IBM z13
IBM z13

Last year, IBM and the Linux Foundation launched the Open Mainframe Project designed to widen the appeal of Linux on the mainframe. The announcement made sense as IBM was just launching the first generation of its LinuxONE mainframes.

At that time, IBM justified having mainframes that only ran Linux because more than 27% of the installed capacity across IBM mainframes was Linux. That number was accelerating with over 40% of new mainframe customers requesting Linux on the platform.

Since then, IBM has refreshed the LinuxONE line with new models and added a line of entry level encrypted mainframes for the cloud. But what about the Open Mainframe Project that was announced at the same time as LinuxONE?

What is the Open Mainframe Project?

At the launch of the Open Mainframe Project IBM announced it was going to gift up to 500,000 lines of code. However, just before the release went live the number was mysteriously withdrawn even though many sites had already gone to press with it. IBM is no stranger to giving away large amounts of code to open source. It has been through the loop many times and for Linux on the mainframe it was an obvious way to go.

By putting the control in the hands of the Linux Foundation, IBM felt it was more likely to draw in a wider audience than if it were just an IBM project. It already has the support of the main Linux distributions and now it wanted to pull in more ISVs. Since the initial announcement there has been little news about what was happening.

Extending the reach

This week the Linux Foundation announced that four new members had joined the Open Mainframe Project taking the number of members to 17. While not a large number it does include the likes of CA Technologies, Compuware and BMC. Surprisingly, the list does not include Red Hat and Canonical, two of the three Linux distributions that run on the IBM z Systems.

Roberto Basilio, VP Product Management at Hitachi Data Systems
Roberto Basilio, VP Product Management at Hitachi Data Systems

The four new members are DataKinetics, Hitachi Data Systems, East Carolina University and Sine Nomine Associates. The involvement of HDS will be interesting as it shows that they are seeing enough interest from customers around the mainframe resurgence to justify the investment in this project.

In a canned statement in the press release Roberto Basilio, VP Product Management at Hitachi Data Systems said: “Hitachi Data Systems is happy to join forces with IBM and others in the Open Mainframe Project to expand the ecosystem around Linux and open source software on the mainframe. Joining the Open Mainframe Project gives Hitachi a chance to lend its expertise in mainframe, storage, real-time automation, cloud-standards and software-defined infrastructure to this growing community and adds to our extensive open standards project participation.”

New technical Initiatives

The press release announced several new technical initiatives for the Open Mainframe Project. A number of these have already been announced by IBM in terms of features it will add to Linux on z Systems such as Docker support and Blockchain. The latter is also part of another major IBM code giveaway to the Hyperledger Project.

In addition to these JIT for OpenJDK will focus on adding JIT to the existing OpenJDK port on z Systems. There is also a move to improve the way that Linux monitoring tools are certified for the mainframe and the acceptance of the Anomaly detection engine for Linux logs. This again includes more code contribution from IBM.

Internship program to grow student engagement

The announcement of an internship program is interesting because it opens up more opportunity for those looking at jobs in the Linux mainframe market. It will also appeal to many employers who are perhaps interested once again in the mainframe but are still wary about skills shortages.

What is not clear is how this will overlap with the existing IBM Master the Mainframe program which has been highly successful over the last decade. There has been a surge in educational institutes getting involved with the program and seeing their students win prizes. IBM has also added its own jobs search board to help employers in this space. It will be interesting to see how many of those interns enter the Master the Mainframe competition over the next few years and win.


IBM is continuing to invest heavily in the mainframe and keep up the momentum of the last three years. As part of that it engaged the Linux Foundation with the Open Mainframe Project. This announcement shows that interest is growing but there is still a long way to go before it can be called successful

The announcement didn’t make the main keynotes at IBM Interconnect in Las Vegas this week and there has been little information on the show floor as well. The fact that two of the main Linux distributions are still not part of this project will not be helping a wider take-up. While IBM has continued to contribute code it also needs to put a little muscle behind some of the major mainframe partners to give this project more visibility. Without that it could end up being just a sideshow rather than another driver for the adoption of Linux on the mainframe.



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