IBM Destination Z - Group home

Mainframes, Millennials and Mission

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:23 PM

The impending retirement of mainframe veterans is clearly a critical issue for every company running its core business applications on IBM z Systems mainframes. Unfortunately, most discussions around the need for a generational shift in mainframe stewardship seem to assume that IT needs to somehow recruit a few millennials to fill caretaking roles for the platform in order to extend its life for a few years before its inevitable demise.

This is an absurd assumption for two reasons:

  1. The mainframe is as vital as ever. Everyone who ever predicted the death of the mainframe has been wrong—and has revealed a fundamental lack of understanding about what the mainframe is and what it does. The debut of the IBM z13 system demonstrates once again that the mainframe is the most powerful, reliable, secure, scalable and cost-efficient platform on the planet. That’s why it hosts more code and more data with greater economic value than all other platforms combined.
  2. Millennials are missional. The best and the brightest of them won’t be lured into “temporary caretaker” positions when what they are really looking to do is change the world with code. And anyone who wants anything less than the best and the brightest running the platform on which their core systems of record run is making a big and sadly naïve mistake. Excellence has always been the hallmark of the mainframe—and undermining that excellence creates unacceptable risk.
So what is the right principle on which to predicate the generational shift of mainframe stewardship from retiring veterans to missional millennials?


Innovation addresses both of the bad assumptions most people make about the generational shift.

First, a focus on innovation entails recognition of the fact that the mainframe is an extremely vibrant platform that hosts high-value intellectual property that needs to be aggressively leveraged and advanced, not merely maintained. Companies ignore the need to continue innovating on the mainframe at their own peril—especially given how important it is to leverage mainframe code and data in support of key imperatives such as mobile, big data and analytics, and the Internet of Things.

Second, a focus on innovation entails recognition of the fact that that’s what the best and the brightest millennials desire for their work lives. Mainframe innovation is missional. It is also extremely necessary and economically compelling. Any company that sets mission-minded millennials loose on the z13 platform will quickly discover that they can do things that are incredibly impactful—and that simply can’t be done on poorly managed and inadequately secured amalgamations of VMs running on who-knows-how-many commodity boxes. And that’s exciting.

So if you’re an IT leader trying to figure out how you can draft some young engineers to maintain your mainframe for another few years, stop. That’s not a worthwhile endeavor. Instead, get excited about how you can aggressively leverage the power of your mainframe and your mainframe application portfolio in highly innovative ways. Then share your excitement with a millennial—and see what happens.

Chris O’Malley is president and CEO of