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Open Mainframe Project Offers New Ways to Collaborate

COBOL Check and ConsoleZ join the Open Mainframe Project ecosystem—offering quicker digital transformation, and easy-to-use Linux tooling

Organizations of all sizes across industries use a multitude of platforms and technologies as they increasingly make hybrid part of their computing choices, including decisions about cloud, distributed workload and mainframe. Additionally, as organizations move from a monolithic approach to microservices, the strengths of mainframe computing—performance, security, scalability and availability—become even more critical, especially in industries such as financial services, airlines, transportation and insurance. 

The interoperability needed with this level of environment requires collaboration across the technology community. The Linux Foundation launched the the Open Mainframe Project in 2015 for developing a shared set of tools and resources. Open Mainframe Project invests in open-source projects and programs, career development and events that provide opportunities for the mainframe community to collaborate and create sustainability. Recently, ASG Technologies, BMC Software and High School Technical Services joined the umbrella project, bringing the membership up to 43 business and academic organizations. 

“While some people may consider legacy technology in a negative light, we’ve shown that mainframe technology is critical to our society and has stood the test of time doing unique work other tools either cannot do or cannot do efficiently,” says John Mertic, director of program management at The Linux Foundation. 

The Open Mainframe Project understands how diverse communities create better collaboration and outcomes, and The Linux Foundation has always worked to bring together people from different experiences, stages of life, races, genders and sexual orientations. Over the past year, the project has increased its focus on diversity to help those in marginalized communities and those wanting to learn to be understanding through emails, Slack conversations and webinars. 

Mertic says the mainframe community really looks out for each other. “This is a community that cares about its legacy,” he notes. “There is no better way to really drive your legacy than to make sure there is an opportunity for everyone to be a part of your community.”

COBOL Check Increases Speed of Digital Transformations

Mertic says that COBOL, which has over 200 billion estimated lines of code in use today, has come to the forefront as a rallying point. Because COBOL is a language of many platforms and supports microservice, containers and cloud, the language helps pull the mainframe architecture—and the whole enterprise—together. Additionally, organizations using COBOL can complete digital transformation much faster and at lower risk than those that use other languages. 

As the generation of programmers and engineers who have supported legacy applications for their entire careers is retiring, companies need to attract a younger workforce. However, the current generation of entry or mid-level programmers has been using newer generation language and platforms, such as Java, C# and Ruby, that include features such as test-driven development and incremental refactoring, which are not well supported by mainframe tools.

Using COBOL Check—a new testing framework for COBOL applications designed to complement the Open Mainframe Project COBOL Training Course—developers have an experience similar to newer languages while harnessing the performance and reliability of mainframe. COBOL Check enables unit testing for COBOL applications and supports microtesting off-platform on Windows, OS X, Linux or Unix. Developers can exercise individual COBOL paragraphs in isolation from external dependencies, which enables a test-driven development workflow similar to C# or Python. Because the tools are easier to use, teams reduce development time—which means getting to market faster and less cost for development.

For many years, the mainframe world operated separate from the rest of the programming community, and this disconnect created certain assumptions and habits. While mainframers focus on production, stability and accuracy, Dave Nicolette, chair of the COBOL Check project,  sees other development teams concerned about quickly delivering new functionality while dazzling people with user interfaces. Nicolette says that when he shows managers and developers the mainframe development environment, they almost always respond that they imagined it quite different than the actual tools. 

The IBM modernization effort focuses on making traditional assets available through APIs. This introduces a whole new category to address legacy code by breaking up programs to explore the assets through APIs. Organizations must modify the programs without breaking the applications that support the economy. By transitioning now to COBOL Check, organizations can position themselves to lead this effort. 

ConsoleZ Provides Easy-to-Use Linux Tooling

The ConsoleZ project also contributes to the open-source community the Open Mainframe Project supports through its tool for z/VM and zLinux, which uses a web user interface to modernize Linux on Z. Users access z/VM  console data and CP commands through a browser, which saves time without interaction between many z/VM LPARs. Because of the unifying aspect of Linux, the mainframe improves Linux encryption capabilities and provides other benefits. 

John McKenny, SVP and general manager of ZSolutions at BMC, says that when he talks with developers who have mainframe experience, they proudly tell him about z/VM because it was a hypervisor before hypervisors were a priority. ConsoleZ allows administrators to manage their z/VM consoles without using the command line or green screen consoles. Because tools help bring the pieces together, ConsoleZ also helps z/VM provision around the Cloudstack environment. 

Moving Toward Increased Collaboration 

Mertic says that the Open Mainframe Project’s goal for this year is to look outside the mainframe world at other technologies and identify opportunities to bring technologies and mainframe drives together to align more effectively. The project hopes to take advantage of the improved sense of community and working together generated by the pandemic to move the larger IT industry to continue to see the benefits mainframe technology offers organizations and developers. 

“IT is moving in the direction of collaboration. Forward-thinking enterprises are looking at a hybrid heterogeneous infrastructure, and the tools they’re going to pick are the ones that are going to interact the best,” says Mertic.

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