The State of Mainframe Security, One Year Into My New Journey

From Chad Rikansrud, Director of North American Operations for RSM Partners 

Twelve years ago a friend and mentor of mine, who also happened to be the head of infrastructure at my employer at the time, said something to me that would change my life. He said, “You think the mainframe is going away? I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise, you go do your own homework. And if you come back convinced it isn’t going away, then you should take this job. There are worse things than being one of the younger people who understand such a systemically important platform.” 

This was in response to a question I had at the time, which was, “Why would I want to tie myself to this antiquated, dying system?” That day, I did my homework and ultimately took the job of leading global data center operations for the bank.  A great deal of that role was learning to understand the technical heart of the company – IBM’s System Z® – or, the mainframe. 

No single conversation has had more impact on the course of my professional life. The operations job gave way to a job running mainframe infrastructure, ensuring the security and integrity of the invaluable data housed within. Seeing the massive customer impacts caused by mainframe outages and, not coincidentally, the awesome processing power during peak transaction load during my operations role, combined with the relatively naïve and sometimes misinformed security posture of the platform during my infrastructure years, led me to where I am today – jetting around the country (and sometimes the world) helping companies secure this most critical platforms against a very real and brutal risk of constant cyber-attacks. 

One year ago, I made the decision to leave that employer of nearly 20 years and partner up with the UK-based firm RSM Partners and start their North American business in earnest as the first person on the ground. In that years’ time, I’ve seen quite a few different systems at several different clients, and I can soundly say that my decision to start consulting on mainframe security for a living was a good one. Though the shock of 9-5 employees to consultants has now worn off, the state of the mainframes I encounter has very much kept me energized and focused. That is to say, as I’d expected there is much work to be done to raise the security game on the mainframe.  

To answer my former CIO’s challenge, there certainly is a viable career in today’s mainframe. The platform isn’t going away anytime soon. For those among you who have a penchant for technical challenges and a desire for stable, long-term employment, and who wish to work on a platform that is systemically important, tremendously powerful, and complex enough to keep even the most curious minds busy – I say the IBM Mainframe is for you. Accept nothing less.

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