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Zowe 1.0 offers a modern interface to interact with the power of z/OS on the mainframe.

Mainframes are, and will continue to be, a bedrock for industries and organizations that run mission-critical applications. In one way or another, all of us are mainframe users. Every time you make an online transaction or make a reservation, for example, you are using a mainframe.

According to IBM, corporations use mainframes for applications that depend on scalability and reliability. They rely on mainframes in order to:

  • Perform large-scale transaction processing (thousands of transactions per second)
  • Support thousands of users and application programs concurrently accessing numerous resources
  • Manage terabytes of information in databases
  • Handle large-bandwidth communication

Often when people hear the word mainframe, though, they think of dinosaurs. It’s true mainframes have aged, and one challenge the mainframe community faces is that they struggle to attract fresh developers who want to use latest and shiniest technologies.

Zowe milestones

Zowe, a Linux Foundation project under the umbrella of Open Mainframe Project is changing all that. Through this project, industry heavyweights including IBM, Rocket Software, and Broadcom came together to modernize mainframes running z/OS.

The Zowe project was announced last year — about six months ago — but it has reached several major milestones. To date, the project, Zowe has seen more than 1,700 downloads of the beta releases, 700+ individuals connect with the project over Slack and mailing lists, and more than 50 committers. And, this week, the Open Mainframe Project announced the release of Zowe 1.0.

In general, 1.0 releases are important for any project as they indicate that the project is ready for production. And, since Zowe already has the Core Infrastructure Initiative (CII) Best Practices Badge, users can rest assured that the project follows best practices and conformance in driving secure software development and governance in open source.

So what’s new in Zowe?

One of the core features of Zowe is a modern interface to interact with the power of z/OS. Zowe 1.0 comes with modern interfaces for web applications for z/OS, and it features a new command line interface and expansion of platform REST API capabilities.

“Much of the past 6 months has been focused on the shift from proprietary to open source development methodology, as well as bringing more and more of the codebase under the project to be able to ship a 100% EPLv2 compatible release,” said John Mertic, Director of Strategic Programs at the Linux Foundation and Open Mainframe Project. “Even with that, there has been some early work in the community on building off the platform – one great example comes from Alex Kim at Vicom Infinity, who has build a voice activated smart device for a mainframe administrator to interact with their mainframe via voice commands.”

Additionally, Mertic said, “The community has been focused on building developer documentation and guides, as well as being active on the community Slack channels to provide 1:1 support for those developers trying and testing Zowe. There also are a number of university hackathons and class projects starting to pick up Zowe – one example is the current capstone program for VCU.”

As a result of this community work, Zowe feels similar to a cloud-like environment that most developers and admins are familiar with. Zowe also serves as an integration platform for the next generation of tools for administration, management, and development on z/OS mainframes.

Zowe also offers a vendor-agnostic experience allowing users to mix and match tooling and technologies. It provides interoperability, through the latest web technologies, products, and solutions from multiple vendors, and it allows developers to use the familiar, industry-standard, open source tools to access mainframe resources and services.

Key highlights of Zowe include:

  • Functional extensions, integration between different third-party products and applications
  • Updated docs that define extension points and provide sample applications and tutorials
  • New pre-install scripts to help identify and verify the appropriate prerequisites prior to beginning the Zowe installation process
  • A Zowe API Mediation Layer that provides the foundation for a single point of access for mainframe service REST APIs

A growing community

Thanks to Zowe, the modern avatar of the mainframe is already attracting new users. According to Mertic, “The great part is the interest is both across vendors as well as end-users — showcasing multiple paths for Zowe adoption in the mainframe community.”

Going forward, Mertic said, “The community is looking to move fast, with early plans to have quarterly releases of the full framework. As Zowe is a framework that consists of three primary projects (API Mediation layer, Web UI, and CLI) with their own release cadence to help push innovation faster.

With these goals in mind, Zowe aims to help change the perception around mainframe and keep the technology evergreen.

If you want to try Zowe 1.0, you can grab the source code and compile it or get a build to integrate it with your products and services.

Anjali Arora, SVP and Chief Product Officer at Rocket Software, explains how Zowe is helping bring a new generation of users to the mainframe.

At the Open Source Summit last fall, The Linux Foundation announced a new project called Zowe. Essentially, Zowe is a new open source software framework that allows developers to use modern tools and technologies on mainframe systems running z/OS. The project is the outcome of collaboration among IBM, Rocket Software, and Broadcom within the umbrella of the Open Mainframe Project at The Linux Foundation. Since Zowe’s launch, there has been a huge community response and the project is on the verge of marking several technical milestones.

We sat down with Anjali Arora, SVP and Chief Product Officer, Rocket Software, to learn more about Zowe and Rocket’s involvement, including the contribution of their web UI and other technologies to the project.

Why does the mainframe need Zowe? The answer is simple. Mainframes have been around for ages. But not much has changed in that world while rest of us have moved on to shinier things like cloud and Kubernetes.

“Mainframe is very proprietary technology, and it’s very old. The tools and code for the mainframe are also very old – it’s COBOL and assembler. The UI is green with no support for touch,” said Arora.

Modern tools

The goal of the Zowe project is to create a framework that enables developers to bring their latest tools to work on the mainframe. IBM, Broadcom, and Rocket Software worked together and open sourced their own technologies to achieve this. According to the project website, Zowe provides various components, including an app framework and a command-line interface, which lets users interact with the mainframe remotely and use integrated development environments, shell commands, Bash scripts, and other tools. It also provides utilities and services to help developers quickly learn how to support and build z/OS applications.

“What Zowe allows both end users and developers to do is enable a newer generation of users and developers to have access to all the critical data within all these financial, retail, and insurance systems living on the mainframe,” she said.

The fact is that almost all of the critical mainframe applications were written decades ago. Some of these companies are more than 100 years old, and they are using mainframe systems for their mission-critical workloads. So, what Zowe is trying to achieve is to open source some of these technologies to help companies bring their existing workloads into the modern day. This will also allow them to attract a new generation of users and developers.

“Bear in mind, the mainframe is still powering mission-critical applications including banking transactions,” said Arora. “The mainframe is not going away. It is better to bring the new generation to the mainframe than try to move the critical data elsewhere.”

The Zowe community is also actively working to engage potential new users and expose them to the mainframe by organizing hackathons and other activities around Zowe.

If you’re attending IBM’s THINK next week in San Francisco, you can learn more about the Open Mainframe Project and Zowe in any of the five sessions.  Or, you can stop by the SUSE Booth (#562 in the Think Infrastructure Campus) on Tuesday, February 12 at 5:30-6:30 pm for a happy hour with OMP.  Learn more about the many sessions and the happy hour at: https://www.openmainframeproject.org/event/ibm-think-2019.

You can watch the complete video here:

Learn more about the Open Mainframe Project and how to get involved in this “Keeping up with the Zowians” blog post.

mainframe

“The mainframe has always stood for four guiding principles: availability, scalability, security and performance from the introduction of the mainframe in 1964 on through to today,” says John Mertic of the Open Mainframe Project.

As of last year, the Linux operating system was running 90 percent of public cloud workloads; has 62 percent of the embedded market share and runs all of the supercomputers in the TOP500 list, according to The Linux Foundation Open Mainframe Project’s 2018 State of the Open Mainframe Survey report.

Despite a perceived bias that mainframes are behemoths that are costly to run and unreliable, the findings also revealed that more than nine in 10 respondents have an overall positive attitude about mainframe computing.

The project conducted the survey to better understand use of mainframes in general. “If you have this amazing technology, with literally the fastest commercial CPUs on the planet, what are some of the barriers?” said John Mertic, director of program management for the foundation and Open Mainframe Project. “The driver was, there wasn’t any hard data around trends on the mainframe.”

Cloud vs. Mainframe

Respondents were asked how they view cloud computing in comparison to mainframes, “and overwhelmingly, they said it’s going to augment the mainframe and not replace it,’’ Mertic says. Eighty-five percent of respondents said they are using cloud in addition to the mainframe, while 15 percent said cloud is replacing the mainframe.  

This parallels the rest of industry, he says, noting that “everything’s going hybrid. You’re going to have some degree of private cloud, public cloud, some SaaS, some IoT solutions — and the mainframe fits in there. Isn’t it great we have a menu of choices in architecture, and that they complement each other.”

In terms of security, only five percent of overall respondents said cloud solutions are at least as secure as mainframes, which Mertic said surprised him the most. Even among self-identified cloud users, only six percent agreed that cloud is at least as secure as mainframes.

“These are people who feel cloud is the future, but then say, ‘Wow, if security is a top priority, cloud isn’t there compared to mainframe, which is still far more secure,’’’ he said. “That surprised us, especially among people who self-identified as being on the cloud bandwagon.”

General findings include:

  • Both users and non-users of Linux on the mainframe agree on the mainframe platforms strengths of performance, security, and cost reduction.
  • Cloud computing is perceived to augment the mainframe, not replace it.
  • Mainframe will continue to have a key role in a hybrid computing world.

More specifically:

  • 28 respondents said cloud solutions are significantly less costly to implement, compared to 31 percent of self-identified cloud users.
  • 47 percent of respondents said cloud solutions provide much greater flexibility in adding power or scalability, compared to 52 percent of self-identified cloud users.
  • 15 percent of both self-identified cloud users and overall respondents said that over the long run, cloud solutions are far less expensive to maintain, while 57 percent of general respondents disagreed with that, compared to 59 percent of self-identified cloud users.

Standing the Test of Time

Key workloads for Linux on the mainframe are application servers, database servers and data analytics, Mertic says. Even though IT infrastructure has changed compared to what it was 10, 15 and 20 years ago, the mainframe has withstood the test of time, he says.

“The mainframe has always stood for four guiding principles: availability, scalability, security and performance from the introduction of the mainframe in 1964 on through to today,” Mertic says. “IT in 2018 has tons of choices, and if a first-class open source platform with those guiding principles are what your organization requires at a ‘10’ level, then modern mainframe is an architecture you should consider.”

The survey of 145 mainframe professionals was conducted between Aug. and Oct. 2017.

Stay tuned for part two of the Open Mainframe Project survey in the fall, which will provide broader insights into how the general IT market views the modern mainframe.