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Ambassadors | Blog | Zowe

My Personal Experience with Zowe

By | May 15, 2023

Written by Domenico D’Alterio, an Open Mainframe Project Ambassador, leader in the Zowe technical community and a Principal Product Manager, IBM Z

In March, I was in Atlanta attending the share conference.  I attended the panel session “Zowe: The First Five Years” with IBM’s Bruce Armstrong, and Rocket Software’s Peter Fandel, Mike DuBois and moderater Michael Bauer. I did not want to miss this panel session since it has now been more than a year that I have worked on Zowe. As a Principal Product Manager dedicated to Zowe, I was curious to listen to the panel and review the successes of Zowe  in its first five years.

The session was very good, with the panelists sharing information and insight about how this project started and how it evolved over time. I was aware of the first announcement of Zowe, it was along the Share conference in St. Louis, August 2018, … I was there. Everything was started by “3 vendors walking to a bank” (as Peter Fandel joked) … In late 2017, IBM, Rocket and Broadcom independently presented to the same mutual customer their view for a mainframe modernization. The customer (a bank) said that each of company had a partial view of modernization, each approach was good, but each was not complete and suggested to bring together the efforts to really be successful in the mission to modernize the z/OS platform … it triggered the need for open source and collaboration and – after proving the technologies could be integrated – Zowe was launched under the Open Mainframe Project. The announcement was made at the Open Source Summit in Vancouver, Canada on August 28, 2018.

 I enjoyed the panel session about the first 5 years of Zowe and it trigger in me some reflections about my own personal experience with Zowe that I have decided to share in this blog.

My experience as Zowe extenders

As mentioned above, my experience with Zowe starts in St. Louis when the project was announced. I was in that room, and it was intriguing hearing the words “Open, Simple, Familiar” related to the mainframe word. My experience in IBM started on z/OS, specifically I was a developer of a new z/OS component back in 1999 … and I still remember my first reaction in front of the z/OS console and the ISPF panels … not really exciting. Coming from the University, I never had seen it until my first or second day in IBM. It took me some time to become familiar enough with this platform and the tools available to write code, debug code and so on. In the meantime, almost 24 years have gone by and the number of tools and interfaces to interact with z/OS has improved overtime, however z/OS and the mainframe is still perceived as difficult to interact with, hard to learn and complex to integrate with the “other platforms”. I still remember the vocal request from a customer to make “z/OS platform less different form other platforms!”

At that time, I was the Product Manager for IBM Z Workload Scheduler (IZWS) product, that takes care of batch job scheduling and the automation of job execution. This product was already providing a REST API interface to interact with workload scheduler resources and customers were already leveraging this standard interface to integrate the scheduling in other applications in their environment. A couple of examples are given in the following pictures shown as the challenge and how the solution was implemented.

Then I thought “what about having the IBM Z Workload Scheduler REST API available even through Zowe API Mediation Layer?” I see a lot of advantages in this idea, and I worked with the IZWS development team to make it happen, as well as, to have a group of commands to interact with workload automation resources available as Zowe CLI plugin. The result of this proposal, accepted by the development team was the delivery in April 2020 of IBM Z Workload Scheduler plugins for Zowe API Mediation Layer and Zowe CLI, as documented in this blog.

We were in the middle of the Covid-19 pandemic, especially in Italy, where I am located. By this time, we were in lockdown for more than one month already, so for an extended period of time I was not able to interact in-person with customers.  I soon realized that providing Zowe CLI plugins for my product in the system management area was a good opportunity to drive more automation via scripts including the interaction with z/OS resources, opening new use cases over the DevOps area.

Most of the major conferences became “virtual” in 2020. SHARE, which was supposed to happen in August 2020 in Boston, was held virtually. In that conference, I presented 2 sessions related to IBM extensions of Zowe, the plugins available for IBM Z Workload Scheduler and the IBM Service Management Unite (SMU) app for Zowe Application Framework (aka Zowe Desktop). While IBM Z Workload Scheduler plugins extends Zowe components with API and commands to interact with workload scheduling resources, different is the case of IBM Service Management Unite, that provide a deeper integration with Zowe MVS Explorer app and the Zowe JES explorer app available out-of-the box on the Zowe Application Framework.

In addition to IBM Workload Scheduler, I became the  Product Manager for IBM Z System Automation and IBM Z NetView. During this timeframe, Zowe was growing in adoption and customer interest.  I had gotten direct proof of this when I submitted a quick questionnaire in May 2020 to IBM customers that included two key questions:

  • What is the level of adoption of Zowe in your enterprise?
  • What do you think would be more valuable in Zowe in your Enterprise?

The results are showed in the picture below, consider that attendees were mainly focused on System Automation. 21% of the interviewed answered that Zowe was already in use in their enterprise … in May 2020 … an additional 21% said that it was under evaluation and another 27% said that there were planning to evaluate it for a total of 69% of the responders … less than 2 years after the announcement of this open-source project. Percentages are possibly not statistically representative of the entire number of z/OS users, because the number of responders was 20, but it gives a sense of how much Zowe was pervasive already tat that time.

Looking at the result of the second question, Zowe Virtual Desktop and Zowe Command Line Interface were seen are more valuable at that time than the API Mediation Layer … Zowe Explorer was not included in the question because of the audience (Operations more than development) and Zowe Explorer was in the early days of development.

Based on the results of the survey, I worked with the development team of IBM Z System Automation and IBM Z NetView to provide REST APIs and groups of commands as Zowe plugins to interact with these products. The net result was the delivery in Oct 2021 of the IBM Z System Automation plugins, detailed in this blog and in November of the same here the delivery of IBM Z NetView plugins, detailed in this blog.

My interest in Zowe was growing over time.  I was so interested that I asked my manager in IBM to allow me to join the Zowe team and give my experience to lead more product integration. I now regularly join regularly Zowe Advisory Council (ZAC) meetings and contribute actively to Zowe plus I have become a member of the Zowe Onboarding squad to help others learn about Zowe.

While working on Zowe, my assignments on IBM commercial products has not been completely over.  In February 2022, I was happy to announce one more product extending Zowe, it was a new IBM offering, named IBM Z JCL Expert, that has provided  a set of REST API as part of Zowe API Mediation Layer, as documented in this blog. Initially the REST APIs for this offering are available only as part of Zowe API Mediation Layer. At the time I was a bit concerned if having Zowe API ML as prerequisite of the product was an inhibitor for the product adoption. I asked customer if having Zowe as prerequisite was a problem?  I received a great answer from a Danish bank, “Zowe API interface is very interesting for us, Zowe pre-requisite is not a problem, we have it in our pipeline! It would be one more reason to implement Zowe faster.

Few weeks ago, I was able to announce even the availability of a Zowe CLI plugin for the same product, that enable the integration of the JCL Checking step in scripts quite easily. Details on this new plugin are documented in this other blog … the recorded demo is coming soon!

Lesson learned, the adoption of Zowe in the mainframe sites was growing in most cases as bottom-up initiative, technicians evaluated it as it is possible being an open-source offering, started using it in their day-by-day task, than they proposed internally to the company, showing the advantages of the adoption of Zowe.

Additionally, I found  it was important to show the different Zowe Plugins in action, documenting user scenarios leveraging them in blogs and recorded demo. I made it for IBM Z Workload Scheduler Zowe CLI plugin in this blog, for IBM Z NetView Zowe CLI Plugin in this other blog and for IBM Z System Automation Zowe CLI plugin in this other blog.

Zowe Chat Incubator project

As Product Manager of Zowe, in May 2022, when the Zowe Chat incubator was approved by the Open Mainframe Project‘s Zowe open source community, as announced in this blog from Bruce Armstrong. I focused my attention on this incubator project, leading the Zowe Chat team from product management point of view. Zowe Chat grants to Zowe a new way to interact with z/OS resources, from the chat tool already in use and can make you more productive, as documented in this blog I published in September last year.

I am really excited about his incubator project; I was able to talk about it already in August 2022 as part of Share conference in Columbus and then in September along the Open Mainframe Summit. Are you curious about customers feedback, Open Mainframe Summit session was recorded, and it is available here.  Soon after this conference the Technical Preview of Zowe Chat was made available, read more about in this other blog.

I personally see a great opportunity for Zowe Chat, it can enable to interact with z/OS resources and tools, in a multi-vendor environment, as I was able to describe in this video interview.

Finally, last February I was happy to join CMG Impact conference in Atlanta, sharing with the audience the updates delivered as part of Zowe V2 as well as to talk about Zowe Chat incubator project. You can read about this experience here.

Wrap-up and final considerations

We are near the end of this long blog, hopefully you enjoyed it … as a wrap up I want to share with you my personal feeling about Zowe.

As you read above, I contributed initially as “extenders” of Zowe, through the enhancements delivered on the IBM commercial products I owned over time as Product Manager, I am happy to have enriched the Zowe ecosystem, later I became an active member of the Open Mainframe Project Zowe community, and I am still enjoying this job assignment. I truly believe that Zowe helps the vitality of the platform, I was in Toronto last week, delivering another session about Zowe, the basic and the latest enhancement. Along the session I joked about the features available in the ISPF panels … and how they are easy to use vs the Zowe Explorer. I am now using on daily basis the Zowe Explorer to manage my dataset on z/OS and … if I think of my first impact with them back in 1999 when I joined IBM … I am 100% sure that my learning curve and productivity with such a tool would have been so much better with Zowe Explorer. In the room there were experienced mainframers as well us younger ones … based on the feedback I received during the session and after it, there is a general consensus about the value that Zowe bring on the platform.

Recently I became an Open Mainframe Project Ambassador, I am honored of this assignment and I will continue to contribute to Zowe as community member, sharing the news about this great open-source project. If you like to hear more from me, follow me on LinkedIn where I am used to post short blogs about latest news on Zowe or sessions coming and happened.

If I can get involved in Zowe you can too – it has been great for my professional growth and my career. Moreover, I have made countless professional contacts in the z/OS ecosystem, inside and outside my company, different perspectives and valuable point of view.

I am very proud to say I am a Zoweian!

If you want to learn more, look at the different ways to be involved in Zowe: