Currently there are in excess of 2,300 companies delivering solutions for IBM System z listed in the IBM Global Solutions Directory. Considering the number of global System z customers, currently estimated as ~4,000, this is quite a good ratio! It’s also evidence of the significant ability of this System z ecosystem to deliver innovation and support to said customer base. Maybe we should consider how these System z solution delivery businesses develop and maintain their software, hardware and service offerings…
Obviously to develop, support and enhance an IBM Mainframe software or hardware product, access to an IBM Mainframe is a mandatory requirement. In the 1980’s, procuring an IBM Mainframe was an expensive undertaking, hence the number of IBM Mainframe IHV (Hardware) or ISV (Software) partners was limited. Therefore we should not overlook the evolution that has taken place in the last 25 years or so, delivering the significant, diverse, innovative and global System z ecosystem in place today.
In the early 1990’s the IBM Advanced Workstations Systems Division (AWS) worked on delivering complete compatibility with existing IBM Mainframe operating systems and software, delivering this function in the S/390 Processor Card. Later iterations of this S/390 Processor Card offered plug compatibility with RISC and PC server architectures, packaged as R/390 and P/390 servers respectively. In essence these R/390 and P/390 server solutions delivered “A Mainframe In A Box”. Put another way, the entire IBM Mainframe infrastructure including CPU, Memory, I/O Subsystem, Consoles, Disk, Tape, Networking Interfaces, et al, were all contained within the one PC or RISC based server footprint. Some of the software modules we might be familiar with for delivering this functionality are AWSDISK, AWSPRINT and AWSTAPE, where the respective function is denoted by the module name.
Therefore with the R/390 and P/390, subsequently followed by the S/390 Integrated Server and then MP3000, low cost access to IBM Mainframe servers was possible. However, let’s not forget that in conjunction with hardware compatibility, low cost access to existing IBM Mainframe operating systems and software was also required. This software access was delivered by the Application Developers Controlled Distributions (ADCD), incorporating a package of the majority of IBM Operating System and supporting subsystem program products. Therefore, once a business proved its intentions in developing a software or hardware solution for the IBM Mainframe, they gained very low cost access to said IBM Mainframe software. Without doubt, the innovation of the S/390 Processor Card and Application Developers Controlled Distributions (ADCD) resources, allows the System z community to benefit from the related ecosystem in place today.
This IBM Mainframe emulation capability provided the opportunity for other 3rd party supplier to deliver x86 servers that supported the IBM PartnerWorld for Developers (PWD) ADCD initiative. For example, FLEX-ES from Fundamental Software.
Currently, IBM deliver the System z Personal Development Tool (zPDT) for ADCD access, while many ISV’s and IHV’s now actually deploy an official IBM System z server, for example, zBC12, as the cost of Mainframe servers has reduced substantially in the last decade or so. Optionally, recognizing the virtualization capabilities of System z and higher speed network access, System z development can now be achieved remotely. The System z Remote Development Program (zRDP) for z/OS, z/VM and z/VSE provides qualified partners with remote access to supported generally available and supported operating systems and software products. Additionally, IBM has built a number of Innovation centres globally (I.E. Africa & Middle East, Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, North America), facilitating the possibility for System z innovation with local resources.
An example of the diversity and innovation of the System z ecosystem is the SVA zHosting concept, allowing an IBM PartnerWorld for Developers (PWD) member and/or Independent Software Vendor (ISV) the ability to port existing or install new development environments into a local fully certified IBM System z Mainframe data centre, in this case, located in Germany.
In conclusion, as other IT technologies have evolved, IBM have provided a cost-efficient environment, encouraging and maintaining the IBM System z Mainframe ecosystem. Firstly in the 1990’s with full emulation for RISC and PC based servers and more latterly in the 21st Century with remote access. This low cost access to full System z capability, safeguards that the System z ecosystem remains significant, current, diverse, while the realm of possibility for innovation exists.