Mainframe blogger Trevor Eddolls, managing director of iTech-Ed, started working on mainframes in 1979, and now runs the Virtual IMS Connection mainframe user group. He says, "In the 60s, 70s and 80s, the mainframe was the place to be. Previously older people would have been replaced by younger IT staff. But now younger people want the excitement of new technologies like Java and SQL.
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This has meant that on average, mainframe staff are now in their 50s and 60s. So what happens when they retire? "No one has experience of how to fix the mainframe when it goes wrong," according to Trevor Eddolls. This is worrying because almost every Fortune 500 company has a mainframe site.
IBM plans to bolster the numbers of mainframe engineers coming out of universities by giving undergraduates and graduates access to mainframes and helping universities develop mainframe curricula for computer science students, As well as working with universities, systems software company CA aims to tackle the skills crisis using software - by effectively capturing 25 years of mainframe administration experience in a software tool.
Under its mainframe 2.0 strategy, CA has developed a management tool that aims to simplify the procedures for installing software on a mainframe, using a GUI-based tool. The problem CA is trying to address is that it is impossible to take someone straight out of university and teach them the skills a mainframe admin has acquired over 25 years, says Marcel der Horlog, senior principal product marketing manager at CA responsible for the mainframe business.
With the company's system administration software background, CA aims to make the mainframe simpler. Marcel der Horlog says, "We must automate software installation and make software more intelligent." For instance, applications deployed 10 years ago must be reconfigured to take advantage of the greater memory and processing power available on modern mainframes. CA is looking how such reconfiguration could be automated.
Like other mainframe businesses, CA has needed to tackle the skills gap head-on. Its mainframe centre of excellence in Prague works with local universities to help undergraduates and postgraduates understand mainframe programming. One recent recruit came over from the UK. Originally from the Czech Republic, he got onto CA's internal training programme, having worked on a CRM system previously. "The first few months were the hardest," he says. But now, within two months or so, trainees understand mainframe techniques like assembler coding, JCL (job control language), REXX (restructured extended executor), the mainframe macro programming language and the CICS transaction manager.
IBM lowers costs with specialty processors >>