Mainframe specialists make the IT

Demandfor mainframe specialists is at an all-time high, according to IBM Corp., dueto an increase in mainframe investments.

Themarket share for IBM’s System z mainframe platform has grown 17 to 30 per centover the last decade on a rolling four-quarter basis of the high-end segmentpriced over US $250,000, according to International Data Group’s high-endserver quarterly tracker.

Theincrease is also reflected in the growth of IBM’s Academic Initiative forSystem z, which provides resources to colleges and universities for mainframeskills education. More than 600 schools around the world are now involved inthe program, which launched with only 24 colleges in 2004.

Arecent IDC survey of 300 mainframe-knowledgeable IT experts and decision-makersusing IBM mainframes also reports that “nearly one-half of respondentsindicated they plan to increase annual spending on mainframe hardware andsoftware.”

“Themainframe is still seen by respondents as a key element of centrally managedcorporate data and high-value computing workloads by providing them with alayer of highly controllable enterprise management software,” states IDC.

Mainframeskills started becoming a recognized requirement about three to five years ago,said Robert Bird, IBM Systems z platform leader for Canada.

“Ourcustomers were asking us what we could do to assist them within their ownskills programs and HR recruiting for that area of their business and that wasfundamentally what drove this IBM Academic Initiative for Systems z program,”he said.

Notonly are customers continuing to add and extend existing applications andservices, but IBM is attracting new customers who are attracted to theeconomics of scale that the mainframe platform provides to an organization,said Bird.

“We dohave customers that are incorporating for the first time mainframes withintheir organizations, so we have incremental requirements there and some of ourcustomers are on a very large growth curve where over time they are hiringadditional staff to address that growth,” he said.

Mainframespecialists are also on the IT “it” list due to upcoming demographics trends.

Accordingto Bird, those currently managing and maintaining the mainframe environmenthave spent the majority of their careers in this area and are looking forwardto retirement. “We’ve identified a skills bubble and our clients that havemainframe investments today are looking for ways to effectively train andintroduce new blood into their organization,” he said.

Theway IT managers with mainframe skills approach the ability to provision andmaintain a key business service determines their value, according to Bird.“Mainframe thinking is all about a robust computing environment,” he said.

Peoplewho understand the mainframe architecture tend to bring more to the table interms of systems discipline, system architecture and being able to maintain theservice levels and critical business applications for that organization, saidBird.

Individualsworking in the IT discipline that display what Bird refers to as “large systemsthinking” might be moved from an Intel or UNIX architecture into the mainframerole. “That’s how they typically develop skills in house,” he said.

“Mostorganizations that run mainframes today take individuals that show promise,”said Bird.

Butorganizations need to find other avenues as the demographics bubble grows, suchas hiring someone with IT skills who doesn’t have a mainframe background,someone who took evening courses through continuing education or hiring newtrainees that have mainframe background from college or university, he said.

Ryerson Universityin Torontoprovides certification courses on the mainframe for IT professionals who wantto enhance their resume or business skills. French speakers can turn to Cégepde Thetford in Thetford Mines,QC, which is preparing to launchan online program focused specifically on IBM’s mainframe. The first course isscheduled to run in the spring of 2010.

Whatmakes the mainframe platform attractive, according to Bird, is that it isviewed as a little exotic and unique. “I’ve been associated with it for 29years. It’s been a fantastic career for me,” he said.

“Onceyou understand the business value it drives, the people who have taken the timeto enhance their skills are very pleased to be working in that environmentbecause typically they are working for the Fortune 1000 in Canada,” saidBird.

Thehottest areas for IT employment today are positions at the front end of theapplications development lifecycle, according to Sapphire Technologies Canada.

Thisincludes business, analysts, project leaders, managers, and systems analysts,said Sapphire Canada president Sergio Mateus.

“Wesee most of the demand being primarily within the applications developmentfield, not so much on the infrastructure side,” he said.

As faras mainframe skills go, the national IT staffing firm is noticing increaseddemand for IT skills overall and expects the demand for mainframe specialistswill rise accordingly.

Whilethe firm hasn’t detected a particular rise in interest for mainframe skillsyet, the demand for mainstream specialists never really decreased to a greatextent either, Mateus pointed out. “Even through the downturn, we’ve seen thedemand stay consistent,” he said.

“Withinlarge organizations especially, so many legacy systems still have to beattended to and dealt with that the demand has always been there and I thinkthat going forward, that is going to at the very least stay the same, if notincrease,” said Mateus.

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