News Flash: The Mainframe (Still) Isn't Dead

News Flash: The Mainframe (Still) Isn't Dead
By Gabe Goldberg

A very-much-alive Mark Twain famously commented that reports of his death were greatly exaggerated.

Mainframers know that the same is true (and always has been) regarding reports and predictions of the mainframe's death, including Stewart Alsop's unwise 1991 suggestion in InfoWorld that the last mainframe would be unplugged in 1996, immortalized by the Computer History Museum.

As we approach the 50th anniversary of the mainframe, it's clear that Alsop's lesson hasn't been learned: publications, pundits, industry competitors, and occasional customers predict and believe that the (mainframe) end is near. Even worse, they can't be dissuaded, no matter how often they've been wrong (for example, with never-ending and doomed dump-the-mainframe projects) or how compelling the evidence is regarding the mainframe's ongoing use. In addition, there's ongoing new adoption, architecture evolution, improving capabilities, increasingly impressive price/performance characteristics, and more.

So this article begins a regular feature following the theme that the mainframe (still) isn't dead – it’s very much alive and will be for quite some time. There are many reasons for this; let's look at a few...

Gloom-and-doomers, and people with an interest in it being so, point to an alleged mainframe skills shortage which will drive big iron to extinction. But before holding a nostalgic memorial, they should learn about major efforts which are replenishing the mainframe staffing cadre.

First, there's SHARE's zNextGen project, known as "a user-driven community of over 900 members, representing 24 countries for new and emerging System z professionals that has the resources to help expedite your professional development skills." zNextGen’s foundational and introductory sessions are great preparation for the many more detailed topics found throughout the week at SHARE conferences

However, zNextGen is more than just a group of sessions at SHARE conferences –  it's one of SHARE's many vibrant communities with discussion forums across broad topics: Ask The Experts, Welcome to the zNextGen Communication Forum, and zNextGen Mentor Program. Expert topics range through IMS and CICS, LPAR manipulation, IODF, z/OS paging, etc. "Welcome" provides tips on benefiting from conferences (surely valuable; I remember finding my first SHARE more than a little daunting with no such orientation!), a pointer to Assembler Boot Camp, and links to SHARE webcasts, and a (somewhat stale but potentially useful) mentor/mentee discussion.

The project page links to the zNextGen team, where volunteers answer "Why zNextGen?" by describing themselves, their interests, and what they expect from and bring to the mainframe party:

  • “I joined z/NextGen to get connected with peers from other companies who have committed their career to the mainframe. Being new in this industry means a lot of challenges.”
  • “It was irresistible! I am intensely curious and always after new things to learn. It was just natural that when the z/OS installers at my shop retired and left for new opportunities that I would leap at the opportunity to 'step up'.”
  • “I think the main reason I wanted to start working with the zNextGen project was to give back to the Mainframe community that had given so much to me.”
  • “When I saw that zNextGen was created as part of the effort to create a new generation of mainframers, I realized it was a perfect match for my interests in this important issue -- so I had to join.”

...showing that the project blends generations, with new recruits who bring enthusiasm and career orientation learning from each other and from senior practitioners providing

Second, IBM's well-established Academic Initiative  is a free world-wide program providing educators with training materials, curriculum guides, and software/hardware needed to teach in-demand business and technology skills. It links educators and learning institutions, System enterprise computing sites, and current and future mainframe professionals. The Academic Initiative for System z, called "zAI", offers learning resources, courseware, certifications, software and system access, events/classes/conferences, case studies and spotlights, and a vibrant community orientation.

zAI's mission is simple: to prepare for retirement of the enterprise computing Baby Boomer generation, those of us born 1946 through 1964 whose careers followed mainframe evolution from the initial System/360 through today's zEnterprise and beyond. While zAI has a global orientation, to determine and meet specific requirements, it frequently organizes local meetings of technology academics, industry leaders, and mainframe professionals. Over one thousand schools use zAI programs with many offering multiple courses, certification programs, minors, and concentrations.

And third, Marist College is a long-term flagship of System z enterprise computing. It offers both classroom learning and instructor-led online classes in systems and application programming, permitting study -- including labs, virtual classroom discussion, and projects -- at student convenience in seven certificate programs.

So it's clear, paraphrasing and reversing the classic Saturday Night Line about Generalissimo Francisco Franco still being dead, the mainframe (still) isn't dead and isn't even heading in that direction.

Gabe Goldberg has developed, worked with and written about technology for decades. He can be contacted at ShareBlog@gabegold.com.

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