DevelopersDevOpsFeaturedLet's TalkMainframe MattersOpen Source

Let’s Talk With The Core Maintainers Of CBT Tape Project


Guests: Lionel Dyck | Sam Golob
John Mertic (LinkedIn, Twitter)
Organization/Company: Open Mainframe Project (LinkedIn, Twitter)
Show: Let’s Talk

CBT Tape is an open library of free software distribution for the IBM mainframe Multiple Virtual Storage (MVS) and OS/390 and z/OS operating system environments that continues to evolve to meet today’s modern needs.

The CBT Tape project was founded by Arnold Casinghino some 46 years ago.  Lionel B. Dyck took over the maintenance of the project from Casinghino and has been one of the major contributors to the project and still continues to enhance it.

CBT Tape is now an Open Mainframe Project (OMP) benefiting from its resources and infrastructure. To learn more about CBT Tape, its usage and the community, we sat down with Lionel Dyck, Contributor to OMP’s CBT Tape; Sam Golob, Editor of OMP’s CBT Tape; and John Mertic, Director of Program Management for Open Mainframe Project at the Linux Foundation.

Topics we covered in this discussion include:

  • What is CBT Tape?
  • Who is still using CBT Tape?
  • Why did the CBT Tape project come to the Open Mainframe Project?
  • What kind of support is the Open Mainframe Project offering to CBT Tape?
  • One of the core contributors to the project, Lionel Dyke, shares his journey: When he got started with the project and what kind of contributions he had made to the project.


Swapnil Bhartiya: Hi. This is your host, Swapnil Bhartiya. Today, we are going to talk about CBT Tape and Open Mainframe Project. Today, we have three guests with us. We have with us Lionel Dyck, contributor to the CBT Tape Project. We have with us Sam Golob, maintainer of the CBT Tape Project, and then we also have, once again, John Mertic, director of program management at the Open Mainframe Project. Sam, John, Lionel, it’s great to have you all on the show.

Sam Golob: Thank you very much.

John Mertic: Thank you.

Lionel Dyck: Thank you.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Sam, I want to start with you. Tell me what CBT Tape is.

Sam Golob: The CBT Tape is a vast, enormous collection of user-written software that caters to the IBM MVS operating system. which runs many, many businesses all over the world. It’s been in existence for 46 years. The founder of it… His name is Arnold Casinghino. He ran it for the first 15 years. He did an unbelievably excellent job, thorough, careful job of collecting everybody’s software and making sure that it was properly posted and recorded on tapes.

When Arnie could not do it anymore because they were taking the tape drives away from his data center, I figured out a way how to… I was friends with him for two years before that. I figured out a way how I could maintain it. I’ve maintained it for 31 years since then.

Swapnil Bhartiya: As you took over from Arnie, are you also ensuring a process where someone else can take over from you as well?

Sam Golob: I’ll tell you why. This is something that the public needs very, very badly. It’s not easy to find somebody who’s dedicated to it. Right now, I’m doing it. I hope to do it as long as I can, for maybe a very long time. I have a lot of fun doing it. The world needs it. We’ll leave it at that.

Swapnil Bhartiya: In today’s world, who is still using it?

Sam Golob: My estimate is that just about every z/OS shop in the world has some part of it in it. If they don’t have any part in it, from the CBT Tape directly, they have it in it from IBM because the people who wrote things on the CBT Tape were more innovative than IBM was in certain regards, in regard to the software that they wrote.

I’ll give you just one example. IBM, when they made their big utility to look at files, called ISPF, you can browse a file. You can edit a file. You can copy files. They’re all on separate menus. They’re all on separate file lists. You have to go from the browse file list to the edit file list in order to edit the program.

We have a product called PDS, which is a free product that’s been on the CBT Tape for many years. I would say it’s about 45 years old. But it’s been constantly developed ever since. From one menu, you can do 60 different things to the same member. You can say B for browse. You can say E for edit. You can compare it from one to the other, to another member, and so on. You can do about 60 different functions from the same menu. IBM has started to take that up. But theirs is nowhere near as good as ours. You see that the enhancements that IBM made because people saw our stuff and made suggestions to IBM to improve their stuff. That’s on every IBM system.

Swapnil Bhartiya: John, I want to ask you, can you share some historical anecdotes that… when and how CBT Tape came to the Open Mainframe Project?

John Mertic: Sam probably even underscores this a bit. You ask anyone who’s been in the mainframe industry for any amount of time. They’ll tell you how CBT Tape made an impact on what they were doing. They know a story of using a tool off of there. They might have helped put a tool on there. It’s something that’s written to the origin story, you could argue, of the mainframe world. We were really fortunate enough to make some connections with Sam and Lionel as they were thinking about how this project moves forward.

For us, a project like this is really, really interesting from a lot of perspectives: one, of just the sustainability and seeing a project like this that has such an important impact on the mainframe world, making sure we can carry it forward, but also really the historical precedent. If you counted up the numbers that Sam was adding there of how long this goes back, this goes back, as a formal project, into 1970. The code on there goes back even farther. It goes back into the ’50s. That’s where you start to trace the early, early, early, early days of open source and events like Share, which came together as a way to collaborate on code.

Back in the day, how you did it was much different. You didn’t have GitHub. You didn’t have all those things, but that’s collaboration happened. With Arnie coming into the picture here and collecting all this together, from where we can tell, this is one of the first open-source projects ever on our planet. Think about that, one of the first ones.

If you look at the ingredients there, you have a maintainer, Arnie, and now Sam in here. You have people contributing code into there. You have releases. You have a governance structure of how the tape gets produced. Those are all the ingredients of open source today. For us here, just seeing that this artifact, seeing something that’s made such a huge impact when they came to us, and it came to our technical advisory council, I think everyone, in unison, was excited to see a project like this be something that we have the opportunity to help support and carry forward. Especially with, like I said, everyone in the audience saying they had a personal story on how this tape saved their butt at one moment in time. It’s really fascinating.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Open Mainframe Project… You folks have very well-established governance. But if I ask you, what kind of support are you providing to this specific project?

John Mertic: We’re helping get infrastructure to build and being able to develop. I talk with Sam from time to time. He tells me stories of retired and current mainframe sysadmins, and programmers, and developers that have come to him and saying, “Hey, I have this tool. I need a system to write it on.” He’s like, “Great. I have a system you can have access to.” We’ve been really starting there of helping provide that level of infrastructure and then just working to partner… making people aware of, through great programs like this one here. Then, I think, over time, just finding more ways to help support and make it so that Sam and the army of contributors and developers out there can really continue to focus on building this out. We can help provide the infrastructure to support it.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Excellent. Excellent. Lionel, I’ll come to you now. Can you tell me when you got involved with the project?

Lionel Dyck: Oh, boy. I remember meeting Arnie at one point in time, long, long time ago, before the dawn of time, I think. I’ve been contributing because I’ve been blessed to have management. This support share and support sharing software in the open-source environment… I remember the first thing I shared was a deck of cards that I put in the mail. Then, it progressed to tape. I’ve been doing it for a long time.

Swapnil Bhartiya: I too have also seen a lot of people coming, joining, and contributing, and moving out. Is there any anecdote that you can share with us where that was the exciting thing, where you see with either at the open-source angle or the people who are coming to the project?

Lionel Dyck: I see a lot of folks that come and join the CBT project that… They’ve written tools within their own shop. In many cases, their tools that they develop are based upon tools they found on the CBT Tape. They’ll enhance them, or they’ll use what they learned from them. People will use what they find on the CBT Tape to learn from, to learn how to do things. We’ll see new projects, contributions to the tape, from people who have been using stuff on the tape.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Excellent. If I ask you, what is the specific contribution, or if we ask, what contribution are you making to the project, what would that be?

Lionel Dyck: Oh, boy. I don’t know. Sam can correct me. I think I’ve got five or six files on the CBT Tape right now that are mine, various things, and then a couple of others that I’m a contributor to or maintainer of. In each one of those files, in most cases, at least three or four of those contain more than one particular project or application. I think one of them contains 56 different tools in one of those files.

Swapnil Bhartiya: If I ask you, from your perspective, as you have been involved with the project for such a long time… This is, as I said, your perspective, or when I look at you, I also look at the community. How is the Open Mainframe Project or the Linux Foundation helping folks like you who are passionate about the project?

Lionel Dyck: Well, I think the biggest thing that the Open Mainframe Project did for us was to help us to find a new mainframe, a new platform on which we can continue to develop because we’ve got a number of folks/number of developers you mentioned that were retired. They obviously don’t have a mainframe. Others, they work at a company, where they have mainframe access. But their employer does not allow them to contribute code to the open-source world. They’re prevented from doing that by using their work computer. Giving them access to the CBT computer provided by Open Mainframe gives them that flexibility. Now, they can do [inaudible 00:11:26] code their development, and it gets contributed to the open-source environment.

Swapnil Bhartiya: Sam, Lionel, John, thank you so much for taking time out today and talk about CBT Project. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I’m sure that viewers will enjoy this discussion too. Thank you.