For some time, segments of the IT industry have proclaimed doom and gloom about mainframes. Perceiving a severe shortage of mainframe-educated managers and engineers, these people believe the future of these systems is in doubt and there will be an exodus to cloud and grid computing.
Gerry Libertelli, president of New Jersey’s ReadyTechs LLC, suggests that companies still relying on mainframes take a hard look at what a talent shortage does to management costs.
“The burden of 24×7 support,” he notes, “isn’t easily absorbed by a shrinking workforce.”
He expects these two factors to converge, forcing migration from mainframe-based applications to grid-based counterparts, since software development is aimed at abstractions supported by grids (e.g., Ruby on Rails, XML data structures), and people are migrating skills to Web 2.0 and distributed computing concepts.
Brandon Edenfield, president of Chicago-based Clerity Solutions, strongly disagrees with this viewpoint. He continues to see that people, processes, and structures that manage the mainframe are unparalleled in the data center. He feels that many organizations can benefit by replicating these processes in distributed environments.
Jim Michael, associate director of the Information Technology Services (ITS) Department at California State University-Fresno and vice president of the SHARE computer user group, also is less concerned.
“Folks retire,” he says, “but face both the economy and opportunities to stay working.”
So, some return as consultants and many retire to take other jobs. Michael doesn’t expect many age-55 retirements; the age 62 to 65 cohort may retire, but even they aren’t leaving as quickly as expected. He believes some job search gripes on discussion lists such as IBM-MAIN are due to geographic imbalances or mismatched skillsets.
Michael suggests that workers use initiatives such as SHARE’s zNextGen to refresh skills to meet current industry demands; he notes that today’s mainframe is hardly the technology of 20 years ago.
For example, VM, declared dead many times, is now central to running mainframe Linux. He dismisses the notion that mainframes are obsolete—the recent California payroll system flap over allegedly obsolete COBOL notwithstanding.