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IBM officially supports Red Hat Ansible for mainframe DevOps

IBM will support mainframe DevOps through mainstream distributed systems tools such as Red Hat Ansible and Jenkins, even when it has equivalent mainframe-specific products.

IBM took a fresh step to modernize mainframe DevOps support with Red Hat Ansible Certified Content for Z this week and plans other, similar integrations between the Z mainframe and distributed systems IT automation tools.

Since IBM closed its $34 billion acquisition of Red Hat last July, it has blended open source tools from its new subsidiary into its own product line, including support for Red Hat OpenShift on the Z mainframe which became available last month. IBM also supports mainframe DevOps integrations with Git and Jenkins through Z Open Development.

The trend of opening the mainframe to distributed systems management tools continued this week with new Ansible Certified Content for Z that includes connection plugins, action plugins, modules and a sample playbook officially certified and jointly supported by Red Hat and IBM. Such tools were previously available in open source communities, but this week's launch marks the first official support for Red Hat Ansible IT automation on the IBM Z mainframe.

"What's interesting is that [IBM and Red Hat] are now including that content for IBM Z as part of Ansible's certified content, which means they're going to support it -- test it, make sure it's backwards-compatible -- all the things the Red Hat support subscription entails," said Mary Johnston Turner, analyst at IDC. "That means developer and IT ops admins that are trying to standardize and better integrate their toolchains will be able to include the IBM Z platform in [those efforts]."

IBM and Red Hat share support

Of the three levels of support, Red Hat will handle Levels 1 and 2 and IBM will handle Level 3. Users will acquire Ansible content licenses and support from Red Hat, but if there is a problem with the Z modules that requires they be changed, that ticket gets routed to IBM's development team.

IBM and Red Hat technical support teams working together cooperatively is important, not just for smoothly integrating Ansible with Z, but in the context of the overall IBM-Red Hat relationship, one consultant said.

"The two of them in all cases have to cover all the (support) bases and there shouldn't be a problem," said the long-time IBM consultant, speaking on condition of anonymity. "But they are still getting accustomed to knowing each other's moves."

The move to blend mainframe development in with distributed systems through tools such as Red Hat Ansible and OpenShift also reflects customers' desire to consolidate the IT automation tools they use to manage disparate environments, according to IBM officials.

[Users] want to know when IBM is going to get all this to work with IBM Z at the infrastructure layer, OS layer and middleware layers. That's what we are focused on.
Barry BakerVice President of software, IBM Z

"A lot of the banks tell us they have a little bit of stuff going on with AWS and a lot of on-prem things and traditional IT, and that they have an approach to automate everything around Ansible," said Barry Baker, vice president of software for IBM Z. "But they want to know when IBM is going to get all this to work with IBM Z at the infrastructure layer, OS layer and middleware layers. That's what we are focused on."

Barry BakerBarry Baker

It's the right move given Ansible's reputation in the market for automating a range of different tasks from provisioning to configuration management, network management and orchestration, analysts said.

"[This is] another big step toward making [IBM system Z] a true open platform and integrating it with the rest of the data center," said Peter Rutten, research director with IDC's enterprise infrastructure practice. "It's a smart move and one not just younger generations of Z teams will appreciate."

Ansible users also favor it because it is agentless by default and supports infrastructure as code written in familiar programming languages such as Python, rather than domain-specific languages favored by some competing tools.

Presently there are no "hardened hooks" that allow a smooth integration between Ansible content for Z and Red Hat OpenShift, according to Baker. But since Ansible can manage almost any system it can access via SSH, it won't necessarily require the tight integration that, for example, UrbanCode Deploy requires.

The content initially available in Ansible for System Z is also basic, but users will be able to combine those building blocks into more complex workflows using Ansible Tower, Johnston added.

Mainframe DevOps goes for mainstream tools

IBM has proprietary, mainframe-specific automation tools for Agile development workflows, such as Rational Team Concert (RTC), but vendor executives say enterprise users have been sending clear signals that they prefer to manage mainframe DevOps using familiar tools already in place for the rest of the IT environment. In the case of RTC, users have indicated they prefer Git. IBM also offers UrbanCode Deploy for CI/CD with mainframe DevOps integrations, its Z Open Development strategy going forward will be anchored around Jenkins.

"In areas where IBM doesn't have a leading tool or one that provides us with enough competitive differentiation, we are not going to try and create one," Baker said. "RTC is robust for doing more modern development for Z, but a lot of users have already standardized on Git and tell us they don't need anything additional."

Baker stopped short of saying that tools such as Git will replace RTC in the near term, but with some 250 products in the portfolio he manages, some rationalization will be inevitable, he said. RTC, a mature tool, is considered a "feature complete" product but there's room for innovation, according to Baker.

"We have no plans for announcing the end-of-life for RTC, but we know we have to invest in Git and other offerings, too," he said. "It is a balancing act."

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