Mainframes, DevOps, and Containers

Mainframes are magic – so magic that a large percentage of people working in IT (and managing IT) don’t know how they work. To many people, mainframes appear to be an expensive black box that turns out results in the same way as it did generations ago. Now, we know the truth, but it can be hard to convince others of how powerful, scalable, and secure mainframes are. It can be difficult to persuade them that the total cost of ownership is much less than running lots of x86 servers. And, the other big problem, many mainframers can’t be bothered any more. They are coming towards retirement. Their expert skills are sure to leave the organization in a year or so, and no-one has really thought seriously about succession planning.

Now, I know that’s not true at every site, and many sites are maximizing their use of the mainframe and getting amazing value for money in the work they do. I know there are sites where the mainframe is integrated into cloud, mobile, edge, and any other kind of computing there is. They are making the most of the latest versions of IMS, CICS, and Db2.

Nevertheless, the situation must be a worry for IBM, who sees its potential income stream in the future dwindling away to almost nothing. What else can it do to make its flagship computing platform seem attractive to those people who really don’t get it, who can’t see the big picture in terms of long-term costs, and who seem oblivious to the capabilities of the mainframe?

The answer seems to be to operate the mainframe in stealth mode! What I mean by that is to hide all the things that mainframers are so familiar with, like green screens etc, and make the power of the mainframe available to people who are used to working on PCs. Not only that, but make the latest techniques in application development – DevOps – part of the package that’s available to these non-mainframers. So, any developer, who is used to working on PCs, can develop mainframe applications that will work optimally on the mainframe. It seems almost unbelievable – a dream. And yet, that’s where we are now.

Following IBM’s takeover of Red Hat, we now have Wazi for Red Hat CodeReady Workspaces available, which is a browser-based tool that uses containers running on x86 servers to build mainframe applications. Developers are, in effect, working in a sandbox environment, which means that nothing they do can impact on anything else. This sandbox is created using IBM Cloud Pak for Applications. It provides access to containerized instances of IBM’s middleware such as CICS and Db2 running on z/OS.

The Red Hat OpenShift is based on a distribution of Kubernetes and provides developer tools using a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) environment.

Wazi (which in Kiswahili means open or unlock) provides mainframe developers with a choice of integrated development environments (IDEs) including Eclipse and Visual Studio Code (Microsoft’s free source-code editor for Windows, Linux, and macOS). It allows DevOps teams to build applications for the mainframe using the same tools they build applications for other platforms.

Using Wazi gives organizations the opportunity to move their mission-critical workloads to the cloud. Users can build apps in a hybrid, multi-cloud environment and have a common developer experience.

Wazi is meant to seamlessly integrate into a standard, Git-based open tool chain to enable continuous integration and continuous delivery (CI/CD) as part of a fully hybrid DevOps process encompassing mainframes and distributed systems. Wazi also works with open source tools, including Microsoft’s Azure DevOps for orchestration and Jenkins for continuous integration on premises and in the IBM cloud. Other z/OS capabilities include support for COBOL, PL/I, and HLSAM editing, along with a tool that identifies, manages, and helps optimize builds.

The Wazi Virtual Test Platform (VTP) lets developers perform full transaction-level testing without deploying code into middleware. IBM suggests that the product can provide the first stage of integration testing while developers are still in the build process. And this is important because it boosts developers’ ability to do automated testing and development for z/OS in general. Developers can create and test z/OS application components in a containerized, virtual environment on OpenShift running on x86-based hardware using Microsoft Visual Studio Code or Eclipse.

IBM also has its z/OS Cloud Broker, which is an offering that gives users the ability to access and deploy z/OS resources and services on Red Hat OpenShift for a seamless and universal cloud development experience.

Putting it all together, IBM has a modernizing tool that non-mainframe programmers can use to create and test applications that can run on the mainframe or in the cloud. It provides a way to maintain their income stream from mainframes. And it provides a way for organizations to continue get the benefits of using a mainframe – even if they don’t quite understand what they are!

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