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Where Are We and How Did We Get Here?

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:38 PM


Welcome to the future. Just think: Within two years we’ll have 2020 hindsight! And retrospectively, we’re each likely to have pondered predictions for where we’d be by now.

I know I did. I even published whitepapers, articles and other creative writing on the subject, beginning before the turn of the millennium. By 2004, I had a fair amount of experience validating and fine-tuning my predictions by the time I wrote my original whitepaper on mainframe continuity planning in October of 2004, followed by publishing articles and presenting about it during the years that followed.

I even gave a presentation about it at SHARE in Anaheim in February of 2005, which was apparently one of the factors that led to zNextGen, though I can’t claim to be one of the two official founders (that important distinction belongs to Iris Rivera of IBM and Kristine Bastin—then Harper—who attended her first SHARE a generation earlier in her mother’s womb).

It’s been 12 years since I predicted we were all going to run out of mainframe professionals if we didn’t begin to plan for the future. So what happened? First of all, we’re all mostly still standing—though many of our mainframe colleagues have now begun to move on to other pastures. And thanks to initiatives such as zNextGen, a new generation on the mainframe is slowly beginning to form.

But in many ways, as they say, “big ships turn slowly.” And the ship of mainframe IT is about as big of a juggernaut the world of business computing has ever seen (for more on this, see my article and SHARE presentations on “Three Tsunamis and a Boat”). In staying true to the momentum of our good legacy and deliberately building a quality legacy for the future, we’ve perhaps moved a bit more slowly that some of us might have hoped.

Nevertheless, we’re still moving. The time has come to document our progress and offer some predictions and action items as future steps of where we can or should be going. That’s what I’ll do over the course of three articles on mainframe continuity planning, starting with a brief and frank assessment of our progress.

Looking Back

Back in 2004, I asserted that we needed to respond in a combination of one or more of the following ways:

  1. Move off the mainframe (which would require much planning, skill and effort)
  2. Move to an outsourcer (which, if done, should be for the right reasons)
  3. Hire or contract skill and experience (which would be subject to the laws of supply and demand)
  4. Adopt an in-house mainframe continuity strategy (for business continuity and security)

While I recognized the relevance of the first three options, I was quite transparent about favoring the fourth as a key approach that the other three should only legitimately be exercised to serve. Because I worked for a software vendor at the time, I didn’t address the creation of technical solutions as a separate strategy, but rather characterized them as available to support the other four options.

Another thing I didn’t address with much depth was the subcategory of outsourcing as off-shoring or the fact that outsourcing is often combined in many ways with offshore, near-shore and local “insourcing.”

Where Are We Now?

In more recent years, I’ve seen the emergence of a substantial cohort of mainframers who are from, and often still based in, non-North American and non-Western European geographies. Whether mainframers are formed and remain in their home geographies, or change geographies to be closer to their employers’ main offices or clients at some point, we’re seeing a much wider representation of humanity taking on mainframe careers. This is having some interesting results—including new subcultures formed from a combination of expectations from originating culture, a cohort of new mainframers, newly defined available career paths and meeting expectations with more “traditional” western mainframe cultures.

Concurrently, mainframe solution providers have continued to work hard to move the space forward and respond to the demographic as well as business challenges of the platform. They’ve created solutions with varying degrees of success to enable “digital natives” who came of age in the context of non-mainframe platforms to deal with the entire enterprise using the skill sets they grew up with, minimizing their need to adapt to our unique mainframe ways.

Finally, mainframe shops themselves have changed in at least three important ways:

  1. Shops with light enough workloads where power, reliability, availability, security and scalability of the mainframe were seen as optional have often self-winnowed, moving to platforms that have a much broader prevalence.
  2. Shops that were so deeply invested in the unique strengths of the mainframe that they couldn’t move off if they tried (and heaven knows many of them have tried, at great expense with disappointing results) have continued to grow, and in many cases do so through mergers and acquisitions, which often meant the joining of multiple mainframe corporate cultures and configurations.
  3. Brand new shops have begun to arrive, often (but not always) building on the strength of the world-class Linux/VM platform offerings that IBM has designed.

In the next article in this series, I’ll look at the issues and challenges these outcomes are entailing, and then I’ll conclude the series with ideas and strategies for turning weaknesses into strengths and threats into opportunities.