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August 05, 2008

Mainframe Career Trends in the Age of Outsourcing

Many in IT are worried about losing their jobs to foreign companies that provide cheap labor. As a consultant I've worked for many U.S. companies that have trimmed U.S. staff by moving the jobs to overseas outsourcing firms. I've even trained the people in these countries to perform the work that I was doing.

As a mainframe professional you've also probably seen jobs being lost to projects that are moving applications off the System z and z/OS platform to cheaper platforms like Linux, UNIX or Windows. In addition, companies are feeling the pressure to move to these other platforms because of the shortage of skilled people who know and understand z/OS, COBOL, DB2 or JCL. Because these servers are cheap, most IT professionals coming out of college and foreign countries only have Linux, UNIX and/or Windows experience using mySQL, SQL Server, Oracle and DB2 for LUW.

With many z/OS professionals reaching retirement age and leaving the workforce, the problem is becoming critical. The question in everybody's mind is will the mainframe die a slow death? Should the average mainframe professional in the U.S. worry about having a job in 10, five, or even two years from now?

Of course, no one has a crystal ball. But to try and answer these questions, we can look at trends in the market. For this week and next, I'll provide a brief overview of these trends.

Legislation

It's true: Many jobs have been lost and many people have had to change careers due to the large number of jobs being sent overseas.  This trend has impacted all IT professionals on all platforms (z/OS, Linux, UNIX and Windows). But organizations like WashTech are helping with the fight to save IT jobs in the U.S. WashTech provides relevant information in this area, including steps to contact members of Congress.

Lower Cost of System z and DB2

Are companies moving away from the mainframe due to the cost? From the research I've read and the people I've talked to, I know that IBM is being aggressive in its efforts to keep the System z and z/OS financially attractive to customers. With new, specialized CPUs like zIIP (which offloads DB2 workload from the main CPU), zAAP (which runs Java and XML workloads) and zIFL (which runs Linux), IBM is reducing the total cost of ownership for running existing applications and providing incentive for new customers to move to the System z platform.

Another way IBM is keeping System z hardware attractive is by allowing the consolidation of application servers to the platform. This very good article on this topic highlights the trend of companies consolidating separate application servers back into a single System z machine, while improving total cost of ownership.

What this article doesn't make clear is that these servers are being consolidated to Linux running on the specialized zIFL processor.

IBM is also providing incentives to run applications on z/OS through reduced software pricing. An example is the new DB2 for z/OS Value Unit Edition, which has a one-time charge.

Educating the Next Generation

To address the lack of mainframe-specific curriculum within the computer science programs at our local colleges and universities, IBM has started the IBM Academic Initiative System z program.

This program provides a low-cost alternative to schools that can't afford to purchase a mainframe by allowing them to use a shared mainframe. The IBM z program Web site lists schools that are participating in the program and providing a comprehensive enterprise systems curriculum, and as well as those that are growing their program.

Next week I'll examine other trends relating to application development.