IBM is unveiling its newest mainframes today, the single frame IBM z14 ZR1 and IBM LinuxONE Rockhopper II (LR1). I’d like to spend a few words explaining how uniquely interesting these machines are for industry solutions. These models are literally open. IBM’s partners and customers can now embed their own equipment within the single frame in order to craft a cohesive, physically (and of course logically) integrated solution for practically any use cases.

IBM z14 ZR1 and IBM Rockhopper II machines are based on a new, smaller 19 inch frame design, similar to the IBM DS8880 series of storage units. If you order an IBM z14 ZR1 or IBM Rockhopper II with Feature Code 0617, then IBM reserves 16U of rack space within the machine frame. You can then place just about anything you like inside that reserved space using industry standard size components. If you order IBM’s 1U (rack mountable) Hardware Management Console (HMC) and/or Trusted Key Entry (TKE) Workstation, IBM’s installation team can install that equipment inside the 16U of reserved space if you wish. Just tell the IBM installation team if you want to consume a little bit of that space with the HMC and/or TKE Workstation, as you prefer. Then it’s up to you and your imagination to spend the rest.

I recommend you fill that space with equipment that has two characteristics. First, it should be equipment that has a close, vital affinity with the IBM Z or LinuxONE machine itself from an industry solution point of view. Second, there should be some real solution value in achieving a smaller footprint. For example, you might create an IBM Z or LinuxONE “trading platform in a box” that is physically co-located in a data center near a financial trading exchange, where that frame is enclosed in its own security cage and where there’s some cost savings if you can reduce the number of frames and footprints.

IBM’s installation documentation explains the various rules in engineering terms, but I’ll highlight the not-so-surprising basics. Whatever equipment you install in that 16U of “fun space” should meet reasonable engineering standards. It shouldn’t be too heavy, and you should ordinarily install equipment from the bottom up (and the heaviest equipment at the bottom), to reduce the risk that the machine will tip over. Don’t install something that generates too much heat, or that incorporates liquids that could interfere with the machine’s humidity sensors, or that generates dust. No, despite the entertainment value, you shouldn’t install a coffee maker, microwave oven, or beer tap inside your IBM Z or Rockhopper II. Install your equipment such that the cooling airflow points in the same direction as the rest of the machine, and keep your cabling nice and tidy (and well labeled) along the sides so that airflow isn’t blocked. The concepts of “front” and “back” are important, especially if you expect a human operator to do something with the equipment you install, such as insert a USB flash drive into a USB socket. And you should give some consideration to any service interactions, putting the human accessed equipment lower rather than higher, weight and balance permitting. IBM installs several power outlets when you order Feature Code 0617, but you’ll want to check power consumption requirements to make sure you don’t exceed limits. And please respect the “boundaries” of your IBM Z or LinuxONE machine. Don’t try to plug equipment into IBM’s internal machine connectors. Stick with the public, published connections that IBM describes: OSA-Express (network), FICON Express (storage network), and (to a limited degree, such as for NTP-based external time reference) the HMC.

Now, let your imagination run wild! In no particular order, here are some examples of equipment that should be eligible to install inside your IBM z14 ZR1 or IBM Rockhopper II:


  • z/OS compatible disk and flash storage, such as Visara’s FICON-attached Vi-8810L or IBM’s forthcoming/planned “mini” FICON-attached flash storage
  • Other disk and flash storage, such as the IBM Storwize V5030 and IBM FlashSystem 900
  • Optical storage, such as the PrimeArray ArrayStor
  • Rack mounted tape drives, small tape libraries, and small virtual tape libraries, from IBM and other vendors
  • Intel/AMD X86 servers, such as the Lenovo ThinkSystem SR630
  • IBM Power servers, such as the IBM Power AC922, S922, and S812 servers, optionally with NVIDIA GPUs and other features
  • Apple Mac mini (macOS) machines via Sonnet’s RackMac mini
  • Dust/ink free logging printers, such as iSys’s V8.5e
  • Equipment that provides various I/O ports, such as USB-A, USB-C, Thunderbolt, serial, analog to digital interfaces, etc.
  • Equipment that provides “legacy” I/O connections, such as the Optica PRIZM (for ESCON, and for Bus/Tag with the ESBT option) and SecureAgent’s IDG9074 (for coax)
  • Specialized security devices, such as hardware security modules (HSMs) from Thales and others (but note that IBM’s CryptoExpress HSMs are installed in the I/O drawers and do not occupy any rack space), IBM Guardium, and IBM QRadar appliances
  • Network Time Protocol (NTP) servers and other time synchronization equipment
  • Network infrastructure (load balancers, firewalls, routers, switches, telecommunications and satellite interfaces, DWDM, etc.)
  • “Exotic” processing elements such as GPUs, FPGAs, ASICs, and ARM CPUs
  • Various appliances, such as the IBM MessageSight appliance
  • Batteries for power protection (although be careful about this, since some battery technologies would be inappropriate)
  • Horns, sirens, and LED message panels (!)

Keep in mind that 16U isn’t a tremendous amount of physical space, so spend it wisely. In general, if the IBM Z (or LinuxONE) parts of the machine can handle particular tasks without adding equipment within that 16U of space, then do so. And even if you can’t quite shrink your industry solution down to one frame, that 16U of space might still help you reduce the number of physical frames from three to two — for example, if you’re pairing an IBM z14 ZR1 with a full frame IBM DS8880. Also please be aware that, for the time being anyway, Feature Code 0617 is irrevocable. That means your IBM z14 ZR1 or Rockhopper II with Feature Code 0617 will support up to 32 feature adapters, not up to 64. That’s still a great deal of expandability, with room for lots of I/O ports and CryptoExpress features, but please be aware of that difference.

I hope you’re as excited as I am about all these new, physically smaller IBM Z and LinuxONE solution possibilities, whether you’re designing a “bank in a box,” a highly secure cryptocurrency exchange platform, a cloud “outpost,” a secure DevOps environment for a remote development team (complete with build support for the Apple ecosystem!), an industrial control system (for factories, power plants, transport hubs, traffic control, emergency services, etc.), some super spooky national security apparatus, or any other interesting industry solutions. Now you can build unique, highly secure solutions, literally within a single frame, and with the very best qualities of service (QoS). Give IBM a holler if you need help designing your fun-frame.

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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 https://optimizer.mybluemix.net. 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.