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Scott Forstie on DB2 Developments and Chinese Cooking

Paul Tuohy talks to DB2 for i business architect, SQL development leader and IBM i developerWorks content manager Scott Forstie about developing DB2 for i and gets a little insight into Chinese cooking along the way!

Paul: Hi, everybody and welcome to another iTalk With Tuohy. I’m delighted to be joined today by I think probably one of the most important people in our system today. I’m joined today by Scott Forstie. Hi, Scott.

Scott: Hi, Paul.

Paul: So Scott, you’re the, let me get this right, DB2 for i business architect. Is that your official title?

Scott: Yup, that’s my title all right.

Paul: Okay, so you’re one of I think the two people who are most responsible for DB2 on i.

Scott: Yes, between myself and our chief architect Mark Anderson. We decide what goes into DB2 for i.

Paul: Well haven’t you been the busy little boy over the last few years, you and Mark. The two of you.

Scott: Guilty as charged.

Paul: Okay, so Scott I think we’ve met once in person just last year briefly at a Summit in passing. We said hi to each other but of course I’ve been following a lot of your writing online and I know we’ve emailed a couple of times backwards and forwards. Usually you email me to correct me when I mispublish something, I think once or twice. (Laughter)

Scott: Just trying to help.

Paul: Thank you. So tell me, Scott, one of the things that fascinates me. I know if you’re an architect you’re somebody who spends a lot of time in the lab but I know that now and again you do go out to talk at conferences and you do go out to talk to customers so what are the things that will entice you out of the lab?

Scott: That’s an excellent question. So as developers, we love to sit in offices and build things. One of the things I’ve discovered over time and I’ve worked for IBM almost 26 years building operating systems and most of that time spent on DB2 for i, what I’ve noticed is that when developers build things nobody is going to naturally promote those technologies and so I’ve taken up the responsibility of not just deciding what goes into DB2 for i and helping to build what goes into DB2 for i but spend time promoting and explaining these technologies so that customers can adopt them and be successful.

Paul: Okay so what are sort of the - I don’t know how I would put it - the nuggets that you think people are maybe missing in the database then?

Scott: Okay, so one of the places where I focus a lot of my energies are how people can utilize SQL, the language of database to accomplish tasks that aren’t traditional database tasks. Everybody seems to understand how to insert a row and fetch a record at this point. With our SQL query engine, our industry-leading query engine, you want to use that or as they say leverage it to do other things for you in the most efficient manner. An example of it, you asked for an example.

Paul: Yup.

Scott: An example would be systems management or security management. Things of that sort, things that aren’t traditional database topics you can use SQL to do those with IBM i.

Paul: Oh, tell me more.

Scott: Okay, so good. One of the things that when I speak to clients, they’re looking to automate and it’s difficult to automate using traditional interfaces. Some of our commands that have been around for a good long while and work quite well maybe they don’t have outfiles for it. It makes it quite difficult for the programmer to automate a task but over time, we’ve provided SQL interfaces to many of these most traveled roads in the operating system so things like work with PTF group or display PTF. You can use SQL to query the PTF group levels and automate.

Paul: Okay. Is it a thing then that SQL is actually creeping into the whole system management side instead of enhancing things now with commands, we’re going to see more and more maybe stored procedures and that and maybe table functions and things like that coming into play?

Scott: Yeah, that’s a great question. I’m glad you asked that. There are thousands of interfaces that exist so I wouldn’t say that we’re trying to replace or provide alternate for all the many interfaces. We’re looking at those that have the biggest bang for buck as far as what our clients are trying to address. So far, we’ve built, umm, maybe 30 or so alternative interfaces. Most of them come in the form of views built over, like you just said, user defined table functions. You’re bringing back live data. Point of query is you’re going to get the information. You can use SQL to query a job log. You can use SQL to, in a couple of days, you’ll be able to use SQL as an alternative to work active job.

Paul: Wow.

Scott: So we’ve really extended the aperture of what’s possible and this is where we need people to not only understand these exist but we need them to spend time being creative.

Paul: Yeah because this opens up whole new scenarios in terms of things like dashboards and that that people might have, they can now just like plug into these surely.

Scott: Yes. It’s a brand new way of addressing maybe previous problems or the next business requirement.

Paul: Yeah. Wow. Yeah, I’ve actually never thought of it that way. I mean I’ve seen a lot of these as they have been introduced especially in the technology releases, you know, where there’s now a new procedure that will give you this information or there’s new table but yeah, I hadn’t actually thought of them that way. That’s cool.

Scott: With most things query based, I try to pose this to clients, as a query engine is good at answering questions so your task is to think up the next good question. You know, one simple example of that would be - maybe my question is what is the longest running SQL query at this moment in time across my partition? I can answer that question with a query. It’s a fairly simple query.

Paul: Okay, so tell me, Scott, where do we find all these documented?

Scott: Okay. We focus our energies in two places. First is Knowledge Center. Like all the traditional IBM products, these are formally documented in Knowledge Center under IBM i of course so they are legitimate. You can count on them. We have everything the programmer would need as far as column names and descriptions of what the data looks like. Like reasonable technologists, we try to keep the terminology as close as possible to the existing interfaces so that there is as little new learning as possible but of course we aren’t bound by the traditional constructs of what a green screen could allow you to see.

Paul: Yeah.

Scott: So we do take liberties where possible. The other place that we document the information is on developerWorks. We have all of our enhancements are documented under developerWorks in a wiki hopefully which I can send you the link to if you have never seen it.

Paul: Yeah. Oh no, I’ve seen it and for everybody listening by the way if you have not been to developerWorks, go there now as you’re listening to this. It’s a mine, a mine of information.

Scott: So the last thing I’ll share with you on this topic is I also when I go see clients I bring them a present. I bring them DB2 signage. I have a poster that shows all the names of these and we’ve categorized them because database folks like to group, order, sort, and those things. I do have a poster and if we see each other in person, I will give some as well.

Paul: Oh excellent, and I will pass them on to the relevant people as well. (Laughter)

Scott: Hang them all over your data centers.

Paul: So, Scott, one of the things actually just when we were chatting beforehand that you mentioned to me that - of course when I think DB2, I’m inclined to just think query engine and SQL select statements but your remit goes further than that into a lot of the work management on the system as well.

Scott: Yes. This is where we take advantage of IBM i being an integrated operating system. We use that for our benefit and ultimately hopefully our clients’ benefit. The database is always running, always active and it interrelates with things like security, work management, libraries, and all these underpinnings of what makes this box work. Since we’ve that already just architected into the operating system, it’s not heavy lifting to pull the information out and externalize it through database.

Paul: Yeah.

Scott: So we have and we intend to do more like you already know, part of what I do, my role is to set the plan for what you would expect in the next Technology Refresh from database. I have several more of this kind of interface in our plan and where did those ideas come from? Some of them came from direct interaction at conferences or client briefings where somebody says, hey, what about this? This would help us. Those are the things I would like to hear from clients.

Paul: And I gather people can contact you through developerWorks and that as well, Scott.

Scott: Definitely, encouraged of course. We need to have that direct feedback what people are seeing and more importantly what they are trying to accomplish with DB2.

Paul: Yeah. So actually since you just used the term DB2 there, Scott, one of the things that interests me is I mean of course we’ve DB2 for i, which is absolutely brilliant but of course you have DB2 for z and for Intel boxes, AIX, and all that out there as well so is there a lot of communication goes on between all the different DB2 teams at IBM.

Scott: We’re talking daily so I think the answer is a clear yes. Like any family, it’s not perfect-

Paul: Sure.

Scott: But you know you start and end the day working together for a lot of common causes. That’s the beauty of standard-based technologies is the client wins. The client wins because we work on it daily and we try to keep it as close a match as possible. Each DB2 brings to market technologies in whatever time frame makes sense for their specific set of clients so we don’t always align on when we bring things to market but we’re working together daily.

Paul: So, I say there a few of the other teams that would just kill for the integration that DB2 for i has though.

Scott: Oh, definitely. One of the fun collaborations that we’ve been doing the last couple of years and I think this is starting to get some traction in the marketplace is something called Guardium. Guardium is a security product provided by IBM and we’ve a direct collaboration with them. They are able to with their product with our help monitor all the database activity. It’s a comprehensive data-centric solution and more and more of our clients of course are probably interested in tracking the actions of a highly privileged user.

Paul: Uh-huh. Wow.

Scott: As an example of the fruits of some of the collaboration that goes on. It goes beyond the DB2 family into other software products.

Paul: Okay, so listen, I’ve one last thing for you Scott. I’ve two words for you: Dandan noodles.

Scott: Oh awesome. Those are fabulous. So Dandan noodles, I’ve been lucky enough to travel to China. Part of our development team is there, meet with clients in China, and do some of those study tour activities that we talked about. On weekends, I spent time in Chinese cooking classes learning how to make things like Dandan noodles.

Paul: Cool. I believe on your travels you like going to markets a lot, don’t you?

Scott: I love going to markets just exploring the local culture and what people, you know, how they live their daily life. One of the things I learned about Dandan noodles is they have this fabulous thing in them called a Sichuan pepper. Have you ever met a Sichuan pepper?

Paul: I don’t think so.

Scott: Those things you might imagine they kind of spice up the dish. Well, they are very unique. They make your lips numb. It’s-it’s-it may sound scary but it’s one of the most pleasant things I have out of food experience. Anybody who has had Sichuan peppers knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Paul: Okay well you got to remember you’re talking to an Irishman here. That’s what we have Guinness for, Scott.

Scott: Okay.

Paul: It numbs more than the lips, I will tell you. (Laughter)

Scott: I think that would go quite well with Dandan noodles.

Paul: Okay, well I will tell you what. Here’s the deal, Scott. You come to Ireland. You cook the noodles. I will provide the Guinness.

Scott: Okay, I’m going to hold you to that.

Paul: Okay and I think that’s a good note to leave it on, Scott.

Scott: Okay.

Paul: So listen, Scott, thanks a million for taking the time to chat with me and the other thing I would say is please you and Mark keep up the brilliant, brilliant work you guys have been doing on the database over the last few years. It really is quite incredible and more power to the two of you.

Scott: Thank you very much. It’s been a pleasure.

Paul: Okay, thank you, Scott. Okay, that’s for this week everybody. Tune in again in a couple of weeks for the next iTalk. Bye for now.

Paul Tuohy has specialized in application development and training on IBM midrange systems for more than 20 years.

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