Montana Sidelines the Mainframe

Over the past 20+ years DancingDinosaur has written this story numerous times. It never ends exactly the way they think it will. Here is the one I encountered this past week.

IBM z15

But that doesn’t stop the pr writers from finding a cute way to write the story. This time the  writers turned to references to the moon landings and trilby hats (huh?). Looks like a Fedora to me, but what do I know; I only wear baseball hats. But they always have to come up with something that makes the mainframe sound completely outdated. In this case they wrote: Mainframe computers, a technology that harkens back to an era of moon landings and men in trilby hats, are still widely used throughout government, but not in Montana for much longer.

At least they didn’t write that the mainframe was dead and gone or forgotten. Usually, I follow up on stories like this months later and call whichever IT person is still there. I congratulate him or her and ask how it went. That’s when I usually start hearing ums and uhs. It turns out the mainframe is still there, handling those last few jobs they just can’t replace yet.

Depending on how playful I’m feeling that day, I ask him or her what happened to the justification presented at the start of the project. Or I might ask what happened to the previous IT person. 

Sometimes, I might even refer them to a recent DancingDinosaur piece that explains about Linux on the mainframe or Java or describes mainframes running the latest Docker container technology or microservices. I’m not doing this for spite; I’m just trying to build up my readership. DancingDinosaur hates losing any reader, even if it’s late in their game.  So I always follow up with a link to DancingDinosaur

In an interview published by StateScoop, Chief Information Officer Tim Bottenfield described how for the last several years, the last remaining agencies using the state’s mainframe have migrated their data away from it and are now developing modern applications that can be moved to the state’s private and highly virtualized cloud environment. By spring 2021, Montana expects to be mainframe-free. Will make a note to call Bottenfield in Spring 2021 and see how they are doing.  Does anyone want to bet if the mainframe actually is completely out of service and gone by then?

As you all know, mainframes can be expensive to maintain, particularly if it’s just to keep a handful of applications running, which usually turn out to be mission-critical applications. Of the three major applications Montana still runs on its mainframe, two are used by the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, which is in the process of recoding those programs to work on modern platforms, as if the z15 isn’t  modern.

They haven’t told us whether these applications handle payments or deliver critical services to citizens. Either way it will not be pretty if such applications go down. The third is the state’s vehicle titling and registration system, which is being rebuilt to run out of the state’s data center. Again, we don’t know much about the criticality of these systems. But think how you might feel if you can’t get accurate or timely information from one of these systems. I can bet you wouldn’t be a happy camper; neither would I.

Systems like these are difficult to get right the first time, if at all. This is especially true if you will be using the latest hybrid cloud and services technologies. Yes, skilled mainframe people are hard to find and retain but so are any technically skilled and experienced people. If I were a decade younger, I could be attracted to the wide open spaces of Montana as a relief from the congestion of Boston. But I’m not the kind of hire Montana needs or wants. Stay tuned for when I check back in Spring 2021.

DancingDinosaur is Alan Radding, a veteran information technology analyst, writer, and ghost-writer. Follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog, and see more of his work at http://technologywriter.com/ 

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