Linux Foundation Launches Open Mainframe Project

It’s 2015 and you might think of the mainframe as a vestige of an earlier computing era, but these mega machines still play a role inside large institutions running intensive workloads.

And as though to prove its ongoing utility, The Linux Foundation announced it was launching the Open Mainframe Project today, an open source endeavor devoted to helping companies using mainframe computers.

The new venture was driven in large part by IBM, a primary supplier of these machines. In fact, it’s not a coincidence that it announced a partnership with Canonical today to build a Linux mainframe running Ubuntu Linux.

It may surprise you to learn Linux has been running on mainframes for 15 years, and as Linux usage has grown on mainframes, a community of users has built up. The project is a response to that growing demand, Jim Zemlin, executive director at the Linux Foundation explained in a statement.

The idea is that those companies participating in this project can work together, and begin building a set of open source tools and technologies for Linux mainframes, while helping one another overcome common development issues in the same manner as all open source projects.

“The Open Mainframe Project gives these customers, vendors and service providers one place to come together,” Ross Mauri, general manager for IBM Systems explained.

IBM is sweetening the pot by contributing 250,000 lines of mainframe code to the Linux community.

Early members are companies that have a deep commitment to mainframe computing already, like IBM, BMC, CA Technologies and Marist College, Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT told TechCrunch.

The companies involved, especially IBM, are hoping to drive more mainframe usage by lowering the cost and complexity of owning one. “The real question is how effective the group will be in attracting members whose interest may be initially limited,” King said.

Ultimately the mainframe mainstays are hoping to attract a new generation of developers to their platform. To help coax new users, IBM will be offering free access to the LinuxOne cloud, a mainframe simulation tool it developed for creating, testing and piloting Linux mainframe applications. It also allows developers to test how well their applications work with linked resources such as mobile applications and hybrid cloud applications.

It’s hard to say how this will all play out, but King says in a best-case scenario, the real benefit could be luring new Linux developers to this older-style computing platform.

Whether this attempt to build an open source community expands mainframe interest and usage remains to be seen, but the charter members are certainly keeping their fingers crossed.