Finding the Mainframers of the Future Through Open Source Ecosystem Development

Speak the word “mainframe” to many millennial techies, and the first things that likely come to mind are in the form of grainy sepia photos of floor-to-ceiling, wall-to-wall computers with big spinning tapes. But that’s far from the reality of the modern mainframe.

Imagine instead up to 240 10-core, 5.2ghz processors, 32TB of RAIM (redundant array of independent memory), hardware-based encryption, and fully hot-swappable hardware components. Those are the specs of the newly released IBM z14 – a single machine that could replace the computing resources of an average corporate data center with room to spare.

The challenge this architecture ecosystem is facing is exactly the perception I kicked off with, and with that, the perception that building a career around such a platform is a mistake. But don’t tell that to the 15 interns who have come through The Linux Foundation’s Open Mainframe Project. With Linux and open source thriving on mainframe, being a “mainframer” has become an intriguing career for students. Just look at some of the work these students have done:

  • Tuan Hoang was based in Vietnam when he became aware of the Open Mainframe Project. He started hacking on Alpine Linux, porting it over to run on mainframe with version 3.6, and now is a graduate student at Marist College.
  • Kevin Lee, a graduate student at the University of Illinois, joined the internship program focusing on HyperLedge and Blockchain on mainframe, building an application for patient health care record management.
  • Isong Idio came to find the project and the mainframe from the great Dr. Cameron Seay at NC A&T State. Isong extended the Anomaly Detection Engine for Linux Logs project to build further algorithms that will eventually make their way into IBM’s zAware product.

These students are just the tip of the iceberg, with others focusing on improving support for containerization, monitoring tools, and cloud stack tools on the platform.

Open Mainframe Project Builds Careers

While seeing students make notable advancements on open source on mainframe is an achievement in and of itself, the big win is helping students find career paths on mainframe. Each student goes to an industry conference to present their work, and most are quickly approached by vendors and customers to help bring fresh talent into their organizations.

Robert Starr of East Carolina University is a great success story here, direct hired after his final semester by Open Mainframe Project member ADP because of his internship with the Open Mainframe Project.

Connecting students with opportunities in the mainframe ecosystem is a huge challenge. But it’s a challenge the Open Mainframe Project sees as key for long-term sustainability of mainframe and a by-product of Linux and open source being first class on the platform.

Mainframe is a technology that is here to stay. It’s used extensively by the Fortune 500 and is driving mission-critical payloads. And Linux is the future on mainframe — IBM reports 90 percent of the mainframe install base is using Linux.

Helping students see this as an amazing career path is what the Open Mainframe Project is here to do. To learn more, check out www.openmainframeproject.org.

Or read about more recent initiatives to develop sustainable open source ecosystems at The Linux Foundation.

John Mertic

John is Director of Program Management for ODPi and Open Mainframe Project at The Linux Foundation.