The Main Scoop, Episode 03: Open Approaches for Mainframe Modernization

On this episode of The Main Scoop, co-hosts Greg Lotko and Daniel Newman are joined by John Mertic, Director, Open Mainframe Project to discuss how fundamental “open” approaches are to growing business, and innovating with technologies across platform ecosystems. They also provide insights and reveal what’s going on with open mainframe projects, how organizations are generating new value, and what the future of open looks like.

Our conversation also covered the following:

  • A dive into an “open first” approach and how this strategy is the best to modernize the mainframe
  • A look into the business drivers that are changing the platform ecosystem
  • An overview of the Linux Foundation and the Open Mainframe project

It was a great conversation and one you don’t want to miss. Like what you’ve heard? Check out Episode One of The Main Scoop and Episode Two of the Main Scoop, and be sure to subscribe to never miss an episode of The Main Scoop series.

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Greg Lotko: Welcome back to our next episode of The Main Scoop. Today, we’re going to be talking about open strategies to mainframe modernization. Joining me again is Dan from Futurum.

Daniel Newman: Hey, Greg. Good afternoon, day, morning. I don’t know, does it matter what time it is? But we are back and it’s exciting to be here.

Greg Lotko: Good life.

Daniel Newman: Good life. Exciting to be here, having a little bit of fun and bringing some really thoughtful people and to talk about what’s going on in open source. A topic that, if you ask me, is not only important in mainframe, but it’s really important across the IT and technology stack.

Greg Lotko: Yeah. And we’re actually going to talk about Open, broadly, right? When people think about Open, they right away go to open source. But it’s about opening up communication across applications, across middleware technologies and involving open source integrating with middleware that’s coming from companies out there as well as homegrown applications.

Daniel Newman: Yeah. So as always, it’s fun for us to chat a little bit about it, but this show is all about bringing some smart outside thinkers into the show. So Greg, you want to introduce our guest?

Greg Lotko: Yeah. Today we have John Mertic with us. He’s from the Linux Foundation and is the project manager for the Open Mainframe project. John.

John Mertic: Awesome. Well, thank you for inviting me to join you both and excited to talk about open source. It’s something I’ve been doing for over two decades now in all sorts of different levels. And you’re right, it’s an exciting time in open source and lots to talk about.

Daniel Newman: So let’s start off, we gave our little spiel on why we think it’s important, but give us your view. Why is this Open topic so important?

John Mertic: It’s becoming important because we’re seeing organizations, as their software strategy is emerging, they have infrastructure that’s grown in a lot of different ways. They’ve acquired companies, they might have some distributed, they might have some mainframe.

They might be looking at edge computing. And it’s a trend that we’ve seen is forward thinking organizations are ones that embrace that heterogeneous environment. And the way that this all comes together is through connectivity. And a lot of this is driven through open APIs to connect these systems together. Standards that sort of define what the interfaces should be and more and more and more we see the bottom end of the stack and even going higher up is built on open source from technologies like Linux, Kubernetes, Node.js, programming languages, things like that. It’s all built-in open source these days.

Greg Lotko: And this is a topic we’ve touched on before, right? We’ve talked about the heterogeneity, the hybrid idea that people don’t go to one technology and move everything else there. It’s tying everything in that you’ve developed over time as well as bringing in the best of the new stuff together. You got to tie that together. And you don’t want those to be brittle APIs or hard coded. You want that open concept.

John Mertic: Oh, exactly. And it’s not just sort of about business continuity, but it’s actually forward thinking. Companies look at this and say, this is a way we can innovate. We can be ahead of our competitors. Anybody could go buy a piece of software off the shelf and you’d be just as good as everyone else. But that uniqueness of how their infrastructure comes together is actually a competitive advantage for them.

Greg Lotko: Mixing and match, and taking the best right?

John Mertic: Yeah.

Greg Lotko: Well, I was going to say, grabbing a different color shirt to go with a different belt or pants. But, of course, you and I are both in our black shirts today.

Daniel Newman: We’re matching.

Greg Lotko: But it is about combining the best, bringing it together to provide the best outcome and experience for customers.

Daniel Newman: What I like what he said, too, is about the innovation and transformation. It’s not just about technology. See, we constantly hear, I mean, I’ve spent almost a decade studying just the digital transformation and what’s going on there. And so much of it is more about what’s that business outcome? What’s that innovation goal?

Greg Lotko: The business driver.

Daniel Newman: What’s the driver? And technology’s a foundational and being able to utilize open, open standards, open source creates that elasticity or agility. We love throwing around buzz words. We love throwing that around when we do the digital, even that word. I wrote a book on it almost a decade ago, one of my seven books, I’ll just throw that out there. And my point was is I still remember people being digital as opposed to analog transformation. I mean, what do you mean by that? But what we really mean by that is, how do you create a system that enables rapid change? Rapid innovation of both people, and then, of course, the process and technology and open seems to be just gaining more and more and more momentum as companies are trying to figure out how to do it faster.

Greg Lotko: And that system of ongoing change says transformation is not an action that happens and ends. It’s an ongoing process. So you’re opening these things up so you can connect them to what you have today and what you developed in the past, but you don’t know for sure what’s going to be the next technology. You want to be prepared to be able to tie that in and leverage it for value to drive that business outcome.

Daniel Newman: So John, talk a little bit about what the Linux Foundation and the Open Mainframe project is all about.

John Mertic: Sure. So the Linux Foundation, it’s been around for about two decades, and it came together, actually, with a combination of open standards along with open source coming together. And it’s the home for the Linux kernel and over a thousand open source projects from Kubernetes, Node.js. But also in a number of industry verticals like the motion picture industry, the energy industry, the automotive industry. And the idea of what it’s about is providing the space for this open innovation to happen decentralized across the globe from people between countries, cultures, competitors coming together and collaborating in the open, and its areas to provide the home and space for that. Within the Open Mainframe project, it’s one of the hosted foundations that’s a part of it, which solely focuses on the mainframe space and helping provide an open environment for the mainframe community to work together, to build projects, to collaborate on ideas.

Greg Lotko: Customers, partners-

John Mertic: Everybody.

Greg Lotko: Competitors, the whole ecosystem.

John Mertic: Students. Everybody like the whole… Everything from top to bottom, everyone’s coming together and collaborating.

Daniel Newman: A great example of the remote world we live in now is actually how technology and software and open standards have actually set up innovation to take place with nobody in the same office. And as we are starting to see companies trying to figure out this hybrid work future, which is super interesting because you’re seeing this tug of war, which I know isn’t specific just to the Open Mainframe project or Linux Foundation. But there are certain parts of the innovation stack that can be done in a completely disaggregated way with the workforce. And there’s parts open has really created of a catalyst for things to be developed in standards. And like you said, people that may not even necessarily know each other are building on each other’s work and creating innovation that ends up helping everybody.

John Mertic: Yeah, you get the smartest people together. I mean, that’s the whole idea. Get the smart-

Greg Lotko: Together virtually, right.

John Mertic: Yeah, virtually. And once in a while we’re going to get together in-person.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, we’re not even actually here.

John Mertic: Yeah, this is all holograms.

Daniel Newman: I did that once by the way. I gave a keynote via a hologram.

John Mertic: Oh, that’d be awesome.

Daniel Newman: It was pretty neat.

John Mertic: But yeah, no, it’s a unique opportunity because you get the smartest minds together to create unique stuff that not any one company could do themselves. I mean, that’s what we see with the projects that are brought here. I mean, there’s millions of open source projects out there. Linux Foundation hosts about 1,000 of them. But the ones that we focus on are the ones that are critically important to our society. Cloud infrastructure, mainframe, automotive, energy, things like that. Any of the companies that are part of it realize that these are bigger than any one of them and coming together is the only way you solve it. And you get those smartest minds in the room, and it makes each of the participating organizations like Broadcom, it makes their investment go farther.

Greg Lotko: And you notice he comes back to automotive. This is a topic we’ve covered.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, I think that’s a sub-plot

Greg Lotko: He’s got something special in his garage.

Daniel Newman: I think the producers probably gave him some hints.

Greg Lotko: He’s got a Trans Am.

John Mertic: Turbo Trans Am.

Greg Lotko: Did you build the turbo yourself?

John Mertic: No, no, no. It came straight from PAS, so.

Greg Lotko: Okay.

Daniel Newman: Well, some of us are tinkerers and some of us like to just enjoy the experience. So some of us enjoy the experience of tinkering.

John Mertic: Yeah, no, no, no.

Greg Lotko: Tinkerers and thinkerers.

John Mertic: Tinkerers and thinkerers. Yes.

Daniel Newman: Well, there’s kind of that correlation between the motor head and the coder, people that want to do it themselves and build stuff.

Greg Lotko: And it’s a different outlet for creativity.

John Mertic: Absolutely.

Daniel Newman: So you started to allude to this a little bit, John, but I am interested, can you talk a little bit about what you’re seeing in the market, some of the projects that are being built? Are there any really cool examples on the OMP that you could share?

John Mertic: Yeah, I mean, the Zowe Project for us has always been really the bellwether way out ahead of doing innovative things with z/OS. And it came to the market with the need for this ecosystem to evolve and provide a place that newer technologies could much more easily integrate into the mainframe. But it’s also really set the standard of how these competitive organizations can collaborate. I mean, Broadcom, Rocket Software, BMC, IBM MicroHost, they’re all coming and bringing their innovations to the table. Any one of them could have built a product on their own with this, but they chose to come to the table directly and work together on this.

Greg Lotko: Yeah, I mean, if you think about how it was founded and the history of it, the idea that we all had a common vision of where we believed the future was going to go, and we realized that you needed to open up the mainframe and there was capabilities that needed to be there. Each of us were working on a component or multiple components, and we realized, wow, if we pooled together, if we worked with the community, we’d get so much further faster. So it really was a few founding companies getting together and we put it out there in the world. And you saw other partners in the ecosystem coming in, customers coming in, and you’ve been with it since day one.

John Mertic: Since day one. I’ve seen it even before. And it’s been exciting to watch, and it’s really changed a lot of the tenor within the mainframe community from less of a mainframe or conversation to a mainframe and. And we’ve even seen that with the projects that have been a part of the Open Mainframe project. I mean, we have some really historical ones like CBT tape, which everybody in mainframe, I can mention that they’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. But what we’re seeing is these project, and we talked about open source being a connective across an enterprise, what we see a lot of our projects doing is filling that gap between the mainframe and the rest of the enterprise. Zowe is always a prime example of that, but we see work in the COBAL space that’s happening. We see work in the z/Linux space that’s happening in that area. And it’s an area where I think we have a niche to really innovate quite a bit and we’re seeing the biggest market interest come.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, well, you definitely have these kind of hybrid ecosystems and the word, what is it? Coompetition. It does tend to, I would say-

Greg Lotko: It’s coopertition.

Daniel Newman: Coompetition.

Greg Lotko: Comp. Oh, you have to OMP in there for comp.

Daniel Newman: Yeah.

Greg Lotko: Yeah. But when you say coopertition you’re more focused on the cooperation.

Daniel Newman: But in the end, you all are still competing. As an analyst, that’s what I do. I’m paying attention to whether or not you’re successfully competing with one another. But we talked a lot about-

Greg Lotko: We tend not to compete. We win.

Daniel Newman: You win. Okay, noted. I’ll be in my next report. But in all serious, we tend to see when there is a certain amount of competition, a certain amount of cooperation that goes on, innovation moves forward, and who wins are ultimately the customers. The customers ultimately win because they get better technology, they get better software. When there’s too little competition in any particular area.

John Mertic: Totally agree.

Daniel Newman: It creates a lot of risk.

John Mertic: Oh, yeah.

Daniel Newman: It ruins the elasticity on the pricing. There’s a lot of things economically that go badly. So you’ve hit a lot of great points here. As we sort of start to wrap up. We always like to say what’s ahead? What are you looking forward to? What’s going to be next for the open, for your project, for the Open Mainframe Project and Linux Foundation?

John Mertic: The biggest thing that we’re seeing in a lot of our communities, and maybe this is a little bit of a COVID thing as well, but we’re seeing the maintainers of a lot of key projects. They’re overwhelmed. There’s a lot that lies on them. And one thing that we’re really training a big focus on is trying to take a maintainer-first approach and help. How can we help support them? How can we help grow their communities? How can we help divvy out the task and how can we help them even bring in people they’re going to fill in some of those roles? We’re a big fan of sustainable open source, not flash in the pan. We want these things to continue on well past our time and we’re starting to get maintainers thinking a lot of that direction. With that, the one stress that sits on a lot of these maintainers is security.

And particularly we’re seeing a lot around supply chain security is becoming a really hot topic. Things like solar winds and the colonial pipeline, all of those were supply chain issues. And we have actually a foundation in the Linux Foundation called the Open Source Security Foundation that’s secured, I think, around $15 million in funding, which is going out there to help work with these projects to make sure that the ones that we depend upon the most have the infrastructure they need. But on top of that is just getting the education to that. And I think the mainframe community has a great track record in security, but helping bring open source into this mix with this community is going to involve some different thinking, some different approaches. And also just understanding the landscape has changed. And so I see that as, that’s going to be something that’s going to really coming up pretty quickly here.

Daniel Newman: I love that you brought up security. I love how you tied it to a secular like supply chain because I think so many people don’t realize. And then, of course, open security supply chain, people start to think open with risk. And I think that might be an interesting way to wrap this up, too, is talk a little bit about how you’re de-risking security by working in open standards and open source. Because some people they’ll immediately think open and they think, bigger risk.

John Mertic: No, and honestly it’s the exact opposite. You get better code that’s built, it’s out there in the open. Yes, anybody can see it, but people can see the problems quickly.

Greg Lotko: With a documented provenance, you know who submitted, where the code came from.

John Mertic: Exactly.

Greg Lotko: You can test it, you can look for known issues.

John Mertic: Exactly, yeah. I mean, there’s so much more rigor that happens in open source. I mean, not that commercial applications don’t see that, but all of that rigor is out in the open, you see that. Projects like Zowe have all their code base out there, but they have s-bombs built for releases, they have security audits that are done. They have all of that, that is brought out to the open, the whole stack of where the licensing of software comes from. I mean, that’s pretty intense and you don’t sometimes see that in other areas.

Greg Lotko: And I actually agree that people tend to think when they think of open source, they worry about that. So they’ve got to really look because not everybody’s doing what they should, but they should be looking into the community that is driving that open source and ensure that that security is there.

John Mertic: That’s exactly it. Yeah. And it’s something I think some people take for granted, but I mean, we really try to take an intentional approach with our projects of having a security-first mindset. We get them training, we get them infrastructure, we get them materials and help give them guidance, and even find peers in other industries that can help them as they’re thinking about what it means to develop secure software.

Daniel Newman: John, it’s been a lot of fun having you on.

John Mertic: Absolutely.

Daniel Newman: Big topic.

John Mertic: Lots there.

Daniel Newman: I think you probably covered the first few-

John Mertic: A little bit of the iceberg, yeah.

Daniel Newman: And hopefully everybody that’s out there can definitely check out the show notes. Learn a little bit more about the Open Mainframe Project. And John, will get you hooked up so they can learn a little bit more about you. Maybe a bunch of new LinkedIn invites coming your way.

John Mertic: I would imagine so. I feel my phone’s already vibrating.

Daniel Newman: Maybe some bad source code sent to you via email.

John Mertic: You know what? You should see my source code these days. It’s not that great, so.

Daniel Newman: That’s why you’re in management now. But that’s what you’re here for.

Greg Lotko: He’s not submitting code for the Open Mainframe Project.

John Mertic: No, no, no. Do not take my code. It’s a bad idea.

Daniel Newman: But John, thank you so much for joining us here.

John Mertic: Thank you.

Daniel Newman: We’ll have to have you back sometime soon.

John Mertic: Absolutely, Absolutely. Happy to. Thank you.

Daniel Newman: Take care.

John Mertic: Thank you.

Greg Lotko: Hey, so to summarize the discussion here, the whole idea about the road to modernization is being able to leverage the capabilities you have and bring the latest and greatest technologies, whether they’re on platform or off-platform together. So you get the and of these capabilities that is all about opening up while ensuring that you’ve got the security and provenance. Great example from the OMP.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, it was a lot of fun. Always fun to have someone come in that’s got the finger on the pulse. It’s talking about the projects, that knows what’s going on. And then, of course, you and I find a way to get back to talking about cars again.

Greg Lotko: And we learn new vocabulary words every session.

Daniel Newman: I feel like we need to get in the logo or something though, because we’re going to have two audiences. We’re going to have tech heads and motor heads. They’re-

Greg Lotko: Well, you folks send in if you want us to do an episode all about cars.

Daniel Newman: Yeah, we’ll do something about open source programming the cars.

Greg Lotko: I don’t think anybody’s going to write in.

Daniel Newman: Okay. We’re not going to do that.

Greg Lotko: At least not for that.

Daniel Newman: All right. Well, we’ll have a lot of fun.

Greg Lotko: Anyway, pleasure you again. I know you’re really here. He’s not virtual. I’m Greg Lotko.

Daniel Newman: Daniel Newman.

Greg Lotko: Thanks for joining The Main Scoop.

Author Information

Daniel is the CEO of The Futurum Group. Living his life at the intersection of people and technology, Daniel works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring Digital Transformation and how it is influencing the enterprise.

From the leading edge of AI to global technology policy, Daniel makes the connections between business, people and tech that are required for companies to benefit most from their technology investments. Daniel is a top 5 globally ranked industry analyst and his ideas are regularly cited or shared in television appearances by CNBC, Bloomberg, Wall Street Journal and hundreds of other sites around the world.

A 7x Best-Selling Author including his most recent book “Human/Machine.” Daniel is also a Forbes and MarketWatch (Dow Jones) contributor.

An MBA and Former Graduate Adjunct Faculty, Daniel is an Austin Texas transplant after 40 years in Chicago. His speaking takes him around the world each year as he shares his vision of the role technology will play in our future.


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