Plugging the mainframe brain drain

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Hardware

In one important respect, the mainframe business is showing its age, as the people who know how to maintain these machines steadily join the ranks of the retired.

This marks a generational passing of the torch. In 1964, the popularity of the mainframe brought about a movement to train and educate engineers to become mainframe specialists. These engineers helped shape the next 20 years of IT innovation in corporations, as the mainframe became the IT environment for data and applications.

By the late 1980s, however, distributed systems began to push the mainframe into the background. Many mainframe specialists shifted into different--some might say sexier--jobs, while others simply retired.

These days, most computer science programs no longer offer comprehensive mainframe instruction. The absence of new blood comes as nearly 80 percent of the people who work in mainframe support are 50 years of age or older. With more than 70 percent of the world's digital information residing on the mainframe, companies are now hard-pressed to find skilled staff to support these critical systems.

In fact, more and more mainframe engineers are being called back into duty well past retirement age because of the knowledge they possess.

The bottom line: Without drastic measures, the mainframe and all the business-critical data it houses could someday become all but inaccessible. Here's what needs to happen to prevent that scenario from ever becoming real.

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