A Different View: The Zowe Initiative and the “Open Mainframe”

At this year’s Open Source Summit IBM, CA Technologies and Rocket Software announced an open-source software framework known as “Zowe” – a framework designed to draw new application development to the z/OS operating environment, as well as making it simpler to integrate modern applications on other platforms (systems, servers, mobile devices, etc.) with mainframe servers. We at Clabby Analytics, however, see this move as a heck of a lot more than application development and integration – we consider it a major step forward in opening up the mainframe and making it a transparent member of any enterprise hybrid cloud environment.

The Obvious: The success of a given platform is dictated by applications capture

“Applications capture” dictates the success or failure of a platform. It explains why Microsoft was so successful with its Windows PC OS, and why competitors such as Novell with SuperNOS and IBM with OS2 faded. It also explains why Apple’s iPhone was and is so successful – by promising developers’ efforts through its App Store, Apple captured the newest, latest-greatest, modern applications in the mobile market, leading to the company’s great success.

For the purpose of this report, however, a more interesting parallel in applications capture is the Android marketplace where the open mobile operating system created a huge draw for developers to build on a Google-created, Linux-like operating environment.

On the surface, Zowe is just like this initiative. It provides new interfaces to the z/OS operating environment that enable simplified application development and integration – and that enable developers to take advantage of back-end mainframe applications and databases, as well as the mainframe’s massive scalability. IBM offers a product known as z/OS Connect which helps developers integrate distributed applications with the mainframe. Zowe then enables developers and administrators to develop and manage those applications using similar tools and practices as found on other platforms.

But what if Zowe is more than that? What if its about “opening-up” the mainframe such that a myriad of applications, as well as hardware partners, can develop a new ecosystem of solutions on the architecture?

The less obvious: An “open” mainframe?

Clabby Analytics has seen IBM open a platform architecture before. Not long ago, when the Unix market shifted largely to open source Linux, IBM’s Power Systems Unix (AIX) organization got caught flat-footed and sales of Power Systems dropped. To stem the decline IBM made three important moves: 1) it revamped its Power Systems product line to include more distributed server offerings – including Linux-specific Power Systems; 2) it made it possible to change the bit order on POWER architecture – making it possible to run tens-of-thousands of existing Linux applications on Power Servers; and, 3) it helped create the OpenPOWER open source movement – and an entire ecosystem based on the POWER processor architecture which has been wildly successful.

Although IBM has not overtly stated this, we see Zowe as the first step in creating a more open mainframe.

One major difference between the Zowe initiative and OpenPOWER, however, is that IBM completely opened its POWER microarchitecture to the world. We don’t see the company doing the same for its mainframe microarchitecture. Still, that doesn’t matter – as was the case with the Android operating system, it is more about taking advantage of the hardware’s underlying capabilities.

As for mainframe hardware, readers should be aware that IBM recently repackaged its mainframe servers (see this report) – making it possible to deploy rack-configured systems. Add to this that these new solutions offer up to 16 U of free space (allowing customers to populate space with server, switch or storage elements) – opening the door to create all sorts of different, purpose-optimized configurations, which are just begging for a new ecosystem to be developed around them.

Think about it, though. If IBM opens up the mainframe to open source development, the mainframe ecosystem could rapidly expand as partners seek to exploit mainframe reliability, availability, security and scalability in new and different ways. An open mainframe would be a whole new ball game… This is the direction that we strongly suspect the Zowe initiative to be heading.

What is Zowe today?

What IBM/CA Technologies/Rocket Software announced was:

  1. An extensible z/OS framework with new APIs and REST services that can support modern languages and workflows (see this report on IBM’s Mainframe DevOps strategy for more details).
  2. A unified workspace that uses well-known interfaces such that developers can transparently develop new applications or integrate existing applications with back-end z/OS applications and services; and,
  3. An interactive scripting environment that allows developers to seamlessly integrate z/OS in cloud and distributed environments.

A closer look shows that Zowe APIs and Explorers: z/OS Management Facility (z/OSMF) supports Representational State Transfer APIs (REST). REST API’s submit jobs, work with the Job Entry Subsystem (JES) queue, and manipulate data sets. Finally, these APIs manipulate UNIX System Services (USS) or Multiple Virtual Storage (MVS) datasets. Explorers are the visual representations of the APIs that are wrapped around the Zowe UI application. Now the framework has the ability to use new z/OS REST services to transform enterprise tools as well as DevOps processes. (support of new technologies, languages, and modern workflows)

Zowe also has an API Mediation Layer which consists of:

  1. An API Gateway: Using Netflix Zulu and Spring Boot, the API gateway forwards API requests to the appropriate corresponding device through a microservice endpoint UI.
  2. Discovery Service: Using Spring Boot and Eureka technology, this is the central point of the API Gateway. Using REST services, it accepts incoming announcements and acts as a repository for all active services.
  3. An API Catalog: To view services running on the API Mediation Layer you can use the API catalog. It is also important for viewing API documentation for specific services. Services can also be implemented by multiple service instances which allows the same level of service for scalability or availability.
  4. A Zowe Web User Interface (UI): zLUX, a modern web UI, simplifies work on the mainframe. Notably, the UI works with REST APIs for jobs, subsystems, and data. All of this information is provided in a full-screen format and helps users have one consolidated view where all applications can work together.
  5. A Zowe Command Line Interface (CLI): The Zowe CLI allows users to interact between separate platforms using z/OS. The platforms can be cloud-based or distributed systems and are able to submit jobs, issue TSO and z/OS console commands, integrate z/OS actions and turn them into scripts, and finally, produce responses as JSOM documents. Now, with this interface functionality mainframes can be tied in to DevOps workflows and more automation can be created.

Overall, the goal of this project is to help developers use tools to develop and innovate, and control and manage like on other cloud platforms. Greg Lotko, general manager, Mainframe, CA Technologies says it best when he says “The mainframe continues to be a critical platform offering new possibilities for next generation applications. We are excited to participate with the OMP and Zowe community members to streamline the development process for applications leveraging the platform. We are committed to the Zowe initiative,” Lotko continued, “as it provides simplified and familiar infrastructure services for the mainframe benefiting both experienced and newer developers and will help our customers accelerate the time-to-market as they deploy their mission critical digital transformation strategies.”

Summary observations

Notice that the title of the previous section is “What Is Zowe Today?” Essentially, Zowe is an open source initiative aimed at applications capture and integration for the z/OS (mainframe) operating system. It is all about filling the gap between modern applications and the mainframe operating environment. It’s about application capture and integration.

But the real question is: “What will Zowe become?” We see this initiative as a major step forward for the mainframe – it’s more than just application capture/integration using well known tools and utilities – it’s about building an open source environment around mainframe hardware – it’s about building an “open mainframe.”

It’s the first baby step in a progression that we believe will make the mainframe a transparent member of any enterprise cloud. Overall, we see Zowe as the first element of a scenario that will enable the mainframe to walk, then run, then sprint into the hybrid cloud environments of the future.

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