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Open-Source Models Improve Security and Collaboration

Open source offers several benefits, including but not limited to security, freedom, transparency and collaboration.

John Mertic poses for photos in Akron, Ohio.

John Mertic director of program management for The Linux Foundation and director for the Open Mainframe Project, Image by Angelo Merendino

As the first open-source framework for z/OS*, Zowe is top of mind for many in the mainframe community. But the phrase “open source” might be more familiar to some than others, so IBM Systems magazine, IBM Z* sat down with John Mertic to dissect what open source is, why it’s useful and how people can get involved.

 At its core, open source is a development methodology for software. It emerged in the late 1990s, during a strong drive to lower technological barriers and increase engagement. The idea was to have source code for computer programming that anyone could inspect, modify or enhance. 

More and more disciplines have adopted open source because of its collaborative nature. “Open source provides transparency. It enables organizations to leverage the creativity of a global ecosystem of people,” says Mertic, director of program management for The Linux* Foundation and director for the Open Mainframe Project. “It provides the freedom to inspect, modify, enhance code, contribute or reuse.” 

Why Open Source?

Open source offers several benefits in addition to freedom, transparency and collaboration. It’s more secure than proprietary software, and its transparency makes it easy to keep track of defects. Unlike proprietary software, organizations don’t have to rely on one set of eyes to figure out an issue with open source. 

The security response time of open source tends to be quicker, too. “There are still people who knock open-source software because you can look at the code,” 

Mertic says. “But when you can see exactly what’s happening, it becomes much easier to figure out where the vulnerabilities are, and you can react quicker.” 

The control that comes with open-source models is another advantage. “When you have access to the source code, you can see exactly what’s going on,” Mertic says. “You can control it. You can make changes to it.” When you can control the source code, you learn how to solve your own problems. You can make sure things are behaving exactly as they’re supposed to behave. 

Open-source models also have a lower cost of entry. “While it's a common myth that open-source software is free, in the sense of licensing, that’s partially true. But it’s still sold. Just about all of the electronic devices we have today contain open-source software. And that lowers the cost for these products to come to market,” he adds.

Organizations can optimize the source code for their architecture using open source. In a proprietary model, you’re stuck with what the company says they’re optimizing for. In an open-source model, you can optimize it for whatever case you might have, and contribute in a batch so more people can benefit from a code standpoint. 

One of the aspects that makes open source so attractive for mainframe is getting people involved in technology. Open source on mainframe is just lowering the barrier.
John Mertic, director of program management for The Linux Foundation and director for the Open Mainframe Project

Industry Improvement

Several industries have reaped the benefits of open source since its inception. The automotive industry, for example, is rapidly moving toward open-source models, making almost all infotainment systems in vehicles open source. Car vendors are saving the money they used to spend on licensing technology. Open-source projects like Automotive Grade Linux (AGL) give them all a seat at the table. They can collaborate, share with one another and deliver better products to consumers.

Vendors within the networking industry are standardizing on open source as well. Open source enables faster innovation, accelerated production, higher quality products and more. And if you’re using Sling TV, Direct TV or other providers, you can thank open-source networking for making that happen. With open source drastically dropping costs, vendors can bring those solutions to market and offer them at a competitive price.

Social media companies like Google, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter are all built on open-source software, too. “Without open source, they wouldn’t have been able to innovate so fast because they would’ve been burdened by licensing costs from all of the proprietary infrastructure,” says Mertic. With open source, the companies were able to move faster with fewer complications. 

Other industries are just beginning to dabble in open source. The energy sector is starting to pick up open source with LF Energy, and even Hollywood, from a special effects point of view, has open source in the background to drive the special effects pipeline with the newly created Academy Software Foundation.

Bringing the Mainframe Back to Its Roots

For Mertic, going into open source with Zowe means bringing the mainframe back to its roots. “The mainframe community has been doing open source before open source was even a name,” he says. “We can trace it back to SHARE in the 1950s, where mainframe programmers came together to share source code over tape and printouts. They worked together and shared so that everyone’s source code could improve. So in a way, mainframe has been doing this for a long time.”

Open source will also help the mainframe community solve one of its most intimidating problems—the mainframe talent gap. “The mainframe is struggling with the talent gap, and wondering where the next generation will come from” Mertic says. “One of the aspects that makes open source so attractive for mainframe is getting people involved in technology. Open source on mainframe is just lowering the barrier.” 

The Open Mainframe Project and Zowe 

Millions of open-source projects are available, but some stand out as critical. When these projects come along, the Open Mainframe Project—a division of The Linux Foundation—steps in to help. “The Open Mainframe Project emerged to help build sustainability in the ecosystem for the next 50 years, and we recognized that open source can bring these efforts together to strengthen communities,” Mertic says.

The Open Mainframe Project knew that Zowe had the potential to unleash open-source efforts within the mainframe community, and so far, that’s exactly what Zowe has done. “The source code has been going up. We’re getting a lot of chatter on email lists and back channels. We’re seeing interest from other mainframe vendors looking to engage,” Mertic says. Zowe has also helped jumpstart other open-source projects that were in the early stages of launching. Learn more about Zowe.

Get Involved With Open Source and Zowe

Several online open-source communities are available where you can contribute, or provide documentation and feedback. “If you’re struggling with an area of technology as an organization or as an individual, or if you’re interested in learning more about something, a quick search will lead you to open-source communities like EOSIO/eos,” says Mertic. EOSIO/eos is a section on Github dedicated to open source, but several others are also out there—all of which are eager for more contributors.

The Linux Foundation is another great resource for open source, which is why it adds a new member a day. “The Linux Foundation specializes in helping organizations bring open-source projects to market,” Mertic says. The Linux Foundation has an entire group dedicated to creating guides for the open-source space—such as how to build an open-source program office, or how to start an open-source project. 

You can also get involved with Zowe at zowe.org, where you’ll find contribution guidelines, and can download and try different components of Zowe, and examine the source code. Everything is run transparently.

When it comes to Zowe and open source in general, much work still needs to be done. But as open source continues to spread, more engaging ecosystems start to grow, leading to great opportunities, increased diversity and a catapult toward business success.

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