The world is running out of mainframe engineers

19 Nov 2008

Mainframes never went away and in fact account for the large majority of servers in the world today. But mainframe personnel are ageing and approaching retirement, leading to a big human resources problem for the enterprise computing world.

A global study by IT management software firm CA found that IT departments are losing their experienced mainframe personnel to retirement, just as the use of the mainframe is tipped to grow significantly.

The study, conducted by TheInfoPro in September and early October, surveyed 270 senior IT executives from Fortune 2000 companies around the world.

Future Human

All respondents had applications running on the mainframe platform. The study revealed that 80pc of respondents have mainframe staff eligible for retirement either now or within two years.

It also revealed that mainframe spending – which had been in decline over the past two years – is now projected to rise. This is occurring as, to varying degrees, utilisation of applications currently running on the mainframe increases, new applications are developed for the mainframe and application workloads are shifted to the mainframe from distributed systems.

This dramatic shift from decreasing to increasing spending was highlighted by the fact that 50pc of respondents said their mainframe spending was higher two years ago than it is today, while 63pc said it would be higher two years from now. 

Respondents shared a variety of planned approaches to coping with the ‘greying’ of their mainframe workforces at the same time as they project growth in the use of the mainframe.

Top responses included the hiring and training of new talent, consolidation of mainframe vendors and deploying solutions that make the mainframe easier to use.

“It is clear that enterprise IT organisations need to start taking steps now to ensure their ability to continue leveraging mainframe technology – which delivers the scalability, reliability, security, cost-efficiency and energy-efficiency so essential to the fulfilment of the IT mission – despite the loss of their most experienced mainframe professionals,” said Chris O’Malley, executive vice-president and general manager of CA’s Mainframe Business Unit.

By John Kennedy

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years