Ask a computer science student in the US or Western Europe what technologies they are studying, and what they want to work with in future, and it is almost one hundred per cent certain they won’t say mainframes.
The mainframe computer – bedrock of the computing industry – has been apparently in decline since the IBM PC invaded desks with DOS, and subsequently Windows, from Microsoft. Yet, though consumers don’t use mainframes and students have no interest in them, it does not mean their use has ceased entirely.
Mainly large organisations with complex legacy systems, such as retail banking or life insurance, have extensive mainframe estates. And even where the hardware itself has remained unchanged for many years, the software continues to require updates due to product changes, new regulations, and changes in the law.
So if nobody is studying how to maintain these systems, or the programming languages used to modify them, then how can those important industries still rely on the mainframe?
There are several strong pockets of mainframe resource located around the world. Eastern Europe, and particularly the former Soviet bloc, has a deep pool of expertise in both the ongoing maintenance of these systems – and developing new software for them.
This is a classic example of how outsourcing to an offshore service provider can be about more than just the cost of service. If your legacy systems are running in COBOL on an IBM mainframe, yet the people cannot be found locally to modify the code, then outsourcing is the natural solution. Forget cost; go offshore for access to the skills you need just to keep your business running.
Mainframes are not going to die just yet. Many large organisations have systems that cannot be wound-up quickly, and as applications move further into the cloud, perhaps we are about to enter a new era of mainframes?