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Zowe Launches IBM Z Toward Modern Computing

As data growth continues on an exponential curve, our ability to process it efficiently takes on outsized importance. Mainframes—the true workhorses of the computing world—can be worth their weight in gold to companies and engineers pushing the boundaries of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning or doing heavy data analysis.

Most Fortune 500 companies use mainframes every day, both for the IBM Z* elite processing power and its importance in banking and other sectors. However, until recently, mainframe software was of an older generation, and so were the people who knew how to use it. Today’s coders are trained on web development and cloud services. Mainframe languages sound like an ancient tongue to them.

Bridging the Divide

As the first open-source software framework based on IBM z/OS*, Zowe bridges the divide between modern applications and the mainframe. The suite of software is built to make mainframe programming open source, and connects the best of modern software and mainframe computing. As a platinum member of the Open Mainframe Project, Rocket Software collaborated with IBM, Broadcom and other key stakeholders to launch Zowe.

I’ve been working with mainframes since I was in my 20s, and that familiarity I had with these core computing systems helped foster our relationship with IBM early in our existence. With the rise of cloud computing, the tech world, always eager to get leaner, moved away from mainframes. Rocket Software zagged when the rest of the sector zigged, and doubled down on mainframes.

Why? When it comes to processing power, nothing has supplanted the mainframe. They were the engines behind big data even before people were using the term “big data.” That’s why mainframes are still the computational backbone of so many industries. The security they provide is essential in sectors like banking and healthcare.

What really sets mainframes apart, however, is how their quantitative boost to processing power creates qualitative improvements in data processing. Mainframes allow for heavy data analysis in real time, bringing analytics closer in time to data gathering. The ability to complete the data lifecycle at an accelerated clip provides a huge competitive advantage.

This becomes even more salient as AI and machine learning become the landscape of the next generation of software. If AI is to deliver on its world-changing potential, we will need mainframes to act as the engine that drives this initiative forward.

Evolving Perceptions

Now, I know what you’re thinking. If mainframes are so great, why did the market move in the opposite direction? Part of this is the nature of mainframes themselves, but it’s also a case of perception creating reality. We’re conditioned to think that newer is better. The latest hot JavaScript* framework is a shinier object than older technology.

As the market moved toward web and cloud technologies, education followed. Fewer computer science programs provided much, if any mainframe study. There was also a perception that it takes months, if not years, of learning to program a mainframe, and most engineers are dubious that this is a worthwhile investment. This compounded the issue further because it made talented mainframe engineers hard to find.

But both perception and reality are changing. IBM’s Master the Mainframe competition attracts tens of thousands of college students every year. Many have never worked with mainframes before, but they find the technology surprisingly accessible. Colleges are starting to offer certificates and degrees in mainframes. More and more mainframe-focused hackathons and coding contests are happening. Mainframes are getting hip again.

Democratizing the Mainframe

The key advance with Zowe is that you don’t have to be a mainframer to work on IBM Z. By bringing mainframes into the realm of open source and making mainframe coding in syntax more familiar to today’s software engineers, Zowe helps democratize the mainframe. Zowe germinated from an internal hackathon at Rocket Software, and by open sourcing it, we open up mainframe technology to the same creative spirit that created Zowe. Now, if you can program, you can program mainframes.

IBM, without question the world’s biggest mainframe producer, bought in immediately. The Linux* Foundation and Broadcom followed, and Zowe was off and running. The biggest need in the dataframe industry is talented people to build the next generation of dataframe technology, and Zowe provides the on-ramp they need. With the team of collaborators we were able to assemble, Zowe rolled out as an incredibly solid, dynamic product from the start.

The next big step is adoption. The more we can bring Zowe to the wider tech community, the better it will get, and the more people will experience the game-changing power of working with IBM Z. Our goal is to make the Zowe experience so smooth that you’ll be mainframing without even realizing it.

From medicine to automation to secure transactions and more, we’re on the precipice of technological breakthroughs in countless frontiers. How many we deliver on could depend on whether the top researchers are able to use the best tools. When it comes to secure, express-lane-speed data processing, mainframes are still second to none. And with the release of Zowe, they’re now open to everyone.