Mainframes ‘more gratifying than upgrading Word’

Mainframe administration may conjure images of greying senior technology professionals, but young people in IT with an interest in critical computing should still consider a career with the platform, according to delegates at this year’s Interaction IBM users forum.

Greg Price, managing director of independent mainframe services provider Prycroft Six, said mainframe hardware can support open systems, like Linux, giving it value in server consolidation.

“If you’re talking about z/OS, the lack of skills can persuade management to migrate off it,” Price said. “There is a perception that mainframe staff are hard to get and are thus expensive. With open systems being taught at universities it helps because the staff’s education is already ‘paid for’.”

As to what advice Price would give younger IT people considering a mainframe career path, the greying Price said: “There’s no reason not to go into it if you are technically minded."

"If you are interested in critical systems then mainframes are more gratifying than upgrading some pen-pusher’s version of Microsoft Word. “If you need reliability then you go the mainframe,” he said.

“Today’s PC mistakes were made on the mainframe in 1967 and fixed by 1968.”

Reserve Bank of Australia senior systems programmer Craig Baker said the mainframe is much better value than it used to be.

“For what it does, it’s the most cost-effective platform and is not going away,” Baker said. “The upfront cost of the software can be significant but the mainframe has a solid place and its only problem is a greying skill set.”

The RBA – which Baker said is “quite small” compared to the 'big four' banks – commissioned one z800 series mainframe two years ago as a replacement for the Hitachi mainframe and uses it for transactional workloads and integration “with the likes of the ATO (Australian Tax Office) and anyone that gives you a Reserve Bank cheque”.

Baker said the bank has a lot of Unix systems but consolidation of those onto the mainframe is not on its roadmap.

IBM’s zSeries vice president of marketing and technical support, Terri Virnig, said although there is a lot of talk about a “greying” of zSeries skills, the company is expanding its universities program by creating portals and is committed to increasing this.

“We are investing to strengthen the zSeries community with more internal skills, a zSeries scholars program, and by expanding our participation in the Linux and open source community,” Virnig said. “The mainframe is absolutely strategic for IBM, has support from the entire company, and will help take On Demand to the next level.”

Rodney Gedda attended the Interaction forum as a guest of IBM

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