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New Open Mainframe Working Group To Promote Access To z/OS Resources

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The Open Mainframe Project community recently formed a new working group called The Open z/OS Enablement Work Group, with a goal to promote access to z/OS resources for anyone that wants to do the development in that space. What’s the long-term goal of the group, what kind of resources it provides to the community and how does it fit into the larger open-source picture of the Open Mainframe Project? To get answers to some of these questions, I sat down with Kip Twitchell, Global Subject Matter Expert at IBM & Open Mainframe Project GenevaERS TSC Chair. I hope you will enjoy the discussion.

Here are some of the topics we covered in this show:

  • What challenges did the community see in the space that led to the creation of this new working group?
  • What’s the specific goal of the group?
  • When Kip says ‘resources’, what kind of resources are we talking about?
  • What’s the long-term goal of this group?
  • How does it fit into the open source story of the Open Mainframe Project?
  • What kind of community is around the working group?

Guest: Kip Twitchell (LinkedIn, Twitter)
Company: Open Mainframe Project (Twitter)
Show: Let’s Talk

Swapnil Bhartiya: Hi, this is your host Swapnil Bhartiya. And welcome to Let’s Talk. We have with us, once again Kip Twitchell, global subject matter expert at IBM and Open Mainsframe Project. And today we are going talk about a new working group, which is open z/OS enablement working group. First of all, Kip is great to have you back on the show.

Kip Twitchell: Hey, thanks. It’s good to be back again. Glad to talk about the mainframe and open source projects on it.

Swapnil Bhartiya: I want to talk about this working group specifically. So talk about what problem, what challenges you saw in the space, or the whole ecosystem saw in the space that you came up with this working group. So let’s start with the problem area.

Kip Twitchell: So a year ago we talked a little bit about the GenevaERS project, and that was a new project into the Open Mainframe Project. It’s kind of like a Apache spark on the mainframe preceded by about 10 years of map reduced concept. What we found by starting that group was we had many people from a community that wanted to join into the group and help us participate and help us work on the code. What we found is that zOS has great security. I mean, it’s incredible security, but it’s so secure and it’s usually held within companies so much that we had a difficult time growing a community base from which to do the development of the open source team. So, we started reaching out and having conversations with multiple open source projects and said, “Hey, this is a problem for an open source project. How do we have a community site, a community basis by which to do development and grow and give access and grow the software in this space?” That led to, in January forming the working group to talk more openly about these kinds of problems.

Swapnil Bhartiya: If we just narrow down or have a very myopic view on the goals of this working group, what would that be?

Kip Twitchell: It’s to promote access to z/OS resources for anyone that wants to do the development in that space. Open Source is the engine for innovation in software. And so, bringing together people and enabling them to solve problems and renew the systems. That’s what the goal of the Open z/OS Enablement System working group is to help provide access or find ways of having people contribute access to z/OS. Our Ozzie project has a webpage for it on GitHub. It’s up under the Open Mainframe Project, Ozzie Open z/OS Enablement Project. We also are part of the OMP’s website and we have a user group that you can sign up for as part of the Open Mainframe Project to join our meetings. We meet every first Thursday of the month at 5:00 PM eastern is when our call in is, and we have our monthly meeting to discuss our progress and what our next steps are.

Swapnil Bhartiya: And you said to provide them with the sources, what sources are we talking about here?

Kip Twitchell: Well, In the Ozzie group, we don’t own a mainframe. We’re an open source group of people that volunteer our time. There are places though that do make some access to z/OS and sometimes it’s a little difficult for them. It’s costly for them to do. There are z/OS resources in the world. How do we make it less costly for people to contribute z/OS resources in exchange for growing open source communities and help to solve their problems? z/OS isn’t used all the time. It’s a shared cloud environment. There’s resources available. There’s times of days when it’s more utilized and times when it’s less utilized. How do we allow those times when it’s less utilized, how do we allow a company to give access to an open source community to work on the z/OS system?

Swapnil Bhartiya: What is the long-term goal of this group?

Kip Twitchell: One thing that we did as part of the working group, one of the first things we did was kind of do a survey of the space and we ended up breaking the problem into a kind of multiple dimensions. One way that we said, “Hey, there are emulators that emulate z/OS. zPDT is a development tool, ZD&T is a development and test environment. They run on other hardware; intel machines. One way of an emulator would be one way of opening this up to more people. I proposeded that, “Boy, wouldn’t it be great to have a raspberry pie that ran z/OS so that you could experiment with a raspberry pie at $60?” The other way would be companies that actually have the hardware that they’re willing to dedicate part of this time. Then we started to break it into the initial ways are going to be getting in very simple to do simple little things for probably somebody coming from a Linux background. And there’s a thing called UNIX system services. Can we give them access into that space before we start to go onto more complex problems? So, it’s really in a sense, I feel like it’s been foundational thinking about this mainframe access in the way that goes along with so much of what else we do in other platforms, but people haven’t really thought about z/OS in that same way.

Swapnil Bhartiya: When we look at hardware and when we look at software side, it’s very clear open source, you can go and play with it. How does this working group fit into the larger open source picture? Because if I look at open source, it’s more like making technology more accessible. It’s more democratizing that segment. So talk about how does this working group fit into the larger open source picture as well?

Kip Twitchell: Yeah. So the open source often has worked the best when you have a large possible user base. And so, that’s why operating systems and utilities and those kinds of things, because there’s a lot of people interested and a lot of potential users. When you get into farther up the stream where open source has had less impact, it’s having some impact, but not much. When you get into specific applications, particularly business applications, like ERP systems. Well, if you think about the oldest ERP systems, ERP systems meaning ledgers in a sense, those sit on the mainframe and so open source, if we want to start making inroads to think that someone is going to go sit down and start at a blank screen and start to write business applications from scratch from an open source basis, oh, that’s just such a long road that we’re going to have to walk in order to get to open source sort of applications that have the kind of benefits we see from open source in so many other places. A more likely route is that companies are going to see, “Hey, I can use open source if I contribute this application into an open source space. I can jumpstart work on an HR system. That’s an open source HR system. I can jumpstart purchasing, general ledger.” All of these applications that might not be their core critical business applications, like the billing and customer facing applications. But then we start to see that those applications, so many of them still running on z/OS, we start to to seed with business functionality into a space where open source can start to make a difference on these systems that really could be renewed and refreshed in many different ways.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Can you also talk a bit about what kind of composition of the community of this working group? Who are the members? Who forms it?

Kip Twitchell: Yeah, the working group tends to be a fairly small group of people that have been participating. It’s less than a dozen that have participated in various ways because quite often we’re still doing this ideation sort of process and where do we go? How do we think about ecosystem on z/OS and growing that on z/OS? One thing that we’d love to make a little more progress on is just making a simple catalog out there that you could emulate like you do with a Docker image or with a bakery box and those kinds of things. How do we make that sort of thing happen so that people can envision what this will become given a little bit of time for how you might have access into the z/OS environments and get your own image and have the things pre-installed on that?

So we’re doing prototyping, initially age work on this working group. That’s why it’s a working group. The people I think that really should be part of this as anyone that’s trying to grow a z/OS ecosystem. If you’re working in trying to develop new developers for z/OS, you ought to be thinking about how do they come in, and how do they experience z/OS from the beginning, and how will they see it with fresh eyes. That’s where we’re trying to go. We want to enable brand new people to come into the world and see this thing from the fresh perspective. Those ecosystem developers are really anyone involved in the ecosystem development really should be thinking about being part of this project.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Kip, thank you so much for taking time out today and talk about this working group and also a bit more about z/OS and the challenges there. And as usual I would love to have you back on the show. Thank you.

Kip Twitchell: Hey, I’d love to be there. Thanks for all your work and thanks for having me today.

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