There are clearly two ways to address the impending lack of mainframe skills: first, increase the number of students with relevant knowledge coming into the industry, and second, suppress the complexities of the z/OS platform so the systems can be run and supported with relatively little technical expertise.

Currently, there’s plenty of evidence that IBM and its partners are addressing both issues. The zNextGen initiative is gathering momentum, strongly supported by the SHARE user group, and its meetings offer an excellent discussion forum for students and new graduates who are tempted to follow the mainframe route but need support and encouragement. It’s good to see these meetings are attracting a large number of mainframe “veterans,” who are keen to both learn from the newcomers and share their increasingly scarce mainframe knowledge.

Recently, there also has been a strong focus on simplification of the mainframe architecture. With z/OS Version 8 and associated tools, IBM and Tivoli are beginning to deliver on promises made last year to reduce the level of technical intervention required to make the System z run to its full potential. Of course, it will take five years for us to see the full effect of the company’s $100 million investment in this area, but significant advances are already being made. Recent announcements focus strongly on improving usability and making mainframe performance management more accessible to those without deep technical expertise.

Of course, there’s a third element to the skills issue that isn’t as widely discussed: Groups such as zNextGen are very important for preparing the next intake of recruits, but employers equally need to reassess their internal training provision for existing staff to reflect future needs. IT specialists with a distributed system background who have expertise in Unix and Windows, or in .NET and Java, should perhaps be persuaded and incented to extend their skillset to z/OS and CICS/COBOL (and it’s clear these technologies still represent good long-term job security). The cultural divide between mainframe and non-mainframe professionals is all too evident in many companies, and one of the best ways to break it down is to broaden the skills base of those on either side of the schism.

Annual Mainframe Survey

Arcati recently published its Mainframe Yearbook for 2007, which includes the usual survey of users’ plans and concerns. Among other things, 51 percent of mainframes in this year’s research are participating in Web services; 34 percent of respondents are running Java-based applications on System z; and a majority of sites said their Unix and Windows costs are rising faster than their mainframe costs for an equivalent amount of capacity (in some cases, much faster).

When it comes to the future prospects of legacy mainframe applications, the picture varies considerably, depending on the size of installation. Above 10,000 MIPS, 75 percent of respondents see integration as the way forward for their legacy assets, and they see a very positive future for the mainframe. Below 500 MIPS, the picture is less clear, with just 37 percent predicting integration and a larger number considering migration. To download the Yearbook, visit www.arcati.com/.

Around the Vendors

Lawsuits and countersuits are still pending between IBM and compatible mainframe vendor Platform Solutions Inc. Amdahl-backed PSI’s new system, which runs z/OS, native Linux, Unix, and Windows on a single managed server, has attracted a lot of attention since its launch late last year. However, IBM argues that the vendor is infringing its patents, and PSI counters that IBM is using unfair tactics to undermine its business. Lawsuits aside, this system could do well in the low end of the mainframe market, and the low end needs all the help it can get.

CA and BMC announced immediate support for IBM’s DB2 “Viper” for z/OS across their extensive range of database management products. Among other things, the new version of DB2 includes a pureXML feature, which allows XML documents to be stored hierarchically and indexed, with significant implications for performance.

SOFTWARE ENGINEERING GmbH also announced same day support for DB2 9 for z/OS with its product line that includes RealTime DBAExpert, SQL PerformanceExpert, Bind ImpactExpert, and the new HealthCheck Series.

DataDirect announced some important security developments in its (ex-NEON) Shadow RTE product, designed to improve the optimization of Web services. One key feature eliminates redundant authentication requests by caching security credentials, relieving the mainframe of substantial security management overhead.

DEADBOLT from JME Software has attracted attention recently. The product claims to be the first real alternative to RACF, ACF2, and Top Secret in 25 years, offering a new approach to security administration with an interface based on Web 2.0, wizards, productivity aids, and mistake proofing. Z