Long Live the Mainframe

Opinion: Despite having long since lost its "star" status in the view of many IT watchers, the mainframe is showing continued growth and is beginning to claim a new generation of users.

I try to stay away from clichés. But try as you might, sometimes they just fit. Needless to say, the rumors of the mainframes demise have been greatly exaggerated. Thats right, I said it.

The mainframe is on my mind because the winter version of the semiannual Share conference of IBM mainframe users ran last week in Tampa, Fla. Unfortunately, I didnt make it (I was too busy covering events in icy New York), but I was able to speak with some folks who did.

IBM recently said the mainframe has achieved three consecutive quarters of growth, marked by new customers choosing the platform for the first time and existing customers adding new workloads, such as Linux and Java applications. Indeed, one company, Hoplon Infotainment, a Brazilian game developer, is even using the mainframe as the foundation of a massive multiplayer online game.

Plus, I have to admit that I have a soft spot for the mainframe, as my first job in the technology business was as an operator in a data center that housed a variety of equipment, including a bank of IBM System/370 machines running MVS, an IBM Series/1 minicomputer running RPS and a series of Perkin-Elmer minicomputers. There was even a group of DEC (Digital Equipment Corp.) minicomputers—VAXes or PDPs or what have you; they were the property of a separate division that leased space in our facility, and I never got to touch them. But that was ages ago.

/zimages/4/28571.gifRead here about how IBM and some of its partners hope to renew interest in mainframes through partnerships with universities, new programs, new tools, and support for modern languages and architectures.

Now new folks are taking a look at the mainframe. Share teamed up with IBM to start zNextGen, a group of college students, recent graduates and older IT professionals who share a common interest in the mainframe as the core platform of focus for their careers. The older IT pros are mostly mentors to the younger folks, although some also are new to the platform.

And zNextGen is proving to be a breeding ground for new talent, with membership climbing to more than 200 since the program was launched in August 2005.

According Kristine Harper, the 23-year-old project manager of zNextGen, new inquiries come in weekly from professionals around the world looking to get involved. Harper, a software developer at Neon Enterprise Software, said she always knew she wanted to be a mainframe programmer. After all, both her father and mother are mainframe programmers.

"The energy surrounding the zNextGen project is tremendous," Harper said. And since the last Share event in Baltimore last August, "zNextGen has grown to 200-plus members, representing over 88 companies and six countries around the world," she said.

Harper calls zNextGen "a large community indeed, but through monthly calls, team calls, e-mails and our Web site, we have become quite a cohesive group."

Moreover, Harper said her group has taken many steps to further develop the program, including strengthening its relationships with other Share projects and the Share board of directors, adding depth to its technical education, fostering more participation among members, offering guidance to its members, and building up the groups sponsorship.

In addition, "we are working with the Share board to create an online communications forum for our members to better keep in touch with each other," Harper said. "Wed like to have a central place for zNextGen members to log in to and chat about mainframe topics, issues and technology, and communicate with the mentors in our group in some form of Q&A session. We are working on getting this launched as soon as possible."

Next Page: IBMs mainframe commitment.