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Getting Jiggy With It: How a Linux Anniversary Led to the Creation of the Open Mainframe Project

By John Mertic
September 14, 2020

In 2000, I was planning a wedding. We were going to cake tastings, touring venues and looking for a DJ who played more than the popular Boy Band music. While I was doing my thing the world was...

In 2000, I was planning a wedding. We were going to cake tastings, touring venues and looking for a DJ who played more than the popular Boy Band music. While I was doing my thing the world was celebrating that we had made it through Y2K, watching as AOL bought Time Warner to create one of the largest Internet companies, and playing games on their mobile phones for the first time. Little did I know that the year 2000 would not only mark an exciting year for me, but also begin an important era for mainframes.

Back to the Future
When the Linux Foundation talks about open source history, we trace back to SHARE in the 1950s, when early users of mainframe technology would exchange best practices and code to help each other work. These pioneers created the passion for mainframe that continued through the decades to follow. Sharing scripts and tools among mainframe developers has helped the technology mature, and has brought more enthusiasts into the mainframe world. This, in turn, has helped make the mainframe the cornerstone enterprise technology it is today.

Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, the spirit of collaboration and community of the free software movement (and later open source movement) laid the foundation for bringing Linux to the mainframe—specifically on the s390x architecture. IBM had been quietly publishing a collection of patches to the Linux kernel but initiated formal product announcements in 2000.

These products built on early work by Marist College and IBM, and by vendors such as SUSE, that brought commercial support (the first edition of SUSE Enterprise Linux S/390) for Linux on the mainframe. Over the next two decades, IBM and partner organizations collaborated to improve support and performance so that Linux could run on z/OS.

Opening Doors
Five years ago, on the 15th anniversary of the first product announcement for Linux on the mainframe, the Linux Foundation made a massive investment in both Linux and open source on the platform—leading to the creation of the Open Mainframe Project. The project launched on Aug. 15, 2015 at LinuxCon Seattle. The founding members included ADP, BMC, CA Technologies, Compuware, LC3, Marist College, RSM Partners, SUSE, Vicom Infinity, University of Bedfordshire, The Center for Information Assurance and Cybersecurity at University of Washington, and IBM.

At the launch, Linux Foundation Executive Director Jim Zemlin said: “Linux today is the fastest growing operating system in the world. As mobile and cloud computing become globally pervasive, new levels of speed and efficiency are required in the enterprise, and Linux on the mainframe is poised to deliver. The Open Mainframe Project will bring the best technology leaders together to work on Linux and advanced technologies from across the IT industry and academia to advance the most complex enterprise operations of our time.”

This still rings true. As we celebrate the Open Mainframe Project’s 5th anniversary with 14 projects and a strong ecosystem of 33 industry leaders, innovators and academic institutions, we also acknowledge this milestone of 20 years of Linux on the IBM mainframe.

We look forward to the next 20 years—and more—of this community’s growth.

John Mertic is Director of Program Management at The Linux Foundation.


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