So the mainframe blogosphere has already written up and down about the new zBC12 mainframe that IBM announced yesterday. Big woopdie do. So what that it’s harder, better, faster, stronger? Most millennials don’t even know what the hell a mainframe is, let along why they should care about a faster one. In contrast, here are four reasons that Millennials should care about the mainframe announcements.
- The old-school mainframe stuff is getting more user friendly. At present, most IT professionals that work on mainframes use an interface known as a 3270 “green screen” terminal. However, Millennials have probably never seen an actual 3270 terminal, unless they play the Bethesda Software Fallout series. This is because older mainframe professionals have adopted a “ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude and used 3270 emulators on their PCs or tablets. While 3270 isn’t a deal-breaker, it can be annoying as hell to Millennials when they first discover that their laptop keyboards seem to be missing many critical mainframe keys (um. Where’s the reset key?) or that 3270 isn’t character-oriented like UNIX terminals, but stuck with 80 x 24 character panels that behave statically and are difficult to resize. Well, the mainframe leadership has recently come around and realized that the future vitality of the mainframe is tied to making interfaces more full-featured and attractive. This is reflected in the latest announcements, which feature deeper integration of web-based management consoles into z/OS (the workhorse operating system for massive databases, analytics, and transaction processing) and z/VM (the hypervisor used to run Linux workloads). On the z/OS side, the z/OS Management Facility has become Larry Page snappy due to a move to a lightweight TomCat-like app server called Liberty Profile. Additionally, it’s learned new skills and can now do many things BETTER than old-school methods. On z/VM, the new version comes preinstalled with a nifty management GUI called xCAT, but it’s likely that IBM’s purchase of CSL recently means that the xCAT will be replaced by an even niftier CSL-Wave and its “lickable GUI.” The bottom line is that while the legacy 3270 interfaces currently remain critical for mainframe professionals, the newer web portals are rapidly catching up in functionality and usability, making Millennial Mainframers far more productive.
- The new-school mainframe is getting more millennial. While there are still a fair amount of CICS applications written in COBOL out there, Java and Linux workloads are the largest growth areas on mainframes, accounting for more than half of mainframe sales over the past few quarters. That’s largely because IBM has committed to pricing these sorts of workloads lower than the old-school stuff, resulting in double digit revenue growth and shipped mainframe capacity. Given that this is what most millennials learn in school, this shift very much plays to our advantages. Our learning curves become that much less steep, as we actually get a chance to teach our older mentors a thing or two about tech. Plus, we feel a bit more vindicated for racking up all that student debt for Linux and Java coursework.
- The mainframe is lifting off into the clouds. Unlike the trope that the “mainframe has already been a cloud” or that “cloud is just marketing-speak,” the mainframe is actually starting to resemble what the market actually considers cloud computing. With z/VM 6.3, Linux virtualization on the mainframe is now OpenStack compliant, which means that any OpenStack-based infrastructure can orchestrate and manage these workloads. While Amazon is still the dominant cloud vendor (and seems to have kicked IBM’s ass in a fight for the CIA’s private cloud), IBM’s alliance with Rackspace and deep investments in the open-source OpenStack community position seem to be helping position the mainframe for cloud data centers.
- The Mainframe is critical to IBM’s future and Millennial talent is critical to the Mainframe. If the trade rags are to be believed, IBM has long been in discussions with the Chinese tech giant Lenovo over selling IBM’s Intel-based server division. These systems are the sorts of “industry-standard” systems that power most major data centers, but given that these servers are now considered a commodity, most major internet companies have stopped buying their server infrastructure from tech vendors and build their own or order from low-cost third parties. If IBM were to disengage from this market, they would likely increase their focus on mainframes and POWER-based systems. IBM software and services would continue to support Intel-servers, but there would likely be incented to support and grow footprints of IBM systems running IBM processors. Between the fact that mainframes are more profitable for IBM and that the mainframe’s z/Architecture is ideally suited for the sorts of high I/O workloads of a shared-everything cloud data center, I predict that mainframes would greatly benefit from this turn of events. This in turn would mean that millennials that position themselves for this sea change would profit handsomely.
So that’s why Millennials should give a damn about these new announcements. If you’re a millennial and you read this entire article, mad kudos. Consider hooking up with Millennial Mainframer by clicking one of the social login buttons and setting up a profile. Our community of young mainframers would love to help you get your mainframe swag on. Speaking of swag, think about checking out the IBM Master the Mainframe Contest, where you can win glory, T-Shirts, iPads, and full-expense paid trips to Poughkeepsie, NY (Hells Bells!). The new iteration of the contest should be kicking off in most countries in the near future. If you try it and like it, maybe then check out the world’s first Mainframe Computing MOOC from Marist College. Once you’ve done all that, you can lean back old-g style and represent za za za za za zee-unit by racking up stack of achievements here on Millennial Mainframer.