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.

Connor Krukosky, an 18 year old college student, has installed an IBM z890 mainframe in his parents’ basement in Maryland. He posted some photos of his personal mainframe, and at last report (on IBM-MAIN) he has successfully booted Linux on z and can connect. His next task is to get some disk storage attached and working. You can follow his progress on the IBM-MAIN list.

Connor reports that he paid $237 for his mainframe, a capacity model 320 (approximately 120 PCIs according to IBM’s LSPR table). That means that Connor’s z890 has 3 of its 4 main processor cores configured as CPs, and CPs are technically capable of running any workloads, including Linux. It’s possible the 4th core is configured as some other engine type, though that’s unclear at this point. The z890 was available with anywhere from 8GB to 32GB of main memory, so Connor should have plenty of memory to support his personal mainframe workloads. It’s unclear exactly what I/O adapters he has installed in his particular machine, but the z890 was available with 2Gbps FICON/FCP and 10Gbps Ethernet.

IBM introduced the z890 in 2004 and halted new z890 sales in 2007. The z800 was its predecessor, and the z9BC was its successor. One of the reasons Connor likely got a great price on his used z890 is because z/OS 1.13 is the last release of z/OS compatible with this model. There are still some Linux distributions compatible with the z890, however.