Predictions of the mainframe’s demise were a dime a dozen in the 1990s. Fortunately for anyone who uses credit cards, insurance, air travel, and 92 of the top 100 banks — essentially everyone — IBM ignored the memo. The reality is that IBM Z continues to thrive. The release of the z14 was Big Blue’s most successful mainframe launch to date, and after the first full quarter of z15 sales, IBM CFO Jim Kavanaugh announced to analysts that “We shipped the highest MIPs (millions of instructions per second) in history this quarter, driven by growth in new workloads.”
Over time, it’s become increasingly clear that the mainframe isn’t going anywhere, but that doesn’t mean maintenance and support should be an afterthought. Instead, the mainframe will need four synergistic ingredients to thrive for another 50 years.
1. Injection of fresh mainframe talent
The skills gap is affecting all of IT, but it’s having a particularly disruptive impact on the mainframe. For one, the generation that has stewarded the platform for decades is either starting to or about to start a well-deserved retirement. According to BMC’s 2019 Mainframe Survey, just 3% of respondents were over the age of 65, yet an alarming 37% were between the ages of 50 and 64. Second, at least in part due to the threatening skills-gap predictions above, the generation of computer science majors that might have picked up the mainframe torch opted instead to focus their learning on emerging and seemingly “fresher” distributed systems. If the mainframe is going to anchor another 50 years of computing dominance, the organizations that rely on it will need to attract fresh talent to power their Z programs.
2. Broadening applicable programming backgrounds
Mainframe specialists are disappearing, but anyone who can do basic programming (on any platform) can learn to code on a mainframe. That’s why companies are increasingly choosing to fill mainframe programming positions with IT personnel who have experience in other areas rather than searching for an ideal candidate that will surely be hard to find. This practice has given rise to the “universal” or “generalized” IMS DBA on the mainframe, for example, whose experience likely includes Oracle, Java, or IBM® Db2®.
3. Integration with other systems
No mainframe is an island — particularly with the creation of the Customer Information Control System (CICS) for z/OS. Mainframes are closer than ever to the internet with CICS, and that has given rise to numerous solutions that can only exist through mainframe integration. Java has been utilized on mainframes for more than a decade, but the latest CICS versions integrate other systems that can help broaden the mainframe’s utility for both engineers and organizations. Emulator (TN3270) expansion is bringing the ability to access a mainframe to more distributed systems including even smartphones.
4. Automation to ease shortfalls in maintenance
With the growing severity of the mainframe skills gap, it’s imperative for companies to adopt technological solutions that amplify the coverage of a limited workforce. While the mainframe is the most efficient computing platform in the world, running 68% of production IT workloads while incurring just 6% of costs, maintenance remains a significant burden for many Fortune 500 enterprises. Countless recent innovations can be applied to the mainframe, such as Amazon’s Alexa smart speaker, in order to facilitate all kinds of processes and keep maintenance costs under control.
Mainframes have stood the test of time despite the detractors, but there’s still room for improvement in both people and process. The four ingredients above are key, and though they won’t just modernize the mainframe, they’ll continue its reign as the most reliable and efficient source of computer processing power for another 50 years.
To learn more about how Insoft Infotel is helping modernize mainframe computing join us for our July 22, 2020 webinar hosted by IBM Systems magazine. “Preparing Enterprise IT for the Next 50 Years of the Mainframe” will feature mainframe industry gurus Craig S. Mullins and Colin Oakhill. Click here to register for this webinar.