Does IBM i Need Its Own Zowe?
September 30, 2020 Alex Woodie
Getting open source software onto platforms like IBM i and System z is a big focus of IBM, its big iron customers, and the ecosystem of tool and service providers that tread these waters. In 2018, IBM, CA Technologies, and Rocket Software collaborated to create the Zowe framework as a part of the Linux Foundation’s Open Mainframe Project, with the goal to extend System z-based services into the greater open source IT landscape. Is it time for a similar effort on IBM i?
When Zowe launched two years ago, the Open Mainframe Project (OMP) boasted that Zowe would “serve as an integration platform for the next generation of administration, management, and development tools on z/OS mainframe.” By using the “latest Web technologies” in products and solutions from multiple vendors, the OMP said, Zowe would “enable developers to use familiar, industry-standard, open source tools to access mainframe resources and services.”
It’s not all theoretical, however, and as a framework, Zowe brings actual products that mainframe customers can see and touch. The Zowe framework, which is downloadable from the Zowe Github site, includes a graphical virtual desktop layer called the Zowe App Framework upon which vendors can run various utilities and applications. It also includes the Zowe Command Line Interface (CLI), the Zowe API Mediation Layer (APIML), and the Zowe Explorer (a Visual Studio Code extension).
All of these Zowe components are open, and distributed under the Eclipse Public License 2.0. This openness ensures the System z community, including independent software vendors (ISV), system integrators (SIs), and end users, that System z resources can be accessed in a standard and repeatable manner.
Zowe project founders IBM, Rocket Software and Broadcom (which bought CA Technologies in July 2018 for $18.9 billion) have led the pack in terms of getting its existing z/OS solutions approved in the Zowe Conformance Program, which launched in 2019. By June 2020, when the OMP released the first long term support (LTS) release of Zowe, there were 24 solutions that were certified to bear the “Zowe Conformant” logo. Software Engineering GmbH and Phoenix Software International have also gotten in on the act.
Earlier this month, Rocket added another Zowe Conformant app to the mix: its BlueZone terminal emulator. Zowe comes with a very basic terminal emulator, and now with the launch of Rocket BlueZone Web for Zowe, customers can access Rocket’s full-functioned emulator from the comfort of the Zowe App Framework GUI.
Getting users into a 3270 session with BlueZone on Zowe is a cinch, says Chris Wey, the general manager of Rocket’s Power Systems Business Unit, including cross-platform utilities.
“There’s a Zowe desktop that looks and feels like a Windows experience, with point and click and a mouse,” Wey says. “So now you can open up that Zowe desktop, you can select your BlueZone terminal emulator. It pops up a little window on your screen, and then you can log onto the mainframe.”
Yes, there is a 5250 emulator in Rocket BlueZone Web for Zowe, but considering the mainframe-focused customer base, it’s not likely that many customers will use it. A more interesting question, however, is whether there should be something like this for IBM i?
“That’s something that we’d consider,” Wey tells IT Jungle. “Certainly these are cross-industry efforts, and with other vendors in the IBM i space, there could be something similar to that.”
The fact that IBM i doesn’t ship with its own standard GUI interface has been a source of concern in the IBM i community for some time. There is no shortage of screen-scraping tools that tap the 5250 protocol or DDS specs and create Windows, Web, and mobile interfaces out of them. Most IBM i tool vendors hate the term “screen scraper” and insist they’re delivering more sophisticated wares, most commonly the generation of brand-new GUIs for existing programs.
IBM’s Access Client Solutions (ACS) has become the main way that admins, operators, and programmers interact with the system, but ACS is not something that can be used for application screens. Wey, who took the GM job last year with a clear mandate to bolster Rocket’s IBM i business, understands this.
“The thing is, is there a need or desire for that more modern GUI for the IBM i?” Wey says. “It’s something that’s worth exploring. We’re exploring it. We don’t have any definitive plans to talk about right now. But it’s possible.”