Help wanted: business application archaeologists…
Teaching mainframe skills is out of vogue at many universities with the advent of newer approaches to solving the biggest computing challenges. At the same time, many of the engineers capable of tinkering with the refrigerator-sized machines are nearing retirement. The average age of mainframe workers is 55 to 60, according to Dayton Semerjian, a senior vice-president at CA Technologies (CA), the second-largest maker of software for mainframe computers after IBM. "The big challenge with the mainframe is that the group that has worked on it—the Baby Boomers—is retiring," Semerjian says. "The demographics are inescapable. If this isn't addressed, it will be trouble for the platform."
From the second page of the article:
The number of mainframes today has dropped to about 10,000, from 30,000 to 40,000 in earlier decades, according to research firm IDC. The decline is partly related to the emergence of newer, competing technologies, including servers based on Intel (INTC) semiconductors. It also reflects that newer mainframes are more adept at computing and can handle work that previously took more than one machine, Resnik says. In July, IBM introduced a new version that executives say can run up to 60 percent faster than the previous model, using the same amount of power and cutting service costs by as much as 70 percent. While they account for an estimated $3.4 billion in average annual sales—less than 4 percent of IBM's total, according to analysts—mainframes are a high-margin business, generating additional software and services revenues. Margins for mainframes are about 70 percent, compared with 46 percent for the company's margins as a whole, according to Collins Stewart.
A tidy business for IBM -- while it lasts…
On a related note, check this recently-published 2002 interview with computer science pioneer Edsger W. Dijkstra, who shared some longer-term IBM mainframe perspectives, including
Of course, 1964 was the year in which IBM announced the 360. I was extremely cross with Gerry Blaauw, because there were serious flaws built into the I/O organization of that machine.7 He should have known about the care that has to go into the design of such things, but that was clearly not a part of the IBM culture. In my Turing Lecture I described the week that I studied the specifications of the 360, it was [laughter] the darkest week in my professional life. In a NATO Conference on Software Engineering in 1969 in Rome,11 I characterized the Russian decision to build a bit-compatible copy of the IBM 360 as the greatest American victory in the Cold War.