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Feature: Why mainframes are still around

Feature: Why mainframes are still around

Organisations are still using mainframes because they are resilient and can store large amounts of data securely, reports Hamish Barwick

The vendor view

Fujitsu Australia provides mainframe hardware and associated services to a range of customers in the Australian market. Fujitsu Australia's strategy, marketing and solutions director, Chris Gaskin, told CIO Australia that while people are looking to move some data onto x86 servers, customers still want to use the mainframe for sensitive information.

“The mainframe is resilient and it’s the most suitable platform for some of their mission critical data,” he said.

However, some of Fujitsu's local customers are finding it hard to recruit staff with mainframe programming skills. Mainframes require staff who understand COBOL.

“If you’re trying to find a Java or .NET programmer, it isn’t that difficult. Trying to find a COBOL programmer is very difficult because people who have learnt that are now getting older.”

Gaskin, who trained as a COBOL programmer, said that many of these programmers have moved on to new roles or retired.

“There is a perception among young programmers that mainframes are from an earlier era. If you are a young programmer, would you want to study Java or .NET with all of the benefits of that area or would you want to go and learn COBOL?”

Another issue, which is scaring young programmers off working on mainframes, is that some of the systems use green screens, said Gaskin.

Read: Legacy applications driving staff away, finds survey.

“Some of the young people have never seen green screens before and they’re used to a computer mouse and desktop computer screen.”

“There are thousands of those green screens around [in the mainframe world], so one of the things we offer is updating these [screens] to a more modern front end.”

By offering this service, the older mainframe programmers who are used to green screens can transition across slowly and the company can attract younger mainframe programmers.

According IBM Australia and New Zealand's server solutions leader, Andreas Wenzel, there will “continue to be future demand” for the mainframe in Australia.

“The adoption of new workloads, the unprecedented amounts of data generated by mobile, social [networking] and the Internet of Things, along with the shift to cloud [computing] will continue to drive future demand,” he said.

Wensel added that the IBM mainframe is part of everyday life for Australians.

“Whether you make a credit card payment or a bank transaction, the mainframe is enabling these everyday interactions. Mainframes enable US$6 trillion in card payments annually around the world.”

According to Wensel, 90 per cent of the world’s corporate data resides on, or originates from a mainframe.

“The mainframe provides high levels of availability, reliability, efficiency and security. It is essential for high volume and mission critical workloads.”

The Commonwealth Bank of Australia, National Australia Bank and ANZ Banking Group were contacted about their mainframe usage by CIO Australia but declined to comment.

Follow Hamish Barwick on Twitter: @HamishBarwick

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