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Why z/OSMF may be the right tool for your modernization toolbox

By Fiona King posted 15 days ago

  


Fundamentally, z/OS Management Facility (z/OSMF) is a browser-based user interface that can be used as a “one stop shop” for z/OS system programmers to manage their z/OS environments. z/OSMF is the leading native strategic tool for z/OS administration, and as mentioned in this blog by Frank De Gilio, Zowe™ and Ansible are examples of other tools to be considered. Each have a slightly different but complimentary role to play in your enterprise. In this blog, we'll discuss how z/OSMF works to enable higher efficiency, lower skill requirements, and more industry-popular interfaces to drive z/OS operations. (For more information on Zowe as a tool in your toolbox, check out this blog). 

 

The basics—laying the foundation

IBM z/OS Management Facility (z/OSMF) has been a base feature of z/OS since V2.2 and is designed to simplifying z/OS management. It provides a framework for managing various aspects of a z/OS system through a task-oriented, modern web browser interface. By streamlining some traditional tasks and automating others, z/OSMF can help to simplify areas of system management and reduce the level of expertise that is needed for managing a system. From the intuitive Desktop UI to the variety of plugins and the REST APIs that are available for use today, z/OSMF helps make z/OS more approachable to users of all skill levels.

How does z/OSMF fit into the whole picture?

An Overview of how z/OSMF works with other applications to write (put) and read (get) vis APIs.

The z/OSMF ecosystem has been constantly growing. The majority of z/OSMF backend services are running  inside a z/OSMF Java application server as REST APIs. As shown in the image above, the REST APIs interact with traditional z/OS components in order to manage z/OS. Different kinds of front-ends can consume the z/OSMF REST APIs. The most common is the z/OSMF Web UI which runs in a browser, as well as Zowe, Ansible, and other customer-built programs that can leverage the z/OSMF REST APIs. Overall, z/OSMF enables flexible integration of z/OS from distributed platforms or hybrid cloud environments.

Next, let’s discuss some of the nuts and bolts of z/OSMF and how they help provide easy-to-use functionalities for improved productivity without a steep learning curve. There are many different facets of z/OSMF, so we’ll just touch on a few:

 

z/OSMF REST APIs

With z/OSMF, z/OS becomes easier-to-use largely via REST APIs by simplifying z/OS operations and administration. REST APIs are standard programmable interfaces that are easy to call, can be securely driven either locally (on z/OS) or remotely from other platforms. REST APIs can be used in your preferred  programming language.  Therefore z/OS operations can be driven in a consistent way from almost any platform. As mentioned earlier, there are several types of front ends which are consuming z/OSMF Rest APIs, with many users running their critical processes on top of them. z/OSMF provides a large number of REST APIs covering many aspects of z/OS operations including Jobs API, data set and file services, TSO API, z/OS Console services, Workflow services, Software Management services, Cloud provisioning and management services, Storage Management APIs, etc.

z/OSMF Desktop UI

One of the major offerings in the z/OSMF portfolio is the z/OSMF Desktop UI, the personal web-based desktop for managing z/OS that has brought a modern look and feel to z/OS since its introduction. The z/OSMF desktop interface contains the main working area, with icons for different tasks, folders, and the taskbar. z/OSMF is often used as a base for next generation UIs to replace and enhance the ISPF interfaces. The interface consists of intuitive elements such as the app center, reference center, notifications icon, active tasks and folder icons, a user menu where you can customize access your profile, and more. 

With a new look and feel, the z/OSMF Desktop supports multi-tasking, searching, browsing, editing data sets, UNIX file operations, and more. Efficiencies such as the ability to create new or data sets ‘like’ other existing data sets, group data sets in a folder, open clickable links, search and replace, and more allow integration of utilities that improve daily operations. Most recently, the z/OSMF desktop has been enhanced to allow users to download or upload a sequential data set, or PDS/E member, or zFS file between z/OS and their workstation with a few clicks or drag/drop. This is designed to vastly simplify the process and remove concerns about ASCII and EBCDIC or carriage return and linefeed differences between platforms. (For more helpful tips about the z/OSMF Desktop UI, read the ‘Ten Tips You May Not Know about z/OSMF Desktop UI’ blog, and view the z/OSMF Guild Desktop session)

z/OSMF Plugins

In z/OSMF, an optional plugin is a collection of one or more system management tasks that add function to z/OSMF. When you configure a plug-in, you make its tasks available to users in the z/OSMF Desktop. You can add significant function to z/OSMF through the addition of optional plug-ins. There are numerous categories of z/OSMF plugins offered today directly in the z/OSMF UI, ranging from those that help manage z/OS operations, to security and network configurations, as well as installation, packaging and more. (To learn more, visit the z/OSMF Plug-ins Trial page)

For example, the Security Configuration Assistant (SCA) plugin provides an easy way to drive automatic security validation, starting with SAF (Security Access Facility) resource-based configuration for z/OS functions. It allows users to describe security policy in JSON format, which makes it easy to create a product's security descriptor files. Security requirements can be organized based on flexible needs, and the assistant provides a GUI to display the security requirements based on the organization in the JSON file. Recent enhancements support fixing security configuration requirements with just a few clicks for a more complete end to end support to simplify the security configuration process, as shown below. (For more information, watch the z/OSMF Guild 10 session.)

z/OSMF Workload Management is another z/OSMF task which provides a browser-based user interface for working with the Workload Manager on your z/OS system. It displays service definitions and their sections in structured tables, and validates your service definitions based on built-in best practices. Specifically, you can define, modify, view, copy, import, export, and print WLM service definitions. You can also install a service definition into the WLM couple data set for the sysplex, activate a service policy, and view the status of WLM on each system in the sysplex.

 

The Incident Log plugin is ideal for problem management, as it helps to manage z/OS abends and memory dumpsrelated instances and automatically capture the necessary diagnostic data. The incident can be displayed in just a few click, greatly reducing the skills required to do so, and a new entry is created and can be easily packaged and securely sentto IBM for assistance.



Other key z/OSMF Plugins include:

Plugin Name

Description

IBM z/OS Management Services Catalog

Improves how z/OS system programmers manage their z/OS environment that uses services. Services can streamline repetitive and frequent tasks in addition to complex, infrequent tasks.

Sysplex Management

The z/OSMF Sysplex Management task displays sysplex resources and their relationships. You can work with sysplex resources using graphic and table views. Topology and physical views show resources such as sysplexes, systems, coupling facilities, CPCs, and couple data sets. CFRM Policies can be created and edited using a modern editor.

Software Management & Update

Software Management/Update provides a guided experience for installing software and service updates (corrective, recommended, and functional) to a z/OS system. This capability is available for operating system, subsystem, , and other software products, whether they are supplied by IBM or another vendor.

Network Configuration Assistant

The Configuration Assistant task can help to simplify the configuration of the TCP/IP policy-based networking functions. This task provides centralized configuration of TCP/IP networking policies and can help reduce the amount of time required to create network configuration files.



The list of valuable z/OSMF plug-ins goes on, but all in all, z/OSMF’s ability to host a growing list of optional plugins allows users to configure z/OSMF to fit their various needs.  For a complete list and description of z/OSMF plug-ins, check out the ‘z/OSMF Optional Services’ page, and for a more in-depth look at the unique value per z/OSMF plug-in, view the z/OSMF Value Proposition Guide.

z/OSMF Workflows

z/OSMF Workflows provide a framework to support system programmers defining a guided flow step-by-step to accomplish a task in z/OS. According to the z/OSMF 2022 User Survey, Workflows are the most actively used z/OSMF plugin. This reduces the complexity of the z/OS management process, which in turn helps attract and retain new system programmers without overwhelming them with lots of underlying processes or platform complexities. (Learn more by watching the z/OSMF Guild Session 2)

Workflows can be performed manually or automatically and can be streamlined and automated to benefit multiple use cases. z/OSMF provides several sample workflow files which could be used as a starter. Benefits include support for collaboration among different roles, built in dependency checks and conditional steps, and integrated support for JCL, REXX, UNIX shell scripts and REST APIs. In addition, z/OSMF gives you the ability to create or update workflow definitions from the z/OSMF Desktop GUI, also known as Workflow Editor. Workflow editor performs syntax checks, so workflow can be run without any syntax errors, and provides an intuitive online help that guides users to prepare workflows. 

One valuable exploiter of z/OSMF Workflows is the z/OS Software Management workflow. With a z/OS software installation strategy that was developed in collaboration with leading industry software vendors, IBM and z/OSMF continues to make great strides in delivering z/OS software.  The new z/OSMF portable software instance format is designed to be deployed using z/OSMF Software Management and ServerPac Workflow to deliver a consistent package format intended to be used with z/OSMF Software Management as a common installer.

z/OSMF also provides a graphical interface to help update to your software, which simplifies the traditional PTF installation process by providing a guided experience to organize, review, and resolve updates. Software Update for corrective, recommended, and functional use cases are available today. Both of these abilities within z/OSMF reduce the time to value and enable less experienced system programmers to confidently install and manage software.


 

Wrapping up

As described, z/OSMF provides a framework for managing various aspects of a z/OS system through a task-oriented, web browser interface, with optional plugins to accomplish a large variety of tasks. This easy-to-use functionality reduces both programmer training time and the learning curve of getting started. 

z/OSMF is built into the operating system and is thus backed by the full system support that not all tools can offer. Since z/OSMF is managing z/OS from z/OS, the client application is loading from the z/OS side and running in a web browser. This saves effort and risk of maintaining client application on each individual personal workstation. z/OSMF also allows you to communicate with the z/OS system through a web browser, so you can access and manage your z/OS system from anywhere. Multiple users can log into z/OSMF using different computers, different browsers, or multiple instances of the same browser, so whether your managing your system individually or as part of a team, z/OSMF provides a single point of control.

z/OSMF can be considered both a general purpose management toolmas well as a customizable and versatile tool for more specific actions. Its framework can be used by a variety of specialized plugins and products in various z/OS management areas which can be enabled separately based on your specific needs. One of the driving goals with z/OSMF is to make z/OS management easier for a diversified skilled workforce and reduce the learning curve needed to get started. Even early-tenure system programmers can independently and confidently deploy, maintain, and manage z/OS (and the software stack beyond the z/OS operating system) software functions using guided and customized instructions and workflows. Since z/OSMF provides an intuitive user interface as well as automated instructions, it’s designed to enable easier installation, management, and use of z/OS by programmers and administrators of all levels, with no special skills required for maximum productivity. Especially in comparison to previous ISPF-based tools, z/OSMF lowers the skill level of the individual and makes the job of a Subject Matter Expert (SME) more productive.


Additional z/OSMF resources:

z/OSMF has many additional benefits and capabilities not mentioned in this brief overview, but I hope this summary and tool analogy has helped position z/OSMF in your toolbox. Luckily, there are lots of supporting z/OSMF resources to help provide more details on areas you may be interested in learning more:

 



 

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