IBM’s acquisition of Red Hat has some interesting ramifications for System z. My last four articles on this blog were about Porting an Enterprise App to the mainframe. I provided details on the downside of using the mainframe for Linux. In particular, there are few binaries available and the user has to build their own code instead of acquiring the binaries from others. The main reason for this problem is that IBM has been afraid of being a distributor of open source since they first announced support for Linux in May 2000. This has been especially true for the mainframe. Heaven forbid that someone would make an IP or patent claim against open source code that came from IBM, regardless of the open source license that was distributed.
And even with that difficulty, the open source movement on the mainframe is succeeding very nicely. Rocket Software, where I am now working, has the Ported Tools for z/OS. They provide open source binaries because IBM wouldn’t do that. Better yet, they’ve been keeping those binaries up to date with the open source industry. At one point, there was a Redbook for Open Source on z/OS that included binaries, but those sample pieces of code were removed. This is what motivated Rocket to become the distributor. IBM has also used other sites, such as Marist College, to host any binary versions of code, in order to put a buffer between them and potential IP issues.
Red Hat is the largest supplier of open source code in the world. Most important to me, they include binary distros for the mainframe. This will mean that IBM will become a distributor of open source binaries for the mainframe. Now, if they only take that attitude and apply it to the other areas that they support. For example, the Linux Community team maintains a Github library for open source on the mainframe. Today, it’s mainly about source code changes and leaving it up to the user to build the binary, which can take hours, instead of the seconds needed on x86 platforms to download a binary. Wouldn’t it be great if this acquisition of Redhat led to IBM’s ability to create and post binaries for open source for the mainframe? The unintended consequence of this acquisition could actually make the mainframe even easier to use and deploy. That would be a fantastic next chapter in the amazing mainframe’s legacy!