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The Evolution of Mainframe Education

The average age of a mainframer is 58 years old. Yes, most of us have gray hair and wear Aerosmith tee shirts to work. The task at hand is how do we pass the baton of mainframe knowledge to the next class of mainframers that will support the massive mainframe ecosystem that runs our world economy.

The Kyndryl Internship Program

In mid-year 2022, I had the extreme pleasure to work with several talented mainframe interns who were members of the inaugural Kyndryl Internship Program. The program had approximately 80 participants and covered several project areas for Kyndryl. The internship’s duration was 12 weeks, and our mainframe discipline was in the Raleigh-Durham area. Our mainframe architect interns all had that “fire in the belly” that I value so highly in work ethics.

The Kyndryl mainframe internship experience was that of an introductory mainframe architect. The intern was exposed to z Systems lab work, architect tools, disruptive topics, architectural thinking and Team Solution Design methodologies. Real-life customer experience with the zCloud team and customer shadowing was also part of the regimen. A team presentation at the end of the internship was used to review the skills and understanding obtained during the experience. The intern acquired a basic understanding of why mainframe architecture is so important and needed in modern industry. The intern was exposed to a variety of tools, processes, methodologies, hands-on lab work and architecture of the modern mainframe.

One of the assignments in our internship was the completion of disruptive technology research papers. Our five Kyndryl mainframe architect interns did a fantastic job in the construction and presentation of their assigned topics. The papers were in direct support of our mainframe strategy with the thought of, the right workload for the right platform. Here’s a look at what each of the five interns crafted:

Joshua Igwe // East Carolina University

Joshua Igwe, a senior at East Carolina University, authored a paper on the topic of the mainframe and Google Cloud Platform (GCP). Joshua stated: “What they are really seeking to do is modernize the applications that live on the mainframe and enable them for faster innovation, agility and reduce the cost of maintaining them on the mainframe. Google specifically, plans to do this by moving certain applications off the mainframe, having them run on GCP, while adding new capabilities. Without access to certain data and information held on the mainframe platform there’s no way to take advantage of the vast amount of data that sits idle. The sharing of data between the mainframe and GCP environments will also allow for systems across an organization to exchange information between core business applications and front-end applications which is huge. GCP is looking to ‘Evolve software capabilities for faster and frequent business updates. Use technologies such as GKE [Google Kubernetes Engine] and DevOps toolchains alongside your on-premises workloads to accelerate time to market.’ ”

Ayub Hamza // Tennessee State University

Ayub Hamza, a senior at Tennessee State University, authored his paper on the mainframe and its relationship to Amazon Web Services (AWS). One of the biggest advantages of AWS is cost. Many companies find themselves buying big computers with storage and a lot of the storage goes unused. With AWS, companies can pay as they go. If they need to store a specific data that will store 200GB of storage, they pay for that amount and when they need more they’ll pay when they need some more. With the mainframe, companies must predict how much they would need, and if their prediction is wrong and they buy too much, they would have wasted money. Amazon computing provides users with a unique opportunity for users to focus on their business objectives. It helps users with all technology aspects of their businesses such as storage, maintenance, and procurement. With the capacity, users pay as they go and only pay for the storage that they need so that they don’t buy unused spaces.

David Gums // East Carolina University

David Gums, a senior at East Carolina University, authored a paper on the topic of Azure and the mainframe. Although there seems to be a big push toward completely moving off the mainframe and into cloud systems, it is important to keep in mind what both bring to the table and how they can be used in unison. By focusing on the strengths of each platform, we come to a more hybrid environment instead of one or the other. Specifically, Azure has many partnerships that offer tools to allow for ease of moving data into their cloud environment while allowing that data to be analyzed at a deeper level. These partnerships speed up application development by leveraging the cloud’s adaptability and flexibility to implement new tools more quickly in the enterprise.

Joseph Hocking // Northern Illinois University

Joseph Hocking, a senior at Northern Illinois University, authored his paper on the topic of mainframe optimization and application modernization. The mainframe is still the go-to option for companies looking for reliability, availability, and serviceability. The importance of the mainframe cannot be understated. Another major point is that the mainframe is modern, rather it is mainframe optimization through process modernization and application modernization. Optimizing the mainframe involves modernizing the processes and the applications that run on it. Modernization refers to changing things to increase efficiency. He stated why improving COBOL, implementing Zowe, and utilizing Db2 is mainframe optimization. He also explained why APIs, containers, hybrid cloud environments, and DevOps are integral to application modernization.

Eric Stoddard // Northern Illinois University

Last but certainly not least, Eric Stoddard, a senior at Northern Illinois University, authored his paper on the topic of Red Hat Skupper. Skupper is an implementation of a Virtual Application Network (VAN). It is a free and open-source project that is currently being developed by Red Hat. “Skupper uses the Apache Qpid Dispatch Router as its VAN router,” states Ted Ross in his blog article, “Virtual Application Networks for Hybrid Cloud Interconnect.” “Dispatch Router is a lightweight AMQP message router for building scalable, available, and performant messaging networks,” according to Apache Qpid’s Distpatch overview. “A VAN lets IP do what it is good at (fast and reliable north/south connection of everything) and introduces a new layer of addressing for fine grained application components with no constraints on who can talk to whom. Whereas TCP/IP addressing uses a host:port pair to refer to an endpoint, VAN addressing uses arbitrary strings to refer to endpoints directly,” explains Ross in the blog article.

This method of addressing allows application services to communicate directly to one another. More importantly, it allows services to connect to the network using the same address. In his article, Ross also mentions this concept “provides network-wide multicast delivery and anycast load balancing.” Skupper’s VAN implementation is not limited to cloud-based application services. If a dispatch router is installed on-site, private application services, such as those contained within a mainframe environment, can be tied into the VAN network. For example, if you are developing a cloud-native application that needs to access a database housed in a mainframe environment, a dispatch router could be installed on the mainframe to tie in the service of retrieving the data into the rest of the application. This would make the task of retrieving data quick (low latency) and safe by leveraging the capabilities of a VAN.

Input From Jonathan Dietz

I asked Jonathan Dietz, vice president of core enterprise and zCloud of Kyndryl, for his thoughts on this topic and he recently stated: “On the topic of education, I would start with the fact that education is one of the best gifts we can give to anyone. With that said, educating people in an area that gives them an advantage in the marketplace over others, well that is a blessing! Mainframes are not going away and the demands for mainframers is anticipated to grow at a sizeable rate over the next 10 years.

Keeping up With Mainframe Education

As an adjunct professor with Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston, I have authored and delivered my Enterprise Computing class to a myriad of IT and CS students over the past five years. The class is always fully booked and has overrides to attend. Mainframe education is a very popular topic that needs to be continuously advocated at our universities.