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Open Mainframe Project Pushes Linux's Limits

By Jack M. Germain LinuxInsider ECT News Network
Aug 17, 2015 12:44 PM PT
linux-foundation-ibm-mainframe

The Linux Foundation on Monday announced the formation of the Open Mainframe Project to advance the development of Linux on the mainframe among academia, government and corporate partners. The foundation announced the software consortium at the LinuxCon/CloudOpen/ContainerCon gathering in Seattle.

Linux on the mainframe is nothing new. It has been on the IBM mainframe for the last 15 years.

However, the Open Mainframe Project will create a set of tools and resources to drive further development, collaboration and improvements to upstream projects to improve the quality of code submissions.

IBM, Suse and others have joined the endeavor to leverage new software and tools in the Linux environment to take advantage of the IBM mainframe's speed, security, scalability and availability.

Founding members of the Open Mainframe Project include IBM, Suse, BMC, CA Technologies, Compuware, RSM Partners, Vicom Infinity, Marist College and the University of Bedfordshire.

"This project is an evolution on our journey with the mainframe," said Jim Wasko, vice president for IBM open systems development.

"Linux works on the mainframe the way it works on any other computing device," he told LinuxInsider. "Linux is incredible in the scale of what it is capable of and how you can utilize it."

The Organization

The Open Mainframe Project is one of the collaborative projects under the umbrella of the Linux Foundation. These collaborative projects -- which span the enterprise, mobile, embedded and life sciences markets -- are backed by many of the largest names in technology.

These independently supported software projects harness the power of collaborative development to fuel innovation across industries and ecosystems. The Linux Foundation provides the essential collaborative and organizational framework so project hosts can focus on innovation and results.

The Open Mainframe Project will establish a neutral home for community meetings, events and collaborative discussions, as well as a structure for the business and technical governance of the project. It will involve key academic institutions in order to increase the future talent pool of IBM mainframe practitioners and technical experts.

The Need

Demand for mainframe capabilities in the last few years has increased drastically due to Big Data, mobile processing, cloud computing and virtualization. Linux excels in all those areas. It's often recognized as the operating system of the cloud and for advancing the most complex technologies across data, mobile and virtualized environments, according to Jim Zemlin, executive director at the Linux Foundation.

"The demands stem from more need for greater computing power, which leads to demands for more software to manage all of that. That general demand is also present in the Open Mainframe Project. Linux -- in particular, on the mainframe -- is growing at an insanely fast pace," he told LinuxInsider.

As mobile and cloud computing become globally pervasive, new levels of speed and efficiency are required in the enterprise, and Linux on the mainframe is poised to deliver, Zemlin said.

"The Open Mainframe Project will bring the best technology leaders together to work on Linux and advanced technologies from across the IT industry to advance the most complex enterprise operations of our time," he added.

Broadening Views

IBM is pushing its own boundaries through the collaboration with Linux Foundation members. The goal is really about broadening the ecosystem, making it much more accessible and making a very collaborative environment, said IBM's Wasko.

"Over the years, the Linux Foundation has produced an excellent track record of bringing people and industries together," he said.

The mainframe consortium will make proprietary options even less viable, Wasko suggested.

Operating system alternatives to open source technology on the mobile end include Microsoft's Windows or BlackBerry's QNX -- but neither has worked out well, he said. Solaris is available for the data center and for the mainframe.

Unlike open source, there are few proprietary ecosystems for every category. Open source is where all of the innovation and talent lies, according to Wasko. It is something that companies can leverage to get to market faster. It is something consumers can use to prevent being locked into one particular vendor.

"What we are seeing is the open source stack becoming the norm," he said. "That will continue to be the case. This is billions of dollars of collective research and development."

Openness Works

The Linux Foundation is seeing an incredible demand for open source software as workloads shift to the cloud or focus on big data and artificial intelligence, noted Zemlin. Major corporations now realize that working together on open source projects that focus on the mainframe is their best option.

"That will further accelerate the growth of Linux on the mainframe," said Zemlin. "It will also help build a workforce of developers who will provide the talent pool."

To meet the growing demand for open source in general and Linux on the mainframe, the Linux Foundation is partnering with academia to work on training professionals to keep up with the ever-growing demand for resources, he noted. In many ways, this brings the mainframe full circle.

"Open source has proven to be a better, faster, cheaper and more effective way to create software. Linux is running most of the Internet and public clouds. You see the same thing in other areas such as big data, OpenDaylight Project, software-defined networking, Node-js and Web Frameworks," Zemlin said.

The Money Factor

The same argument applies to companies involved with mainframe or server/desktop technologies. From the business perspective, the time line for creating software is enhanced through open source development. Organizations increasingly are shedding commodity R&D and elaborating on underlying infrastructure software by collaborating with competitors, observed Zemlin.

"That is the winning combination that is driving so many organizations to setting up these kinds of collaborative efforts," he said.

What they want to focus on is the 10-20 percent of the software or services or hardware in their products that their customers actually care about more than anything else, Zemlin noted. Everybody is essentially needing to build the same thing.

The customers do not see anything different in the products. What they really care about is better hardware and better services and better applications.

"This mainframe project is no exception to that," said Zemlin. "This project acknowledges that trend."


Jack M. Germain has been writing about computer technology since the early days of the Apple II and the PC. He still has his original IBM PC-Jr and a few other legacy DOS and Windows boxes. He left shareware programs behind for the open source world of the Linux desktop. He runs several versions of Windows and Linux OSes and often cannot decide whether to grab his tablet, netbook or Android smartphone instead of using his desktop or laptop gear. You can connect with him on Google+.


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