CA World, Las Vegas – Like Mark Twain's death, the demise of the mainframe has been greatly exaggerated. But while the growth of the platform is healthy, it does face some massive challenges.
Dayton Semerjian, corporate senior vice-president and GM for CA Technologies’ Mainframe business unit, says that the company continues to invest heavily in the mainframe market.
"We've been investing significantly in mainframe for the last three years and that investment is going up," Semerjian says. "New licence growth was up 20% last year. The mainframe is alive and well, it's healthy and its growing.
"It was predicted by some that the mainframe would die by the year 2000 but Y2k, in fact heralded a renaissance which has seen the MIPs capacity grow by 300%," he says.
But while the mainframe picture may appear rosy, the platform does face some immense challenges.
"There are three main challenges facing mainframes at present," Semerjian says. "Firstly, how do we control costs? How do we do more with less and more with what we have? Then there is the matter of critical skills. The debate is over on whether or not the Baby Boomer generation is going to retire – the workforce of the mainframe demigraphic are moving to retire in the next five to seven years and they're taking huge knowledge with them which needs to be passed on to sustain the platform. This is a critical challenge facing organisations and the mainframe."
The third obstacle faced in the environment, he adds, hinges around increased agility.
But it is the second challenge that Semerjian feels is the biggest threat to the future of the mainframe.
"We've had a lot of great stuff happening in the mainframe market – we've updated over 120 products in the last 18 months; MSM has been the fastest-adopted program we've had, with 250 customers adopting it in its first 10 months," he says. "But there is still that one enormous challenge: sustaining mainframe skills and empowering these experts to pass on their skills.
"It is a huge challenge to become a mainframe expert and the current ones have grown up with and worked on the platform for 30 or 40 years," he continues. "There's no book you can read. It's an apprenticeship or mentorship where you work side by side for years to master the platform, and this is at risk because of this ageing workforce."
Semerjian says that before developing CA Mainframe Chorus, which could be a major aid in combatting this problem, the company conducted extensive research among both students and mainframe experts.
"Graduates today are the Net Generation," he says. "They don't open a book, they read on their iPads, they don't congregate around the watercooler, so to speak, they Facebook, they Twitter."
Through the research, Semerjian says CA learnt three key lessons going forward into development.
"We learnt that the integration of tools is important; we realised we had to have rich visualisation; and, lastly, that mainframe management was conducted through sticky notes and that collaboration is the sharing of a notebook where notes have been made."
All of these features, he says, have been incorporated into Chorus which has now been rolled out to beta.
"Chorus features rich visualisation as well as an integrated role-based workplace that is customisable just like a Google homepage," he says. "It truly is extraordinary and it is the only product like this in the entire market.
"It's what the database and security will look like in the future," Semerjian says.