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Tom Rosamilia, Senior Vice President, IBM Systems

Tom Rosamilia, Senior Vice President, IBM Systems

By Tom Rosamilia

Fifteen years ago IBM did what must have seemed to some people like the unthinkable. We started shipping mainframe computers running Linux, the open source operating system.

It was a major step forward for the open software movement, and, for IBM, it marked a significant expansion for the mainframe–helping to establish it as a backbone of the digital economy.

Today, we’re launching another major advance. IBM is going all-in for open software on the mainframe, which is now called z Systems.

This expansion strategy has many moving parts, but the key thing is that it provides entrepreneurs and businesses that are building the future of computing with a powerful, secure and flexible platform for developing and running cloud services and mobile apps.

Here are the major pieces:

–We’re introducing LinuxONE, a new portfolio of Linux mainframe offerings designed  to run a wide variety of open-source software and tools. Those include the Ubuntu version of Linux, in addition to Red Hat and SuSE; the MongoDB and PostgreSQL database management systems; the KVM server virtualization hypervisor; the Spark and Node.js development tools and frameworks; and the OpenStack cloud-computing software platform.

–We’re contributing one quarter million lines of mainframe code to the open-source community. This includes technologies for identifying issues and preventing failures before they happen, improving system performance across platforms, and enabling better integration with the broader network and cloud.

–Our new LinuxONE Developer Cloud will provide free access to Linux-only mainframe computers to the developer community for creating, testing and piloting emerging applications.

One of the key strengths of the open source movement is the ethos of sharing and collaboration. So we’re joining the Linux Foundation’s new  Open Mainframe Project–a community for sharing knowledge and driving innovation. Some of the founding members include SuSE,  Computer Associates and Marist College.

The mainframe has a long-held reputation as the workhorse computer for businesses, government and society. It handles high-volume transactions for 92 of the world’s top 100 banks, 23 of the top retailers and 10 of the top global insurers.

These days, it’s proving out as a platform for new hybrid cloud and mobile applications. For instance, SinfoniaRx, an Arizona-based healthcare company, runs a key cloud-based analytics application using Linux on the mainframe.  It helps clinicians and their patients keep track of all of an individual’s prescriptions so they can spot safety issues, gaps in care and better treatment options. More than a third of our mainframe clients today are running Linux.

With our new commitments, IBM is becoming even more important to the open source movement, which we helped legitimize in the eyes of large businesses and government agencies years ago when we originally endorsed Linux.

Open source software has transformed the data center and sparked the explosive growth of social networking, cloud computing and mobile apps. Think of it as the Open Source Economy–a vast global ecosystem of developers, tech companies, enterprises, and individual producers and consumers of goods and services.

Linux inventor Linus Torvalds predicted in the early days that Linux would become a major factor in the computing world not all at once but by increments. People might forget about it for a while but suddenly they’d realize that it was all around them. Well, that prediction has come true, not just for Linux but for all of open source. And now, as a result of the moves that we’re announcing today, I believe that the mainframe will emerge as an essential piece of the Open Source Economy.

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Big bet? The problem with Linux and OSS is NOT the quality of the software, but the economic models. Yes, IBM has already been financially helpful to the tune of a lot of money, but the bottom line remains broken.

So here’s my crazy and constructive suggestion: There should be a kind of ‘charity share brokerage’ where we could donate towards OSS projects. The notion of project should include creating new software or adding features to existing software, but also projects for maintenance, support, and ongoing costs associated with software (as when a program needs server-side support). If enough donors like a project and want to buy ‘charity shares’ to support it, then the money gets released and the project runs to completion. (If too few people like the idea, then the project doesn’t get funded and the donor can pick another project to support.)

There are various ways that corporations like IBM could support such a system. The obvious one is with share matching for projects that are linked to corporate objectives. However, if a company has strengths in project management (and IBM certainly does), then it would be even more helpful to provide some help on that side, making sure that the project proposals are complete, that all the required resources are included, that the schedule is realistic, that such things as testing are not forgotten, and, to my way of thinking most important, that the success criteria are clear. The donors should be able to look over their donation history to see how the projects have worked out.

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