In an effort to meet the challenge, IBM and the Share user community are launching a program aimed at filling the 20,000 mainframe positions that are expected to become available as the long-serving operators of the machines retire. The program is called "zNextGen" and it will make resources available to IT students and young professionals interested in building careers in IBM mainframe computing.
"There's going to be a big hole to fill," said Share president Robert Rosen in an interview. "If you look at the requirements, we'll need 20,000 people."
The problem can be traced to the professional IT cadre that cut its MIS teeth on the IBM 360, announced in the 1960s. They are beginning to retire, Rosen said, noting that the retirements will accelerate in coming years. In particular demand now are Java, Linux, and SOA (service-oriented architecture) skills.
Rosen said expertise in SOA is a growing need in IT as more mainframe-based configurations are needed to share increased data and networking loads. SOA is also a hallmark of the growing need for the IT professional who has a combination of technical and business skills. "SOA is the hot new buzz word," said Rosen.
"An experienced technical person can make $70,000 to $80,000," Rosen said. "Someone with management skills can make $100,000 or more. It's all moving toward becoming a sellers market."
Rosen and IBM executives have noted that mainframe security features--developed over decades--are driving robust sales. "More than ever, companies are looking to the mainframe to protect and manage the security of customer information, comply with federal regulations and reduce the complexity of their operations," said Mike Bliss, director of IBM System z9 and zSeries, in a statement.
Pledging to train 20,000 mainframe-literate IT professionals by 2010, IBM is strengthening its IBM Academic Initiative Program for the Mainframe at more than 150 universities around the world. Launched in 2003, university involvement in the program has grown 650 percent in the past year, the firm said.
Bliss noted that students, already familiar with PC computing, are often surprised to learn that new virtualization and security features on UNIX and x86 systems had their origins on mainframe computing.
IBM said it has been developing programs across the world including in Poland, Australia, and China. The company said it has donated modern mainframe equipment to seven universities in China and is expecting its program will produce 10,000 mainframe-literate professionals there.
Rosen and IBM pointed to the success of the IBM-supported program at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., near IBM's mainframe headquarters. An IBM mainframe housed through the Marist program is accessed remotely by schools in the U.S. and overseas.
Rosen said a program at Northern Illinois University has also focused on training mainframe specialists. "Their graduates are snapped up quickly," he said.