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The Open Mainframe Project Expands Educational Opportunities for Linux on IBM Z Users

The Open Mainframe Project—launched in tandem with LinuxONE—is building a community to support the use of Linux on IBM Z.

Since its inception in 2000, Linux* on z Systems* has combined the high reliability of the mainframe with the flexibility and security of Linux. The release of the LinuxONE* systems in August 2015 signaled that IBM and the likes of distributors SUSE, Ubuntu and Red Hat were committed to further innovating this game-changing technology.

In the spirit of this collaboration, the Open Mainframe Project—launched in tandem with LinuxONE—is building a community to support the use of Linux on z Systems.

Realizing open-source computing relies on strong collaborations and community involvement, Steven Dickens, global offering manager, z Systems cloud, IBM, conferred with the Linux Foundation shortly before the LinuxONE launch. IBM wanted to unite the groups that circulate around the platform in a single, open-source community, and the Linux Foundation team suggested forming the collaborative project under its stewardship.

The Mission

The Open Mainframe Project is committed to investing resources to grow the community, continuing to extend the technology, and providing a collaboration hub for sharing models, definitions and best practices. Its mission includes three main goals:

  1. To create an open-source, technical community that industry and community members may easily participate in toward the creation of assets and materials that will benefit the Linux ecosystem and open-source software on the mainframe
  2. To include participation of leading members of the open-source community—such as end users, solution providers, application developers and systems administrators—to ensure the Open Mainframe Project addresses community needs
  3. To host the infrastructure for the open-source development projects; establish a neutral place for community meetings, events and collaborative discussions; and provide structure around the business and technical governance of the project

Dickens, a governing board member and chair of the community’s marketing committee, says another goal is to promote the use of mainframe as the platform of choice for Linux and open-source technology. As noted on the website, the Open Mainframe Project is intended to serve as a focal point for deployment and use of Linux in a mainframe computing environment by increasing collaboration across the mainframe community and using the shared toolsets and resources developed within the Open Mainframe Project.

Varied Community

More than 25 organizations/institutions are currently members, including Marist College, CA Technologies, SHARE, ADP and Albany State University. Several membership tiers exist:

  • Platinum
  • Platinum end user
  • Silver
  • Academic institution
  • Associate

No-fee membership options are available for nonprofits, academic institutions and individuals. “Benefits exist for academic institutions,” Dickens says. “We’re looking to build course material and other collateral for the universities to use, with the heavy training focus from the Linux Foundation.”

Platinum and silver community members are voting members on the governing board, which includes the marketing and technical steering committees. The Open Mainframe Project is recruiting software vendors and open-source software companies. “We are always keen to encourage clients to join and bring their technology focus into the community,” Dickens notes.

Any member is welcome to propose a project to the technical steering committee. “The way the open-source community works,” Dickens explains, “is a real meritocracy—a project can percolate up from one of our members through the community and be presented to the technical steering committee. It’s an open and collaborative format for technical projects to find their way forward.”

Two projects have gotten the most traction within the technical steering committee: collaborative efforts in the OpenStack and blockchain spaces. In addition, the committee is evaluating several smaller projects.

This committee, Dickens says, is “where the heavy lifting is done around which projects we’re going to fund from a technical perspective and, really, where we drive the R&D element of the project.” The marketing committee lays the groundwork for promoting the Open Mainframe Project’s mission on social media and through community-outreach events.

The Next Generation

Including academic institutions provides an opportunity to educate the next generation of mainframe Linux engineers and developers. Through its internship program, the Open Mainframe Project provides funding for college students to perform development work. It’s designed to help students expand their knowledge of mainframe technology while they contribute to open-source projects.

Eight college students across the globe participated in the program during the summer of 2016. As part of the application process, prospective interns proposed projects to the technical steering committee, which then selected eight interns to fund for an eight-week internship. They were matched with mentors from the technical steering committee to work on their proposed projects.

The interns highlighted their work during the SHARE conference in Atlanta last summer, as well as on the Open Mainframe Project blog and YouTube channel. Dickens has received positive feedback from both the mentors and interns, and one intern secured a job at ADP immediately following graduation.

“Academic institutions and IBM will come together to develop OpenStack for the platform. That’s the first time we’ve done that—it’s really exciting.”
—Steven Dickens, global offering manager, z Systems cloud, IBM

“It’s a strong program to get some fantastic experience and build the resume, but it could also lead to employment,” Dickens points out. Also, introducing college students to the mainframe positions it as a modern platform. “We talk about the platform and open source, but hearing the excitement for operating on the platform from college students really brings it home,” he says.

The deadline for the 2017 internship program has passed, but more information about it can be found online (

What’s Ahead

The Open Mainframe Project had a presence at SHARE, GSE, CA World and SUSECon in 2016, and several events are planned for this year, including booths at both SHARE conferences. Its “I am a Mainframer” social media program, which addresses what it means to be a mainframer, will continue throughout 2017. This program involves open-source community members, board members and interns.

The community has been doing some technical work on OpenStack, which is going to be a group effort, he notes. “Instead of IBM doing all of the heavy lifting, taking the technical lead and pushing some of the code out for interfaces, we’ll develop that code as a community so clients can have input,” Dickens says. “Software vendors will also have input. Academic institutions and IBM will come together to develop OpenStack for the platform. That’s the first time we’ve done that—it’s really exciting.”

The Open Mainframe Project will start heavily recruiting members in Europe, especially in Germany, which is home to a strong community supporting Linux on the mainframe. The initial drive to membership in the U.S. is encouraging. “We’ve more than doubled our membership in the first 16 months of the program, and we have three or four new memberships in the pipeline,” he says. The community is always looking to expand its membership. (Find out more in “How to Join,” above.) Dickens advises clients to check out the community’s website and YouTube channel, and sign up to receive the newsletter.

Open Mainframe Project Resources

The Open Mainframe Project website:

Learn about the intern program:

Check out the YouTube channel:

Follow on Twitter:

“I am a Mainframer” series:


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