If you think mainframe development is just ISPF - You'd be wrong!

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3 months ago

About 7 years ago I held a Customer Advisory Board, and I asked the 25+ customers in attendance how much open source they are adopting. I was surprised that only a handful of customers raised their hands. I then threw out some open source tool names like Git and Jenkins, thinking that may invoke more hands. Instead, I got several asking me what is Git and many of the rest grunted and said that Jenkins isn’t anything they’d ever consider because they required commercial offerings. A couple years later, I asked the same question and all of the customers in attendance, this time 30 of them, raised their hands. Most of them were repeat customers, which was impressive to see a fast moving trend of open source adoption. I then asked them what changed, given that a few short years ago there was disdain for open source tools. Their answers varied. But the common theme was that open source tools are easy to consume and it makes developers more successful as they tend to be tools they’re more familiar with.

Over the last year, I’ve been more focused on the mainframe space. Although mainframe is quite new to me, I’ve found that the challenges I’m helping mainframe companies with are very similar to what distributed software teams experienced over the last decade. Mainframe shops build, manage and work on business critical systems, which makes addressing these challenges even more important. These systems are complex, high performing and deliver the back office services their customers need. The applications are highly regulated and controlled. They need a mission critical SCCM environment to control and manage how they manage and release applications. We have hundreds of customers that rely heavily on ChangeMan ZMF to manage their mission critical systems every day.

Over the last handful of years, there’s been a change in development processes. As one generation retires, a new generation is hired but they are less familiar with mainframe. Thus, mainframe development teams are much more diverse today than they were in years past. As more mainframe companies move toward DevOps, there’s adoption with agile and this adds another layer of complexity as it introduces new sets of development processes and a move towards open source.   Bridging this gap has challenges but they aren’t insurmountable. Mainframe shops want to attract new talent. They recognize the need to adopt DevOps and need to move faster for their customers, whether internal or external to their business. Adopting open source and modern tools has their set of challenges. Will they be compatible with how they manage and deliver releases on the mainframe?

So, how do mainframe companies solve these sets of challenges? Firstly, it’s about investing in their existing infrastructure, not about a rip-out-and-replace. We don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water here. These are mission critical systems and there is no pause button. If you think mainframe development is just ISPF dialog using antiquated development processes, you’d be wrong. Many mainframe development teams are adopting modern development tooling. We introduced REST Services with ChangeMan ZMF 8.2 Patch 2 to give our customers the ability to integrate with the tools they need. With ChangeMan ZMF 8.2 Patch 5, we continued to build on this with our latest plugins.

As a new member of the Open Mainframe Project, we released the ZOWE CLI plugin for ChangeMan ZMF. Teams are provided an automation capability where ChangeMan processes and mainframe applications need to be part of development pipelines and CI/CD processes. We also have released the VS Code Explorer for ChangeMan ZMF plugin. We wanted to help those new talent acquisitions that have less familiarity with mainframe or ChangeMan. VS Code is a free lightweight, cross platform client with thousands of extensions. With our latest plugin, we are exposing ChangeMan through VS Code so new developers can easily access code in ChangeMan and use in a familiar environment for development. Users can also take advantage of the host of tools and extensions that VS Code provides.

We view ChangeMan ZMF as the “vault” on the backend. It’s the backbone to managing software delivery pipelines. We believe this can be achieved without forcing all your users to know ChangeMan. As mentioned earlier, teams are much more diverse today. There is an older generation - your power-mainframe users, who are all retiring. While a new generation of software developers are more familiar with open source tools. They are easy for developers to use, adopt and get others on their team hooked on them. They aren’t just popular today, they’re a MUST-HAVE for vendors such as Micro Focus to integrate with. Our belief is that we can enable teams to give their users “freedom of choice” for the tools they want to use and more familiar with. This means we’d take an agnostic viewpoint on the frontend, while ChangeMan is the vault on the backend. 

Both the ZOWE CLI plugin for ChangeMan ZMF and the plugin for the VS Code Explorer for ChangeMan ZMF are found on our AMC Marketplace where you can download the plugins and learn more about them. You can also view our recent webinar and demonstration found here. Thanks to John Mertic (Director of the Open Mainframe Project), Misty Decker (Director of Product Marketing, Mainframe Solutions) and David Jackson (Development Manager, ChangeMan ZMF) for their webinar contributions. 

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