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Jeff Reser: I am a Mainframer

By | May 31, 2017

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In our fifth Episode of our “I am a Mainframer Interview series,” Jeffrey Frey chats with Jeff Reser, Global Product Marketing Manager at SUSE about various ways in which mainframe systems are currently utilized. They also discuss open source technologies and the fact that the mainframe is not a closed system.

You can listen the full recording and read the transcript of the interview below.

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Jeffrey Frey: Hello everyone. I am Jeff Frey, a retired IBM fellow, and CTO of IBM’s mainframe platform, and very much a mainframe enthusiast. Today, I’m very pleased to host the ”I Am A Mainframer” conversation series, with a conversation with Jeff Reser, who is a Global Product and Solutions Marketing Manager at SUSE.

This conversation is sponsored by the Open Mainframe Project. As a Linux Foundation Project, the Open Mainframe Project is intended to help create mainframe-focused, open source technical communities, and it’s also intended to serve as a focal point for the development and use of Enterprise Linux in a mainframe computing environment.

The goal of the project is to excite the Linux community around the use of the mainframe and to foster collaboration across mainframe community, to develop and exploit shared Linux tool sets, resources, and services in a mainframe environment. In addition, the project seeks to involve the participation of academic institutions to help in assisting in educational programs and developing mainframe Linux engineers and developers of tomorrow.  So Jeff, thank you for joining me. It’s a real pleasure to talk to you today.

Jeff Reser: Sure. Great to be here.

Jeffrey Frey: Yeah, so Jeff, in order to get started here tell us a little bit about yourself and what you do at SUSE.


Jeff Reser: Sure, at SUSE I’m responsible for SUSE Linux Enterprise on z Systems and also on LinuxONE. It’s a broad range of products that I’m involved in right now at SUSE. I actually retired from IBM six years ago. I was at IBM for 30 years and I was working with SUSE at the time, a while ago from the other side. So now I get to be in partnership with IBM and working in the open source arena, which is really exciting for me.

Jeffrey Frey: Wow, that’s cool. So Jeff,  give us a little perspective on Linux and the mainframe. Why do you think the combination of Linux on an Enterprise platform like the mainframe is a good thing?  Relay some of your experience in supporting Linux on System z.

Jeff Reser: Sure. Well as you know Jeff, in today’s business climate, the world is really changing the way we develop, we deploy and we manage applications and technologies, and that’s especially true in the mainframe environment. There are challenges in managing and controlling the technology, and really one of the big challenges that we’re seeing a lot of today is having to run and manage a mixed set of workloads in the mainframe environment. There are new modern workloads coming in for cloud deployment and management and data analytics especially — it’s changing how we need to look at the mainframe and how we need to run these new applications.

So there’s a big emphasis today,  and this is just from talking to the many mainframe z Systems and LinuxONE customers that we have today. There’s a big emphasis on security, cryptography and there’s a big emphasis on the Cloud infrastructure and how we build an agile and trusted infrastructure using Linux on Z. There’s also a big emphasis, on community. We need certified, ISB applications,  that are basically approved community packages that run in this mainframe environment. Finally, of course, the performance and scalability that we see in the mainframe environment. So all four of these different areas are becoming really, really important to the forefront of what we’re trying to do with the customers.


Jeffrey Frey: Yeah that’s great.   I assume there’s a growing appreciation for the combination of Linux and mainframe coupling together new modern computing and development environments, and new tools and open and standard based tooling, with the classic strengths of the mainframe. You mentioned security and availability and the mainframe’s crypto capabilities, not to mention the economies of scale the mainframe brings. Do you think there’s a growing appreciation for the value propositions?

Jeff Reser: I definitely think there is, especially with the advent of the LinuxONE mainframe boxes, which became available a couple of years ago, from IBM. It’s really a “Linux your way ” and we really try to take advantage of that and make available this infrastructure that can handle all those different workloads.

Jeffrey Frey: Yeah. When I left IBM we were right in the middle of launching initiatives around Cloud Computing and all of the business analytics work that was going on off from the mainframe. A couple of environments, Linux and the mainframe, the combination of these things seem, that platform seems extremely well suited for these new workloads.

Jeff Reser: Yes,  it absolutely does. When we look at what we’re trying to do, not only within the operating system itself that we have for Linux, but surrounding the OS, for managing the deployment, whether it’s analytics or deploying to the Cloud, managing and monitoring what happens in the Cloud workloads, analyzing the systems, building the images, and especially virtualization is really key since it’s one of the big strengths of running in the mainframe environment is that virtualization.


Jeffrey Frey: Yeah right. And I know there were efforts to introduce and build on the classic virtualization, the z/VM, environment, which is still by far the most popular way to run a Linux environment on the mainframe. Also the introduction of other open virtualization technologies.  Do you have any insight on the acceptance of virtualization management tools that have arrived on the mainframe, OpenStack-based tooling, etc?

Jeff Reser: Yeah I do. And we’ve been working pretty closely with the OpenStack organization. We do have SUSE OpenStack Cloud, which we distribute separate from the operating system. We’ve had some initial capabilities that have been introduced in February this year, within SUSE OpenStack Cloud, to support the z System environment. Previously we came out with a support that is managing the z/VM kind of environment from x86 boxes from elsewhere. Now with the new release 7,  we can support SUSE OpenStack Cloud, managing that directly within a z/VM, which is really important because it means you can have everything available within the same mainframe environment. You don’t have to go elsewhere to do that management.

From a virtualization aspect, we’ve been working with IBM pretty closely on other technologies,  like KVM. So we have a SUSE KVM instance that’s available with our select operating system. Back in March this year, we had a joint announcement with IBM. They decided to end their version of KVM, and they pointed to SUSE’s version as being fully supported now within our operating system environment. This is really key for all of our customers that are running in the KVM environment to be able to switch over to SUSE KVM with very little effort and have that fully supported by SUSE is really important to them.

Jeffrey Frey: Yeah that’s great. I had not been aware of that. That’s really good news. It’s one thing to standardize and make more open the platform from an operating system’s standpoint and development tooling and applications, et cetera, but to standardize on the virtualization, especially the management of the virtualization of the system, is also extremely important. As good as the z/VM is, I’m really glad that there’s an offering and a choice for a KVM based open standardized and popular virtualization for the mainframe. I’m also assuming that the implementation of KVM takes advantage of the great virtualization that’s actually built into the mainframe hardware?

Jeff Reser: Oh it does, yeah. And that’s one of the things also that we’ve put into the operating systems itself, being able to exploit all of the great capabilities that the hardware provides. From a performance and throughput perspective, we have exploitation support for simultaneous multi-threading, SMT. We have support for SIMD, the single instruction multiple data. So you can process several operating and single instructions and that helps increase the parallelism so to speak, for the applications that are being run, for the workloads that are being run. We have exploitation support for remote, direct memory access, and the hyper socket support so that you can have multiple LPARs communicating with each other in a very fast way. And finally, we have support for the latest crypto. Cryptographic acceleration features that are available in the mainframe. So that is really important for us, especially with all the talking about security and fraud detection and the things a lot of our banking and finance customers are doing today, it’s really important to be able to exploit those features.

Jeffrey Frey: Yeah, that’s great. That’s the kind of leverage and integration with the mainframe platform that continues to provide value so that’s great. Jeff, tell us a little bit about your role and your involvement in the Open Mainframe Project.

Jeff, tell us a little bit about your role and your involvement in the Open Mainframe Project.


Jeff Reser: Well with the Open Mainframe Project I’m a relative newbie as representative for the project.  Anytime I have the opportunity to raise some awareness of what we’re trying to do with OMP, I do that. I had a speaking session yesterday where I talked about the Open Mainframe Project, talked about the community that’s involved and the members that are all working together to promote the new kind of workloads that are available on the mainframe. How to really utilize the mainframe to the best benefit, to make it a whole lot more efficient to run that. So, that’s what I’ve been trying to do from a raising awareness perspective.

Jeffrey Frey: Good. So what do you see is the biggest challenge for the mainframe going forward? We collectively, we’ve got a lot of years on the platform, all of us, and for me personally,  I spent thirty-three years on this platform, and the great thing about this platform is its ability to adapt and evolve, integrate new technologies while maintaining of course compatibility with everything that’s come before. It just continues to reinvent itself but there still are challenges in terms of its adoption and its use in a broader market. is a good What do you see is the biggest challenge moving forward?


Jeff Reser: Well the absolute biggest one that I can think of, that occurred over and over again is:  “How can we best utilize the mainframe to coexist with the distributed world and the Cloud world?”   So, the things that they were doing with OpenStack, and things that they are doing with some of the open source communities that deal with a lot of applications that run on Linux, are really important to be able to justify the mainframe environment. We’re dealing with a lot of analytics applications that are a very transaction intensive and very computational intensive, and what better platform to run it on than the mainframe? Many organizations are dealing with, “should we keep the mainframe around, and try to make it more efficient for us, and handle these non-traditional kind of workloads? Or should we go to a different platform?”  We’re trying to convince everybody that there is a definite place, there’s a corner that the mainframe fits very well, and can manage all these different types of workloads.

Jeffrey Frey: I assume that it’s still true that some of the economies of scale and the value proposition of t he mainframe continue to be a point of value it. Especially one of its strength is, of course, virtualization but the other thing is people don’t fully appreciate the IO capability of the mainframe and its ability to drive sustained IO rates like no other platform. The combination of what’s been improved recently, dramatically, with compute performance,  and as you mentioned the vector processing in SIMD, along with its IO capability, it’s just an extremely well-balanced system. Now, as you point out, as we chip away at removing whatever exposure the mainframe has had in the past as being a very proprietary kind of specialized environment –As we do Linux and open applications and open management systems and KVM, et cetera, all of that proprietary nature that caused some people anxiety,  about skills and costs et cetera — all that stuff can go away.


Jeff Reser: Yeah.  When I was growing up in this business, the mainframe was always looked at the ultimate closed system, but it’s not like that anymore. So emphasis is on the open right now.  Fo example, we have a customer in India. It’s a government customer, but they’re opening up their mainframe so that any agencies, any general users, other organizations, other businesses, can basically host their applications on that mainframe. So, they basically opened up the mainframe so that everyone can take advantage of it, use it, and it’s really been great for them. They have some excellent examples of how they’re utilizing the mainframe to their benefit. They’re even using it in education scenarios too, for educating new talent that can jump in and help manage Linux on z as well.

Jeffrey Frey: Yeah, that’s great. My experience was that two of the challenges that continue to be addressed with the mainframe relative to Linux is the availability of applications in an open environment, supported on the mainframe, Linux environment, and the accessibility to the platform.  I know that IBM and some of IBM’s partners have been addressing both of those challenges quite aggressively

Jeff Reser: Yeah, in fact, we do work with a lot of different partners and we have a portal site where you can basically search on whatever platform you’re interested in. If  you went out and searched for, “which applications are certified to run on top of the SUSE operating system for z, for the mainframe?”  The search would come up with over 1500 different applications from various partners that are certified to run. This is making a huge statement that “yes there are a lot of applications that are certified in the z environment, that are supported by those partners.”  We also have something called Package Hub, which is dealing with the open source communities. If an open source community builds an application that runs in the z environment, they can basically build a package, put it out onto our Package Hub and we make it available as “approved  applications fo SUSE Linux on z.”  We have about 450 applications through Package Hub, that are available for z now. So that says a lot as well, communities are growing for supporting the mainframe environment and the partnerships of the ecosystem is growing as well.

Jeffrey Frey: That’s great, that’s great. We talked a little bit about the OMP just a moment ago. What would you hope to see within the community in the future? Is there any direction or any emphasis on projects or activities within the Open Mainframe Project that you’d like to see happen?


Jeff Reser: Yeah, I think getting the information out there on how customers are utilizing the mainframe. We have a number of success stories for how they’re making the mainframe environments more efficient, how they’re using it for Cloud deployment, how you can set up some of those components. That information is so useful to make available somehow.  

Jeffrey Frey: Yeah, and you know that’s really an excellent point. We didn’t talk about that as one of the challenges. Sometimes, the biggest challenge is not at all a technical challenge, it’s in this case, awareness. I wouldn’t call it IBM marketing, but case studies and awareness and to make people aware of just how sensitive the capabilities are and what the value of this is in their environment. I think it would carry with it a certain amount of credibility. It’s an open and third party, not just IBM claiming how great this thing is. Other folks like yourself and others in the OMP that have various interests in the success of this would be able to vouch for it and be able to articulate its value, it would be terrific.

Jeff Reser: Yeah, right Jeff. And a lot of the organizations that we talk to are at an inflection point. They’re looking at “should we renew what we have on the mainframe today? Should we upgrade maybe to a LinuxONE box, or should we abandon this entirely?” So it comes down to more of a qualitative question than implementation question, and they have to convince their bosses that this is the right thing to do. So it’s really important to have those case studies, to have all of that feedback on how others are, especially in the same industry, how they’re utilizing the mainframe.

Jeffrey Frey: Yeah, yeah. All right Jeff, like I said, it’s been a real pleasure speaking with you today. I don’t think I have any more questions for you unless you want to add something maybe we haven’t covered and if not, I really appreciate your time and I think it’s extremely valuable.

Jeff Reser: Well thanks, Jeff, I appreciate your time as well.