Enable Agile Development Practices on the Mainframe with Open Source

Mike Siemasz

September 29, 2022

The mainframe has always been widely regarded as reliable, available, serviceable and secure. In turn, it is a platform that requires great care, attention and time. As such, it hasn’t traditionally been viewed as conducive to the iterative, sprint-based application development processes an agile framework enables for open-systems and cloud development.

More recently, zSystems businesses have been exploring open-source software tools and languages to expedite their mainframe modernization and ability to leverage agile practices. The success of open source in gaining market and mindshare as the accepted go-to languages and tools for DevOps has increased demand for open-source languages and tools to be ported to z/OS with support from vendors like Rocket Software. Meanwhile, open-source initiatives like Zowe from the Open Mainframe Project—a collaborative project to encourage users to leverage open operating systems and open-source software on mainframe technology—are paving the way for modern, connected experiences for interfacing with z/OS services and developing z/OS applications, regardless of a developer’s level of mainframe expertise.

Here are four ways open source enables agile development practices on the mainframe, in alignment with the original values laid out in The Agile Manifesto:

1. Focus on individuals and interactions

Given the pressure from internal and external stakeholders for new products or features to meet important business and customer needs, it is easy to forget that people are at the heart of every IT endeavor, as Agile Development emphasizes. At first glance, tools and languages may appear to be the focus of open source, but they are really an outcome of individuals in a community brainstorming the needs of others and engaging with each other to create new and creative solutions that address those needs.

Open source ported for z/OS helps enable the next generation of developers to be productive on the mainframe by making their favorite languages and tools available on zSystems. It also brings existing mainframe professionals into the community, where their voices can be heard and leveraged to produce new innovations that benefit zSystems and potentially other corners of the open-source ecosystem.

2. Leverage working software

Mainframe professionals are recognized for their meticulous efforts to ensure quality deliverables. However, some individuals outside the z/OS sphere might argue this leads to overemphasizing and overanalyzing the way work is accomplished and the outcomes that are expected—which can be a major hurdle to increasing agility.

A main tenant of open source is that code is continually used, tested and updated by a community of hundreds or thousands of developers across various industries and geographies working parallel in the same repositories—albeit not usually face-to-face—with the goal of making software that works for everyone. This improves the quality of work on the mainframe— even more so when open source is vendor-supported—while creating the agility required for the mainframe to be just another platform.

3. Improve collaboration

Collaboration is critical to agility, which is why mainframe teams have been keen on improving visibility and removing silos, both within their own zSystems teams and with open-systems teams and other parts of the business.

Because open-source software is, for the most part, free to use and open for anyone to contribute to, collaboration occurs organically. This fuels innovation. By adopting open source for z/OS, mainframe teams become more capable of collaborating with each other, overseeing other systems and the open-source community at large, while gaining access to newfound flexibility through community support and tools that make it easier to devise unique solutions to mainframe challenges.

4. Improve responsiveness to change

Embracing an agile mindset is critical to improving responsiveness to change, especially on the mainframe, where adapting to change has historically followed a 12-to-18-month waterfall life cycle.

Open-source languages and tools are inherently conducive to adaptation and change, with changes to open-source software occurring on a frequent, if not daily basis. This continuous iteration supports the agility required for mainframe teams to adapt quickly to changes within the data center, business and customers’ worlds.

Embrace the Agile Mainframe with Open Source

Understandably, there have been hurdles to adopting Agile Development on the mainframe. For example, developers struggle with the challenges of resoluteness rooted in traditional mainframe shop cultures where mistakes must be avoided at all costs—which inevitably hinders velocity. Also, the legacy code and applications that are difficult to refactor into microservices and the sheer size of business requirements that can’t easily be broken into smaller stories deter agile development adoption.

However, digital transformation continues to pressure IT organizations to accelerate, regardless of platform. Mainframe teams have persevered by finding ways to modernize mainframe development through different cultural changes; adopting Agile, DevOps and Continuous Integration Continuous Development (CI/CD) processes where possible; and implementing modern tools that supply everything from Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) to automation and make it easier for any developer to be productive on the mainframe.

Open-source solutions like Rocket Support for Zowe and Rocket Open AppDev for Z are now helping zSystems businesses support their agile efforts with even more success—not only as tools, but as solutions that give mainframe teams new access to the support, security updates, collaboration and responsiveness they need to continue their modernization journeys.

To learn more about Rocket Support for Zowe and Rocket Open AppDev for Z as well as Rocket Software’s other suites of technology that are helping businesses modernize their mainframe environments, visit the Rocket website.