Help Wanted: IT Pros with Mainframe Skills

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The Mainframe Rising

IBM's efforts to converge mainframe and distributed computing models remain a work in progress.

One of the great ironies of IT these days is that after years of denigrating the value of the mainframe, one of the most sought-after skills in IT today is mainframe expertise.

In many ways, IT organizations that are finding that they have a dearth of mainframe talent on hand are victims of self-fulfilling prophecies. Because of all the speculation about the viability of the mainframe, many of them did not invest heavily in mainframe training. The end result is that most of the folks within their organization who have mainframe skills are well over 50. In fact, large numbers of them will be retiring in the years ahead.

This situation exists because many organizations assumed they would be migrating application workloads off the mainframe and onto distributed systems. But it turns out that not only is the mainframe still the backbone of the business when it comes to high-performance transaction-processing applications, the cost of managing distributed computing environments has become prohibitive.

To help address this anticipated shortfall in mainframe talent, CA Technologies this week announced it is working with the folks at SHARE, the independent mainframe users organization, to make a new generation of IT professionals proficient on the mainframe. To that end, at the SHARE conference in Atlanta this week, CA Technologies announced the first five scholarship recipients for IT professionals that will be attending the Mainframe Academy with CA Technologies.

CA Technologies is hardly the only company investing in mainframe training. IBM has set up several academic initiatives that are all intended to increase the available pool of mainframe talent. What's interesting, says Mark Combs, distinguished senior vice president, mainframe at CA Technologies, is how many of these new recruits have backgrounds in distributed computing systems. The reasons for this are two-fold. One is that competition for jobs in the distributed computing space is keener. Secondly, there is a convergence of mainframe and distributed computing systems under way as exemplified by the recent introduction of a zEnterprise platform that is really a system of systems that combine mainframe, RISC and x86 servers under a common management framework.

Increased demand for mainframe skills will, of course, vary by geography. Demand for mainframe skills in emerging markets is especially high. But a person with mainframe skills in Florida, for example, is going to have a much tougher time finding employment than one in an area such as New York where there is a high concentration of mainframe systems.

In the meantime, Combs says that it's pretty clear that the vast majority of organizations that have already invested in mainframe systems are not going to be giving them up anytime soon. In fact, what may be more interesting to watch is how many distributed computing environments start moving more workloads onto the mainframe as part of a comprehensive effort to more aggressively reduce IT costs.