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CA Updates Mainframe Software and People

The mainframe continues to defy declarations of its demise and have found new life, rejuvenated by cloud computing and virtualization technologies, but some of the software hasn't changed in decades -- and the same can be said about the people who run them.

"The Achilles heel of the mainframe is that the management infrastructure and the people who take care of it have gotten older and older," said Mark Combs, senior vice president and general manager for products at CA's mainframe business unit. "Colleges and universities are not teaching these skills, so when people retire, there's no natural way to replace them."

CA (NASDAQ:CA) has decided to invest in solving the problem through its Mainframe 2.0 initiative. It is developing software that simplifies management such as Mainframe Software Manager, announced today and free to existing CA mainframe customers. It is also investing in "young mainframers" around the world by hiring university graduates and by investing in teaching programs at educational institutions.

The news comes as cloud computing and virtualization technologies are allowing connected, off-the-shelf hardware to challenge the power of the mainframe. Just recently, VMware called its latest product, vSphere 2.0, "the mainframe of the 21st century."

Virtualization is also driving mainframe growth, however. "Mainframes were always highly virtualized," said Combs. "The box costs a lot but in terms of management, it takes the same number of people to take care of a 5,000 MIPs box as it does a 10,000 MIPs box."

Mainframes are ready for virtualization and designed to be reliable, green, secure, and resilient. "They deliver lower energy consumption and require less floor space," said Combs.

The channel is betting on the mainframe, too. Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) now have 5,000 applications running on mainframes, up from just 1,000 a few years ago, and are adding more regularly, said Joe Clabby, president of Clabby Analytics, in an e-mail to InternetNews.com.

In the mainframe market, demand comes from companies running SAP on Linux in mature markets and also from significant customers developing nations such as India and China that may make the leap directly from a system based on paper to one running on a mainframe.

Mainframes make sense to banks in these markets for two reasons, Clabby wrote. "1) mainframes are easy to deploy as banking systems -- all the software you'll ever need to run a bank can be found on a mainframe; and, 2) Mainframes are energy efficient and take up small footprints (as opposed to distributed systems)."

Demand comes more from existing customers that are adding apps to their mainframe than from new customers, Combs said. He added that there are some specific areas where there are new customers, such as Asia. In Asia, some companies are transitioning from old Hitachi, Fujitsu, or other proprietary mainframes to IBM's open standards-based product.

Big piece of metal outside, GUI inside

But mainframes are seen as difficult to manage, a problem that CA seeks to solve with its Mainframe Software Manager. "It is a software package for installing and maintaining products on the mainframe and for maintaining an inventory of products. It eases maintenance and the installation of new products and new releases."

That might not seem complex. After all, most PC servers already have software that does that. But in order to create this package, CA had to build a library of mainframe commands and error messages and design a GUI that could translate green screen CLI complexity to colorful GUI simplicity (however, those who want to use the CLI are still able to do so).

CA is also training new developers, showing them that they can use the skills they already have. "A lot of people still think that you have to know COBOL to develop for the mainframe," said Lubo Slivka, a 29-year-old senior team lead at CA's development facility in Prague in a statement. "At CA, however, I learned that I can use my Java and C++ skills to build solutions for the IBM z/OS platform, which is what the biggest corporations use to run their largest and most critical business applications."