ZendCon08 in review

This article was originally posted by me to the MIH/SWAT Blog, at SWAT at ZendCon 2008 .

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This year SWAT marked its first year of presence at the Zend/PHP Conference, also known as ZendCon. Neil Broers and I were chosen for the mission of going to ZendCon and bringing back all we could learn.

Instead of going into a day-by-day testimonial of the conference, which only makes sense during the event, and which I have already done on my personal blog (blog.rafaeldohms.com.br/en), I will turn this post into an analysis of the events, the trends set at the conference, and what it will mean for PHP in 2009.

This year’s ZendCon had a simple sub-title, or motto, “High Impact PHP”. It makes reference to PHP’s participation in the Enterprise market, not just the impact on small companies and freelance programmers, but the impact on the big, high volume companies. This goes hand in hand with last year’s Call for Action in the opening keynote of ZendCon’07: Take PHP to the Enterprise!

Big Players like Orange UK, Zero9 and Bell/Textron have rolled out PHP solutions to deal with their high demand systems - some replacing Java, some building on top of it. And that’s what PHP is here for: to enable web interfaces for corporate systems. You don’t have to do it all in PHP, you can integrate your PHP code with other solutions, and create flexible and high performance web interfaces.

More than ever before we are seeing a buzz around PHP. Companies like IBM, Microsoft, Oracle and Adobe are announcing partnerships with Zend, and are adding their contributions to the PHP Core. This indicates a big change - instead of trying to crush PHP, or ignoring it, companies are integrating it into their products. It is good news for all the developers out there, who can now count on more reliable and faster drivers for database solutions and communication protocols (such as AMF for Flex).

PHP has reached the enterprise, just as we saw happening with MySQL. As was stated by Harold Goldberg in his “Call to action”, let’s not ask “Why PHP?” anymore, let’s ask: “How PHP? When PHP? Where PHP? Go and Evangelize PHP Deeper into the Organization”.

Zend contributed greatly to this move to the enterprise. During the course of the last few years we have seen Zend step up and give back to PHP. The Zend Framework is fast on its way to becoming an industry standard, the Zend Studio IDE is rapidly improving and raising the levels of productivity for developers around the world. Zend has to continue evangelizing PHP and offering tools to Enterprise customers, tools such as those included in the current Zend Platform.

The conference sessions mostly focused on the trend to Enterprise, as well as a few other trends. Of course we had a few vendor sessions - it was a Zend Conference after all. But the community really stepped up with interesting sessions. Some recurring trends we could see by just looking at the schedule were: Performance, Testing, integration with other languages and components, and the Zend Framework.

Performance talks are inevitable with the current movement into the Enterprise world. High end users inevitably means high demand and traffic. Various panels suggested strategies that went beyond just PHP, as scaling must be done on the whole project, of which PHP forms just a piece of the big picture. Unfortunately one hour sessions are just not enough and we did not get into mogileFs and other OS level discussions which would have been very interesting. In general the Database seems to be everyone’s bottleneck, and Jay Pipes gave an interesting session and tutorial on SQL optimization, based on MySQL Databases. Most if not all sessions on Performance were based on Case Studies: Mozilla, Ning, Oracle, Bell Canada.

The maturing of svn and its increasing use in PHP projects, distributed development teams, never-ending beta cycles and the rise of frameworks leads to Testing and Code Analysis being white hot topics in any conference. ZendCon was no exception, with many “test” centred sessions. Worthy of note were the sessions by the eZ Components crew on Test Driven Development and Continuous integration, where the the need for svn versioning and unit tests were highlighted.

As the old saying goes “If you can’t beat them, join them”. In many situations PHP just won’t do, that’s obvious to us, so instead of forcing its way into those areas and beating other languages and systems, PHP has learnt to adapt and integrate with other Technologies. Since we are so focused on the enterprise, it makes sense that more and more we see sessions describing the use of PHP for integrating larger systems or foreign applications on the web. This is one point where all the partnerships begin to make sense, such as those with IBM and the fact that PHP is currently being used to take green-screen applications to the web, hence the support for i5 and DB2. Microsoft wants in as well, with support for better MSSQL handling and interaction with ASP.NET. Lastly we should not ignore Adobe’s Flex and the AMF protocol increasingly being supported by the Zend Framework.

Lately we have seen the Ruby language repeatedly coming up for discussion, especially with the “insurrection” surrounding the Ruby on Rails framework, which has to make you think about how much a framework can affect a programming language’s environment and penetration. Of late the Zend Framework is on the way to becoming an industry standard, even though as with Rails the phrase “use with parsimony” comes to mind. Many different sessions showed best practices and examples of where ZF makes developers’ lifes easier and lowers obstacles to productivity.

The atmosphere at the event was electric, many different companies came to show their products, such as github and parallels, but a good many were there to show off their work, and actually look for new employees. Zend’s Team was constantly available for questions. One topic where I found myself actually giving answers was on the Brazilian Open Source movement. Seems these markets are getting more and more attention from Zend and other companies, so we might see some good news in this area.

The massive presence of key PHP developers was amazing, and added a lot to the trend setting described above, as well as being present in a roundtable discussion on PHP 5.3, which gave users a chance to get a sense of what the next version of PHP will hold.

So what can we take from this? Zend is stepping up, the community is right in the middle of its crosshairs, PHP has taken a huge step forward.

And the future? 2009 is going to be an interesting year. Right after ZendCon, iBuildings announced the creation of a PHP Center of Expertise in the Netherlands, driven by Cal Evans himself, the man behind DevZone. This is just more proof that next year will be awesome for PHP, we will continue to see it mature with version 5.3 just around the corner and break even further into the Enterprise world and the “web 2.0” world (where it is already a huge player).

Ladies and Gentleman, this is the time for the PHP Community to come forth and continue taking PHP to the next level, don’t just develop in PHP, get active in the community, find your local user group, publish articles, and always: think outside the box.

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