The US is facing multi-trillion-dollar deficits for years to come. A dysfunctional Congress can’t pass even the simplest of legislation without tacking on millions of dollars in earmarks. Yet, the House shut down its last mainframe computer, supposedly saving the taxpayers a whopping $750,000 a year in maintenance, fees, and energy costs. Watch the video of them pulling the plug here.
They have moved the applications to a variety of other servers and platforms, specifically x86 and UNIX servers running virtualization, according to Computerworld UK. Of course the mainframe has the most robust, industrial strength virtualization of them all, whatever.
The final mainframe was 13 years old. Computerworld UK quotes the House director of facilities as saying “It wasn’t the fastest box in the world. Some of our blades and some of our standard servers have more capability than that entire 8-cubic-foot box has. Technology-wise, it’s obviously been surpassed.”
No kidding. The mainframe has gotten considerably smaller, fastest, cheaper, more flexible, and far more energy efficient in the past 13 years. Heck, they could have picked up one of IBM’s latest System z Solution Editions that would give them a BC-class z10, software, middleware, three years of maintenance, and more for a bit over $200,000. Hmm, wonder what all those distributed x86 and UNIX systems and their upkeep are costing us taxpayers.
Driving this change appears to be the House’s intense desire for green computing. Remember, these are the people who seem to be having trouble passing legislation that would cut our dependence on foreign oil. With the new platforms and virtualization the House has virtualized a couple of hundred servers, which indeed saves energy. A System z would have done as well or better.
The real issue, however, was not energy but the decline of IT skills in the House. As Computerworld UK reported, quoting the House facilities director: “We really don’t have those [mainframe] skill sets in-house anymore. We try not to maintain architecture that we can’t support ourselves.”
I see messages daily from experienced mainframe people unemployed and looking for work, some of whom probably live in the DC area. All these years and the House couldn’t find any skilled mainframe people, who are they kidding?
The House is just the latest and possibly the most visible recent manifestation of a problem that has the potential to seriously undermine the future of the mainframe no matter how much IBM enhances its capabilities, dumbs down its operations, and cuts prices—the unwillingness of management to invest in cultivating people with mainframe interests.
This issue, which came up in the discussions around the Union Pacific Railroad’s decision to try to migrate off the mainframe—at which it apparently has not yet succeeded—appeared first in Network World and was taken up in this blog and elsewhere. It also was discussed at some length in this Mainframe Zone discussion.
If current IT managers perceive the mainframe as a costly, obsolete dinosaur heading to extinction they will not invest in cultivating mainframe skills no matter how wrong that perception is. This more than anything else will undermine the mainframe’s future and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.