James Governor's Monkchips

IBM Mainframe: Scale and Skills 07

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Its time for Jim Stallings, IBM mainframe general manager, to do his thing. He starts with talk of growth in India and China.

In India, he points out, the mainframe is playing a flattening role. That is, the mainframe is part of the trend of Indian firms hooking up with other players. Tata and Corus, Bharti and Wal-Mart. These are now “global outfits, running on a mainframe”.

Now Jim is talking about IBM, the mainframe and extreme scale. What can I say? I called it back in November 2002, in a piece for Illuminata called IMS: Scaling The Great Wall.

Linux and virtualisation are the keys to mainframe growth.

Specialty Engines MIPS growth… There is a bank in Japan with 150 IFLs running the whole bank on Linux. That is pretty serious.

Simplify the mainframe?

Ah something to push back on. IBM is apparently investing $100m in simplifying the mainframe.But Jim talked to simplification using wizards. I am not so sure about that. Wizards don’t simplify things, they just hide complexity (leaky abstractions and all that).

Boldest Claim of The Day, and its not even 10:30 yet.

“The issue around skills is really a myth, my customers tell me”.

Well that’s a mighty big claim Jim. When you can throw out numbers like 42k new students are taking mainframe courses, its a case that’s easier to make. If Jim had of said this five years ago we would have all fallen about laughing. But IBM showed a video of a bunch of students (some of whom are at the event), and the key statement was this:

“They hired me before I even graduated”.


  1. Does this mean that my rusty old BAL, JCL, and PL/I skills can still be put to good use?

    I will dig out my quick reference (Gold card) just in case!

  2. Hey Jeff. Of course your old mainframe skills are relevant. they might want some updating, but there is still an awful lot of code out there to inspect, maintain, improve and develop on. IBM is currently making great play of a new 4GL called EGL- which allows for deployment to multiple platforms.

  3. “They hired me before I even graduated”.

    That says there is a skills shortage to me.

  4. great point james. d’oh on my part. the key point is that there is a lot of backfilling going on. a lot. and when there is good money to be had in one market, and no jobs in another, the law of supply and demand will surely tend to fill that in. if there were no new skills base the problem would be far more acute.

  5. There’s a difference between a “skills shortage” and a shortage of skills that can be had at a particular price point. This has been my contention – I believe there are skills out there, but employers don’t wish to pay the price that they demand. A student with System z skills is desirable because he has the mainframe skill AND he can be hired much more cheaply than a 30-year veteran. The question is: is the lack of business acumen and lack of “experience with age” worth the discount? On the flip side, perhaps the new perspective that the new hire (former) student provides trumps the lack of “traditional experience”. There’s something to be said for both.

  6. I have been working in the Maniframe environment for many years. I travel all over the world presenting to clients. In the last 10 years in the US I would say that I have seen less than a handful of folks that are under 40 years of age in my meetings…. in other words the meetings are usually filled with a bunch of old gray haired men. It is time to get a younger generation and new ideas in the mainframe environment. Ideas that will combine the stability of the old tried and proven mainframe with the new technology and methods of doing business today. A combination that will build a better future for tomorrow. I like changes because that is what has keep me employed in this business the passed 40+ years. I have been paid to sell it, put it in, take it out and fix it when it did not work. I have been paid to teach others how to sell, install, fix and remove. I have even been paid to ensure that it is designed so that it can be fixed. So keep those new and improved ideas and changes coming and there will be work for a lot of new folks coming into this business.

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