Mainframes have relied on Cobol and assembler as their programming languages. But these days, not a lot of people are teaching these languages or mainframe management, Semerjian says. Meanwhile, today's university students are preoccupied with learning newer technologies such as .Net and Java. "Despite the fact that [mainframe] apps are core to so many large businesses, to newer programmers there's not as much sizzle in learning mainframe programming," Vallely says.
Vendors addressing the mainframe skills gap
Despite this looming gap, only recently have universities and companies placed an emphasis on developing mainframe skills, Vallely says.
CA, Compuware, and IBM all are seeking to address the skills gap with educational programs and/or tools. For example, CA's mainframe management product, CA Mainframe Chorus, features a graphical interface and knowledge capture intended to modernize the mainframe experience to appeal to today's programmers and require less upfront knowledge.
Compuware helps customers with their internal training programs and offers a staffing service. It also provides tools such as Xpediter for debugging and analyzing mainframe applications, as well as File-Aid for file and data management and data analysis.
IBM's Academic Initiative for System Z mainframes enables schools to teach System Z and assists with skills development, to create a pool of mainframe programmers and systems engineers for its customers.
IBM opens the mainframe to contemporary Linux
Another approach to deal with the looming mainframe skills shortage is to move mainframes to modern operating systems. For example, IBM's z/OS is no longer the only game in town when it comes to IBM mainframe operating systems; these mainframes can now run the more contemporary Linux OS. IDC analyst Jean Bozman says that, as of its last check in 2009, 30 percent of all System Z mainframes ship with at least one Linux instance, known as Integrated Facility for Linux.
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