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Need persists for mainframe storage skills

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MAINFRAME STORAGE systems, once the default setup for enterprises, have been supplanted in many businesses by open-systems networked storage. Seemingly passé mainframe skills like Cobol haven't disappeared, but what about mainframe administration?

Barry Katz, a mainframe storage management pro at IBM, believes that's where the shortage will occur. "If all the mainframe storage folks went to a desert island, over time, applications would stop running," he says.

Mainframe batch environments use the JCL scripting language to run jobs. JCL uses space parameters that define how much space should be allocated to a data set (the mainframe's file). Over time, data set sizes change and space parameters are no longer accurate. Affected applications suffer continuous application space abnormal ends, and might not complete on time. "If there's no experienced storage management people with the skills to analyze that space change, whoever's around will guess what the changes should be and cross their fingers," says Katz.

By Katz's estimate, such data allocation problems account for 75% of mainframe storage management tasks. Software tools help, "but the day-to-day managing issues are still there," says Katz. "We still have to educate programmers on how to allocate their space."

Some mainframe storage managers may put their retirement on hold

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to become independent consultants. But "they'll get tired of that," says Katz. "They won't want to be called at 2 a.m. when they're 72 years old."

Jay Wallace, Sun's director of mainframe storage marketing, and previously the marketing manager for the IBM z10, says IBM and Sun have begun initiatives to counter the problem. "IBM plans to train 20,000 new people in the mainframe arena by 2010," he notes. Sun is busy, too. One of its drives is "to simplify mainframe software from line mode to GUI factor, to make mainframe storage operations simpler for folks not brought up on line mode," notes Wallace.

"When I finally retire from the [mainframe] industry," he adds, "I have no doubt there will be fresh blood coming along."

Katz has another solution. "If I were in charge," he says, "[I'd mandate that] if you go into storage, you must be able to support the mainframe and open systems, not one or the other."

--Peter Bochner

This was first published in April 2008

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