Mainframe is the new black……
August 19th, 2009

but are we ready for it?

The mainframe has been on a rollercoaster ride over the last 30 years; from hero to zero and now, back to hero again. In the late ‘90s the mainframe began to lose it's "cool" new technology status to distributed platforms. Now the mainframe is coming back into fashion and rather than moving away from it, organisations are building on its' solid foundations.

According to recent research by CA, mainframes still handle 55% of companies' data; this rises to 59% for companies with more than 3000 staff; and rises again to 64% for organisations where the mainframe is connected with distributed, server-based computing systems. This makes sense given that the mainframe provides widely acknowledged cost and energy efficiencies along with top notch security and reliability features.

As organisations increasingly look towards the mainframe to support ever growing business systems a problem has begun to appear on the horizon - the mainframe skills shortage.

Why are we facing a skills shortage?
There are varied reasons for the looming gap in mainframe skills. The first crop of mainframe experts, who were the key technical heavyweights that put the mainframe where it is today, are coming towards retirement age. In addition to that, many mainframe administrators were re-trained and re-deployed onto distributed systems. For the last 10 yeas we've heard that the mainframe is dead but the reality of the situation is that the mainframe, far from being dead is actually growing. However, this "death of the mainframe" rumour has lead trends which have meant that new entrants to the IT workplace have been concentrating their training and career paths onto distributed systems, leaving a gap that needs to be filled.

66% of all respondents in the CA research agreed that the mainframe user will soon start to suffer, if it hasn't already, from a shrinking workforce with the relevant skills not being readily available.

Plan for change now
Managing the skills transition efficiently will be vital for large organisations to ensure they maintain their critical data effectively and keep competitive in these challenging times.

The Options:

Outsourcing
Outsourcing mainframe services is certainly an option but it does bring with it many complications. Outsourcing to a third party means that the ingrained organisational knowledge of those currently managing the system can be lost. Although the outsourcing provider is no doubt highly skilled, they don't have that intimate knowledge of the organisation which is built up over many years.

Training
In the CA survey 43% of UK respondents say they are focussing on mainframe skills training. Both IBM and CA are putting huge amounts of money and effort into training the next generation of mainframe experts by running education initiatives through universities in the US. However, training university students takes time to filter through the system.

Organisations need to be thinking about preparing themselves by looking internally at the skills they already have in-house. Rather than taking the decision to outsource mainframe work, re-training and up-skilling already trained DBAs, backed up by bringing in external expertise where necessary could be a more cost effective option.

Looking to the future of mainframe
So what do the next 30 yeas hold for the mainframe? Well we can't answer that one but we can be certain when we say that the mainframe will continue to be the backbone of our major industries' IT systems for many years to come.

About Triton Consulting
Triton Consulting are Database Management Specialists and IBM Premier Business Partners. In addition to consulting services, Triton provide training for DB2 on both mainframe and distributed systems. Triton's Consultancy on Demand offering is a cost effective way of purchasing consultancy hours in blocks of 10, 20 or 50. These can be used for consultancy, training, development work or to cover sickness, holidays or skills gaps within the team.