Posts Tagged ‘Free Software’

Buried Treasure – embedding IBM MQ clients and MFT Agents into applications

June 13, 2017

treasure

I haven’t been doing this blog so long that I am going to repeat myself. Or at least not yet. But last year I did a blog on why you would use MQ – and that is broadly the topic of this entry as well but it comes from a specific use-case perspective. Plus – warning – it is longer than usual – sorry. Why do businesses, in their thousands, use IBM MQ – and its many different yet critical functions? Sadly, and I say this as the Offering/Product Manager for MQ, no one wakes up in the morning and decides they want to buy more IBM MQ – but they do so because of the benefit using MQ provides for the applications that run their business.

 

IBM MQ enables the exchange of data between applications, systems, services and files with reliability and security. It does this with scalability and simplicity. It has proved itself in doing this over the last 20+ years that much of the modern online business world takes IBM MQ, and its capabilities for granted.

 

The IT infrastructure is evolving rapidly – as it always is. As such there is both growth in new applications and existing applications are being updated and enhanced. Today’s applications typically have to be more resilient than ever, but also more portable – to be deployed pretty much anywhere. In most businesses applications will be extended out to business partners as the wider ecosystem is more tightly integrated than ever before.

 

These changes drive a greater need for seamless connectivity throughout the infrastructure and it makes it more important that all business data can be simply and quickly moved inside and outside the business. So how has IBM been working on IBM MQ to enable this? And will IBM MQ be able to help all customers – whether they are trying to connect and exchange data between applications, systems, services and files – not just the latest and greatest APIs?

 

IBM MQ allows for connectivity and exchange of data through MQ Clients and MQ MFT Agents and to make it easier for these to be used in many different use cases, IBM has been making changes to the packaging and licensing of these.

MFT Agents

One of the key changes was at the end of 2015, there was an update to the license documentation to allow for the redistribution of MQ Clients. IBM makes the MQ client libraries available for free download. These are then built into the MQ enabled applications to allow these applications to send and receive MQ messages. There is no cost for the MQ Clients – as they require a licensed MQ Queue Managers in order to function. However, until late 2015, the license prevent redistribution of these MQ Client files. This meant that if a business built the MQ Clients into an application, it wasn’t permitted to then distribute this application outside the business – i.e. it couldn’t share it with a business partner to allow that partner to work closely as an integrated partner. To allow this under the terms, the partner would need to either install the MQ Client library themselves or agree licensing terms to redistribute the MQ Client with IBM. This restriction was not helpful to these businesses or to the IBM MQ business and therefore it was changed to allow redistribution.

 

Now let’s look at a scenario – Company A uses MQ to exchange information throughout its business. It has suppliers (Company B and Company C) and it wants to streamline the manufacturing processes to enable them to get production statistics and thus help to plan for more efficient resupplies to their factories and warehouses. To do this it wants to provide them with a copy of their own in-house written application that uses MQ. Now that IBM allows for redistribution of the MQ Clients, Company A can simply provide their application to the partner companies to enable them to communicate seamlessly with no need to even be aware of the MQ Client embedded within the application. MQ messages can flow securely between the companies – and as only Company A has a MQ Queue Manager, they are the only ones licensed for MQ – and there is no additional MQ cost for this configuration. Note that companies exchanging MQ messages like this might want to make use of the MQ Internet Pass-thru feature to simplify passing messaging through their firewalls.

 

Now let’s imagine Company D. They are also part of the supply chain ecosystem for company A, and also many other businesses. But the stock control and distribution management systems are built mainly on files and file data. They keep these files updated with stock quantities and prices, but they find it simpler to keep using this method rather than online application updates and exchanges. They are used to sending these files to their customers using FTP but they always have a number of issues around FTP failures, reliability issues, and having to spend time diagnosing the problems inherent in these transfers.

 

Company A have a solution – the Managed File Transfer capability that is a part of IBM MQ Advanced. In place of regular FTP, the data inside the files can be sent as MQ messages from Company D to Company A, taking advantage of MQ’s reliability, security and management of data. And best of all Company D don’t need to change the way they handle data as they can still focus on keeping the file contents updated, but Company A can provide a program that can also embed the MQ MFT Agent which can run and extract the contents of the file and send it as MQ Messages to Company A. Just as with the MQ Client, the MQ MFT Agent is designed for easy embedding in an application, and benefits from also being redistributable under the license. The key difference is that MQ MFT Agents are free but only when they connect to MQ Queue Managers that benefit from the MQ Advanced license entitlement or are in the MQ Appliance. In providing this application making use of the MFT Agent to Company D, Company A is taking advantage of the recent change to make the Agent license redistributable, as well as the fact there is now no cost to embed MFT Agents and distribute them anywhere, as long as they connect to their MQ Advanced Queue Managers. Also, the packaging changed to ensure the MFT Agent was available as a standalone zip file for easier embedding.

 

As a business, your buried treasure may be hidden in your data. You owe it to yourself to ensure it is used as widely as possible and as timely as possible. But to do this you need buried treasure in your applications as well – and this time the buried treasure is the MQ Clients and MQ MFT Agents you can now embed in those applications. Hidden in your code, but providing value every day – maybe not buried treasure, but the goose that lays golden eggs?

Goose Golden Egg

TV or not TV. The benefits and risks of open source software

July 5, 2013

Everyone likes free right? Free food. Free drinks. Free money. Free software. Except when it is free you always need to look for the catch don’t you? After all there is no such thing as a free lunch is there? If it is free, then follow the money. What is being sold? Is it you? Is it your future? Is it a risk you are willing to take?

Let’s start with TV. About 10 or 11 years ago, here in the UK, I bought one of the last Tivo Series 1 boxes that was sold. Tivo was ahead of its time in the UK market. People were still struggling with the concept of recording TV on anything other than VHS tapes, so Tivo sadly failed to capture a market which was then exploited by UK satellite TV provider Sky, with their Sky+ boxes, which did pretty much the same thing.

Now I liked my Tivo box – it did what I wanted it to do – worked nearly flawlessly – and the only problem was that they weren’t around to sell me updated hardware that might record more channels or a higher resolution. And so last year, it finally got decommissioned, to be replaced not with a commercial offering, but with a home-built MythTV solution. We bought a basic PC, stuck in a 4-tuner HD card, and installed and configured MythTV on Mythbuntu – an open source free TV recording software solution that pretty much again meets our needs.

So is this a parable that we can compare against the market for commercial middleware solutions? After all buying from Tivo all those years ago, only to be effective marooned would be pretty much like buying a promising product from some fledgling software company only to see the company go out of business leaving you high and dry.

(I must point out at this point that Tivo re-entered the UK PVR market a year or so ago in partnership with cable TV firm Virgin, and also that they continued to support their old TV boxes for many years – so did much better than many firms would.)

So when looking for middleware solutions, should businesses be looking at free and open source solutions, rather than taking a bit of a punt on a small commercial provider who might be gone in 6 months, or change their market focus even if they do stay around?

Well, let’s look at our MythTV solution. Are we happy with it? Does it do the job. Yes, and Yes. But still there are issues. It records pretty much as many programs as we want, and we can stream them direct over the home network to the TV. We didn’t pay a penny for the software – just the hardware, and on a regular basis it tells us there are fixes to be installed. But here’s the thing. As good as it is there is a recurring, seemingly random error with the TV tuner card being ‘lost’ by the software so it tries to record, but has a blank recording. We have figured various ways round it, so on the whole it’s survivable. But it is not something I would put up with in a commercial offering. It would have gone back. In fact the only reason we went with MythTV was that no commercial offering did what we wanted.

So why do we put up with it? As I mentioned above, we can work around it, and on the whole it does what we want. And let’s face it, the worst thing is we don’t get a TV program recorded. And at the end of the day, that’s not important. What is important is your customers, your business data, your transactions, your partner orders. These are not something you take a risk on. These are something that when you are handling in your business you take care of.

So when you are evaluating your middleware software – maybe comparing WebSphere MQ to other solutions that promise you ‘free’ or ‘open source’, then maybe you need to figure out what it is for. Is it for something you care about? Does it matter to you? Maybe you actually ought to invest in it a little to ensure you get the best. The companies producing these software solutions need to invest to build and support them. Providing them as open source, or free is simply one distribution option – but the goal is still to make money.

IBM recently contributed the MQTT standard, and the source for our MQTT clients to the Eclipse Paho project. It is actually rewarding that this standard has been picked up by many vendors, who are producing their own clients and support. And this was essential for the success of the protocol. In order to be taken up by M2M vendors, and to better penetrate the mobile space, a wide range of support was needed. And this was accelerated by making it a standard and providing source code. It is a means to an end. Just like in the TV world if you subscribe to Sky, they give you a Sky+ box – something I needed to buy from Tivo all those years ago. They can offer this for free because it provides you with a stronger reason to be committed to buying their TV subscription. Stop doing that and you lose the benefit of your free solution. Not so free then after all.

So when looking at your middleware options, make sure you think carefully, about the value your place on your business, and the need you have for freedom of movement for your business and its future, rather than free software for todayImage.

By the way, if anyone wants 4 (yes 4) old Tivo Series 1 boxes, please let me know.