Last week I spoke with Chris O’Malley, the head of CA’s mainframe business unit and a keynote speaker at the upcoming Share conference in Denver, about some of the challenges facing mainframers today. Jim Hood, a mainframer at Siemens Healthcare, wrote to me and had this to say in reply:
“Cost, I think, is primarily at the heart of the mainframe dilemma: hardware, software and people. Skills, or the concern of those disappearing over time, is secondary. Hardware and software costs, and the perception that these are so much higher than a compatible server based operation, helps fuel the urge to displace this platform. I still cannot be convinced that the TCO is significantly higher than that of running thousands of servers when you add license costs, all the replaceable components and ongoing support (manpower) for upgrades, maintenance, asset management, etc. Even so the movement continues.
The related costs for the skill sets needed to run a mainframe operation is the other fly in the ointment. Older mainframe programmers/analysts get a bad rap from a cost standpoint even though their long tenure at many organizations has made them successful (the business and themselves) while their long, loyal labor yielded advancement and increased salaries. That isn’t a good mix in today’s marketplace where low costs rule. I wonder what happens when the same scenario plays out 20 years from now when the current younger, lower cost workers are not so young or low cost anymore.
I’m not sure if there are any real replacement plans from a talent standpoint. That would mean acquiring “young” labor while keeping “older” labor which means increasing costs even more. In today’s world cost reductions don’t have the luxury of time on their side — immediacy rules — so while there might be a concern about keeping talent the reality, I think, largely depends upon a balance sheet. Even for those who could stay (to mentor) many mainframers have already been in the business 30-40 years. It is going to take a lot of activity to get the twentysomethings thinking that zOS is cool. By the time that happens (if ever) there won’t be many mentors left — whether by choice or not.”