top of your list. However, if you’re looking for a low-code platform to utilize citizen developers, Visual LANSA may not be what you’re looking for.

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Embrace Low-code on the IBM i

Properly incorporating low-code into your IBM i modernization plans can truly be a competitive advantage. There has never been a bigger urgency to replace legacy code.

Low-code has the potential to help quickly replace legacy RPG applications, which are becoming harder and harder to support as more and more RPG developers retire. Businesses can unlock the power of web apps, easy integration, and faster development times all by switching to low-code to drive new application development.

Fortunately, there has never been a time when so many development options have been available on the IBM i. The longer businesses wait to replace their RPG code, the more likely they may find themselves at a competitive disadvantage.

We hope this tutorial would have helped you in predicting the future of Low-Code and the IBM i