FREE! We all love that word, especially when it’s true. It’s true: there’s an amazing amount of wonderful, free stuff for mainframes that will probably surprise you. OK, admittedly nothing in life is truly free. You have to spend a little bit of effort implementing and exploiting this wonderful free stuff, and presumably your time isn’t always free. Lawyers like to say “no additional charge.” I’m not a lawyer.

As background, take a look at the 2013 Edition of this list. Most of the 2013 entries are still valid, but here are the updates and changes (only) for this 2016 Update….

Free Mainframes – Infrastructure as a Service

  • Would you like up to 120 days of free trial access to a real IBM LinuxONE mainframe with your choice of Linux distributions? Try the LinuxONE Community Cloud.
  • IBM offers the Enterprise DevOps for z Systems cloud-based trial, powered by the IBM Rational Development and Test Environment for z Systems. You can test drive IBM’s excellent development tools for z/OS on z/OS for up to 15 days at no charge. Yes, with access to real z/OS, CICS Transaction Server, DB2, IMS, etc.
  • IBM’s Master the Mainframe contest site moved here.
  • Connor Krukosky installed a real IBM z890 mainframe in his parents’ basement for a grand total cash outlay of about $350. OK, that’s only almost free, but if he could do it, why not you?

Free Mainframes – Platform as a Service

  • IBM offers a zero installation trial of its Automatic Binary Optimizer for z/OS product at Simply upload a COBOL module compiled with Enterprise COBOL Version 3 or Version 4, and IBM’s cloud-based ABO returns an ABO-optimized module, ready for testing and performance evaluation. If you like the results, you can order the 90-day ABO Trial Edition (IBM Program Number 5697-TR1), also at no additional charge. IBM offers some other no charge trial licenses, for example Enterprise COBOL Version 6 (5655-TY6).
  • Are you developing an amazing application that takes advantage of Blockchain shared ledger technologies? Try IBM’s unique High Security Blockchain environment, running on real IBM LinuxONE servers. (Because if you don’t have strong security to protect access to your Blockchain, what’s the point?) At this writing the trial link is here, and free access is available to practically anybody with an interesting application. But if that link doesn’t work, start with this one instead.

Free Mainframe Operating Systems

  • Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux Server for LinuxONE and z Systems is available for download at no charge. If you want to run Ubuntu Server in production you’ll want to contact Canonical to sign up for a support agreement. (It’s the same story with other Linux distributors listed below.)
  • The MUSIC/SP operating system is available for download. In principle you could transfer MUSIC/SP to an IBM mainframe and run it there (probably under z/VM), but take a look at the license terms first to make sure you have (or, if necessary, obtain) permission.
  • SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for z Systems is available here, and Red Hat Enterprise Linux for z Systems is available here.
  • Sine Nomine Associates offers ClefOS for z Systems, a Linux distribution that tracks CentOS.

IBM Freebies for IBM Operating Systems

  • Don’t forget to look within your licensed software products for free gems. For example, z/OS Version 2.2 (and higher, presumably) includes the IBM Knowledge Center for z/OS at no additional charge. The Knowledge Center for z/OS hosts documentation directly on/from your mainframe. You can access that documentation using any standard Web browser, even from a mobile device or tablet. You don’t need any browser plug-ins or emulation software. You can customize and log user access to documentation if you wish, and you won’t need to worry about accessing Internet-based documentation or maintaining current documentation on PCs. That helps simplify disaster recovery procedures. The PC-based IBM Softcopy Librarian, also free, is the tool that uploads and maintains documentation in the Knowledge Center.
  • Wouldn’t it be nice to tap into a RESTful/JSON interface from any z/OS-hosted application you write (or enhance), even from a batch application? To send a text message through Twilio, check the shipment status of a package, or lookup geospatial coordinates using a Google Maps API, as examples? Now you can, and it’s free. The IBM Client Web Enablement Toolkit for z/OS is included with z/OS 2.2 and available for z/OS 2.1 at no additional charge. The IBM Client Web Enablement Toolkit provides both JSON parsing and HTTP/HTTPS protocol support (HTTPS recommended).
  • Other examples of free components within licensed software products include z/OS Connect (provided with the latest releases of CICS Transaction Server for z/OS and IMS Transaction Manager, as examples) and WebSphere Liberty Profile (in CICS Transaction Server and WebSphere Application Server for z/OS).
  • IBM’s CICS SupportPacs provide a wide range of useful add-ons to CICS Transaction Server. One of my favorites is SupportPac CA1Y, an add-on that provides interfaces to send and even receive e-mails directly within CICS Transaction Server.
  • Similarly, IBM offers several handy WebSphere MQ SupportPacs.

Other Freebies (Mostly for z/OS)

I’m sure I missed many mainframe freebies that are not listed in either the 2013 Edition or this 2016 Update. Please post your favorites in the comments.

IBM issued a monster product withdrawal announcement earlier this week. For the record, I’m personally not fond of how IBM announces product withdrawals. Yes, IBM typically includes a “Replacement program information” section in such announcements. However, unless the new product is a literal, exact replacement, such as a new release (and sometimes not even then), IBM will often write “No replacement.” Probably because it’s easy for the copy editor to write that, and solution architects (for example) aren’t often the ones involved in drafting these withdrawal announcements. That’s frustrating. In my view, IBM should write “No exact replacement” and, better yet, provide some more useful, solution-oriented guidance about replacement options.

Let’s look at an example or two from this particular withdrawal announcement. One of the “No replacement” products listed is Cognos Business Intelligence for z/OS (5655-Y26). Fortunately there’s no emergency. IBM standard support for that product will be available until April 30, 2018, and extended support will be available to purchase thereafter (presumably). Oddly enough, that product won’t even be withdrawn from marketing until April 30, 2018. But of course there is a superb, mainframe-hosted replacement product: Cognos Business Intelligence for Linux on z Systems. Query Management Facility (QMF) for z/OS is another potential replacement, and so is IBM Cognos Analytics on Cloud. Or some combination. “Talk to your friendly IBM representative,” but no rush.

Another example is IBM Cloud Manager with OpenStack for z Systems. “No replacement.” Actually, no, there are quite a few replacement options for ICMO. Upgrading to IBM Cloud Orchestrator is one possibility. z/VM’s Cloud Manager Appliance (CMA), a no additional charge z/VM feature, is another. Again, no emergency. IBM won’t discontinue ICMO’s standard support until April 30, 2020.

How about ACF/NCP and ACF/SSP? These are classic (some would say “ancient”) networking products for SNA and even pre-SNA network topologies. Their withdrawal should not be a surprise. These products were used in conjunction with the IBM 3745 and 3746 Communications Controllers and their predecessors. “No replacement.” No, there really are replacements. The most common replacement is probably Enterprise Extender (EE), a feature within Communications Server for z/OS, a no additional charge, base component of the z/OS operating system. IBM published a helpful migration guide about 7 years ago, and Chapter 19 discusses EE. Oddly enough, none of the co-requisite products that ACF/NCP and ACF/SSP support (IBM 3745, IBM 3746, IBM Communications Controller for Linux) are still supported. (CCL was the last remaining holdout, but standard support for that product ended on March 31, 2016.) That’s probably why the end of standard service date for ACF/NCP and ACF/SSP is August 31, 2016. If I had to guess, it looks like somebody at IBM forgot to withdraw support for ACF/NCP and ACF/SSP at the same time support ended for CCL. Well, now that’s fixed.

Anyway, don’t panic if you see “No replacement” in an IBM product withdrawal announcement. Simply discuss your migration and upgrade options with “your friendly IBM representative,” and strike a mutually agreeable deal (technical and financial). There are almost always excellent replacement options, often plural, even if IBM doesn’t initially, explicitly tell you what they are in the official product withdrawal announcements.

IBM announced its pending acquisition of the company behind EZSource. EZSource is a set of DevOps-related tools for analyzing mainframe-hosted applications. They help developers identify application interdependencies, create accurate inventories of application assets, assess code quality and complexity, and maintain and improve applications. Many businesses and government agencies want to take advantage of fast growing mobile and API economies. EZSource helps get the job done better, quicker, easier, more securely, and more affordably.

I’m familiar with one major financial institution in my part of the world that is already using z/OS Connect to provide over 30 new APIs to its partners, including especially independent mobile application developers. They’ve leaped ahead of their competitors practically overnight, and their mainframe (and mainframe team) deserve most of the credit. EZSource can now help them add more and better APIs to their partner ecosystem, to race even further ahead of their competitors. Those APIs directly tap into mainframe applications that are rock solid, mission critical, and highly secure. There’s no excess baggage and no unnecessary complexity to slow down their APIs. They perform extremely well, with extremely low latency.

If you haven’t taken a fresh look at the modern mainframe yet, “better late than never.” How about Blockchain technologies, for example? Or real-time, every-time, in-line analytics? It’s at least getting much harder to think of something computing-related that you cannot do well or best with today’s IBM mainframe. IBM (and several other companies, and the open source community) have really been pushing the mainframe envelope over the past several years. It’s quite exciting to take advantage of even a small fraction of all the new capabilities.

Posted in IBM.