A panel of mainframe experts from CA Technologies and other companies discussed the role of mainframes in the cloud and how organizations can attract and train skilled mainframe workers.
Even with organizations shifting business-critical applications to
the cloud, mainframes remain as relevant as ever, but organizations are
struggling to find skilled IT workers familiar with the technology,
according to a survey by CA Technologies. CA presented the study
results during a panel discussion that was Webcast on Nov. 17.
Years after the mainframe was declared dead, it continues to play a
critical role in the data center. According to the report, 80 percent
of surveyed organizations said that mainframes were an important part
of their current business strategy, and 73 percent said it is, or will
be a significant component in their cloud strategy.
The results are consistent with an earlier mainframe study
surveying European organizations, released by CA in October. The
results of the new CA survey were "not a surprise" and the numbers are
"very close" to the European results, said panel participant Dayton
Semerjian, general manager of the mainframe business unit at CA
Technologies. About 79 percent of respondents in the European study
said the mainframe remains critical to their business and 75 percent
claimed the systems will play some role in their cloud strategy, said
In this latest survey, more than three-quarters of the respondents
said they will maintain or increase their investment in mainframe
software and mainframe staff. "It's clear that the mainframe is here to
stay," said Semerjian.
Semerjian and three other mainframe experts discussed the survey
results on a Webcast panel discussion, which focused primarily on the
impending skills shortage as skilled mainframe workers retire.
Despite the critical nature of mainframes, the survey showed
organizations worried about losing staff skilled in mainframe
technologies to retirements while younger workers are not learning
about mainframe operations. About 35 percent of survey respondents also
said that recent graduates are "not as technically proficient" as their
counterparts from 10 years ago.
The shortage wasn't "unique" to mainframes but was an
across-the-board shortage for all IT skill sets, said Jon Toigo, CEO of
Toigo Partners International. Colleges and universities aren't
graduating "cadres" of skilled IT workers as in the past, said Toigo.
According to Toigo, the average age of a mainframe administrator is
about 53 years old. Barring any changes in the retirement age or
technical event such as Y2K, there is about a decade left with the
current mainframes workforce, he said. The skills shortage would wreak
more "havoc in the distributed world" before mainframes, Toigo
The reason for the skills shortage also lies with the organizations
themselves, Toigo said, because organizations aren't communicating how
critical mainframes are. The survey found that 61 percent of the
respondents felt the IT industry didn't do enough to promote mainframe
careers, and the panelists agreed. The IT industry needs to "remind
people what the mainframe is about," said Toigo.
Organizations can build internal training programs, similar to the
12-week long Mainframe Academy that CA Technologies launched Nov. 1,
Semerijan said CA also focuses on specific universities that offer
mainframe-specific courses and training. "We get great people and then
we train them intensively," he said. It was possible, he said, to
address the shortage by increasing the visibility of the mainframe
within the company and training them accordingly.
The panel also addressed the role mainframes would play in the
cloud, pointing out that organizations have already been creating
virtual machines and running private clouds on mainframes. Cloud
computing was just a "new cool name" for shared computing, said
"Cloud computing is something we've been doing for 40 years," said
panelist Keith Winnard, technical leader of the IT technical services
group at JD Williams.
Mainframes have been central to most enterprise processing for the
past four decades, and will continue to be so, because mainframes work
well as cloud computing platforms. The characteristics that make a
cloud strategy successful are the same characteristics that make
mainframes successful, said Semerjian.