Dear IT graduate, just one word: Mainframes
Many companies are once more recentralizing IT functions
IDG News Service - Imagine today's computer science students experiencing the kind of cocktail party thrown for Benjamin Braddock by his parents in the 1967 movie The Graduate. As the students ponder their futures, various figures sidle up with one-word suggestions for careers. "Java," "Linux" and "Internet" you'd expect to hear whispered, but "mainframes"? Not so much.
"The mainframe has had one of the worst PR campaigns of the last 15 years," said mainframe analyst Mike Kahn, managing director of research firm The Clipper Group Inc. in Wellesley, Mass. "In the mid-'90s, the mainframe was declared dead by the industry, and that wasn't so far from the truth."
The mainframe's value proposition was completely out of sync with what was going on in the mid-1990s as companies embraced PCs and decentralized business operations, Kahn said. Today, however, many organizations are looking once more at centralizing their IT functions, so the mainframe is swinging back into favor in some quarters.
Opportunities in big iron are also on the rise as companies look to replace the staffers who have been tending the computer behemoths and are now heading for retirement. At the same time, firms in China, parts of Eastern Europe and elsewhere have recently purchased or are looking to invest in mainframes as they beef up their computing power.
Through work with educational institutions and corporations, and under the banner of its Academic Initiative, IBM has committed to having 20,000 mainframe-trained professionals in the global market by 2010. Big Blue hopes to double the number of universities and colleges worldwide signing up for its zSeries mainframe courses from 150 last month to 300 by the end of this year. Factoring in sales of associated software and storage, analysts estimate that IBM's mainframe business generates about 25% of the company's revenue.
"It's not an issue hiring people with mainframe skill sets, but we are having difficulty in finding young people [with those skills]," said Murray McBain, vice president of technology at the Royal Bank of Canada, an industry sponsor of the IBM mainframe program. He has been working with the faculty at Mohawk College, one of the Canadian educational institutions offering the IBM course in big iron.
When addressing computer science students at Mohawk, the first thing McBain did was to bring them up to date on mainframes and their role in computing. "When we talked about Java, SOA and multiple operating systems, you could see it clicking," he said. "They weren't falling asleep on us; we were using terms they understood."
When he visited Mohawk, McBain took three of his senior managers
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