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Tool helps mainframe developers create cloud-native apps

Reassuring mainframe developers of its commitment to the venerable platform, IBM will introduce a tool that helps them build cloud-native applications for z/OS.

IBM will soon roll out an offering that ushers in cloud-native development on its Z series by helping mainframe developers to build and run applications for hybrid clouds.

IBM Wazi for Red Hat CodeReady Workspaces, positioned as an add-on to IBM's CloudPak for Applications, provides mainframe developers with a choice of integrated development environments (IDEs) including Eclipse and VS Code so they can deploy applications in a containerized z/OS sandbox that takes full advantage of Red Hat's OpenShift.

"Users we talk to are interested in accelerating their digital transformation projects mainly by moving mission-critical workloads to the cloud," said Sanjay Chandru, director of IBM Z DevOps, in an emailed statement. "This product is the next step in helping them build apps in a hybrid, multi-cloud world. To do that, Z developers need a common developer experience," he said.

Some analysts see the offering as the next step in IBM's extended journey of bringing its proprietary mainframes and cloud environments closer together.

"IBM's mainframe business remains extremely important to them," said Ian Campbell, CEO of Nucleus Research. "So, they [IBM] are going to make sure developers who have invested time and money in creating apps for that platform have easy access to cloud-based platforms. And as part of its hybrid [cloud] strategy, this will increase the licensing lifespan of those products," he said.

Another analyst sees the offering as a reasonable way to bring mainframe applications into increasingly multi-cloud corporate IT environments and salvage enterprises' hefty, multi-decade investments made in mainframe hardware. It also serves to instill confidence among longtime developers that IBM is not turning its back on the mainframe.

"This gives developers an option to take mainframe applications and put them into those containerized environments on OpenShift," said Dan Elman, senior analyst with Nucleus Research. "It's a good intermediary step that eventually gets users' apps over to the cloud, especially for the large banks and insurance companies," he said.

Wazi Workspaces also works with open source tools, including Git for parallel development projects, Microsoft's Azure DevOps for orchestration, Jenkins for continuous integration on premises and in the IBM cloud. Corporate developers can also use the z/OS Ansible libraries  to access z/OS resources.

Other z/OS capabilities include support for COBOL, PL/1 and HLSAM editing, along with a tool that identifies, manages and helps optimize builds. When integrated with Git-based SCM, developers can employ processes such as Agile and Lean that work in concert with other platforms in a more modern IDE.

Big Blue adds shift-left support

In a related upcoming announcement, IBM is unveiling a shift-left testing capability for z/OS developers called Wazi Virtual Test Platform (VTP). The offering lets corporate developers do full transaction-level testing without deploying code into middleware, according to IBM. The product can provide the first stage of integration testing while developers are still in the build process. This boosts the ability to do automated testing and development on z/OS in general.

For IBM developers, it removes the stigma associated with using other languages.
Frank DzubeckPresident, Communications Network Architects

"The most important thing is this about this is, for IBM-based developers, it removes the stigma associated with using other languages," said Frank Dzubeck, president of Communications Network Architects, Inc., a consultancy in Washington, D.C. "This gives IBM the chance to create a new crop of testers and developers by allowing non-mainframe developers to use their skills to move applications onto Z," he said.

The new offerings could also help ease the problem many corporate IT shops have of finding enough mainframe software developers, who have been retiring in large numbers over the past decade or more.

"There is nobody coming in to fill the shoes of these long-time COBOL programmers and developers, so these announcements give IT organizations an alternative way of bringing in new applications to give mainframes more life," he said.

The new testing capability lets developers create and test z/OS application components in a containerized, virtual Z environment on OpenShift running on x86-based hardware using Microsoft Visual Studio Code or Eclipse.

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