Many of us in the mainframe community share the passion and belief in the mainframe as the enterprise IT server of choice. The introduction of the IBM z13 as the enterprise class server at the heart of the digital economy further cements the mainframe’s market-leading position. Elsewhere, studies from a variety of sources (including BMC, Compuware, Syncsort and Delphix) reinforce ongoing support for and usage of the mainframe environment.

The fanfare greeting the z13 last year was overwhelmingly positive (an example from Motley Fool here) – and IBM’s mainframe revenue results have followed that positive direction. Hot on the heels of z13 there was even more excitement with the release of the LinuxOne range of IBM mainframe-based Linux servers, and the recommitment to the Open Mainframe Project (with the help of SUSE and other technology players).

Meanwhile, many of us have enjoyed the recent spate of articles and blogs from the team at Compuware, talking about the mainframe in an emphatic and compelling way (see http://insidetechtalk.com/ for examples).

In the press, the mainframe has received some upbeat and well-considered coverage. SD Times ran an excellent review of the mainframe world – “Are mainframes still road worthy” which talked about a buoyant, positive market (though not without its challenges).

More recently still was a Forbes article, penned by Adrian Bridgwater. In this article, the premise that the mainframe is in some way outmoded (the title calls this out immediately – “How to rescue a dead mainframe programmer”) is explored and debunked. Citing some recent software announcements, the article explores two of the key focus areas for the mainframe community right now. These are Skills and DevOps.

On skills, the challenges were clearly identified – “all the older guys who knew … mainframe systems … are retiring”. This creates an issue when, as it goes on “existing mainframe server systems are … well suited to large-scale datacentre … environments”, and therefore need to be sustained and evolved.

The article then infers that resolving the reliance on older tooling may play its part. Micro Focus agrees wholeheartedly: this is less of an issue than IT leaders fear. Antiquated technology is hard to find staff to use, yet needn’t be a problem. Modern mainframe development technology is readily available which provides the same environment for mainframe teams as is being used by other developers. This unified approach provides potential cross-pollination between various development teams and is already in use by many organizations looking to extend their supply of skilled mainframe talent. One organization now has an average mainframe developer age of 26 as a result of their new mainframe technology investment. IT Skills might be a big question – but clear answers exist.

The other topic of the Forbes article is DevOps. It seems like you can’t move for DevOps discussions right now. At the next SHARE event in March 2016 –very much the mainframe industry litmus paper – the event has its own DevOps track: “DevOps in the Enterprise”

Vendors have arrived at the DevOps party at various times. In the Forbes article, Compuware is mentioned as “empowering”, according to CEO Chris O’Malley, “Agile DevOps teams to master the mainframe”. Such facilities – in a genuine agile environment – present integration needs across a variety of 3rd party tools (not just those mentioned in the article). And any steps forward in integration and support between mainframe-centric tooling and DevOps technology is a step in the right direction. It’s great to see vendors such as Compuware, IBM and Micro Focus taking the lead here. Mainframe organizations globally are already using such facilities today as the central hub for their DevOps-based mainframe delivery processes.

What this means, in simple terms, is that the challenges facing mainframers in the move to an agile process – poor interoperability, lack of productivity, inflexible testing capability, insufficient collaboration, low overall delivery velocity, inefficiency – stand a real chance of being fixed to create a meaningful improvement in throughput and flexibility.

Bridgwater concludes with the forward-thinking label, “Agile mainframes”. And with the right skills and technology available, which they most certainly can be; he’s right. Tackling the question of IT skills and moving to a DevOps model are both real possibilities on the horizon. This could be the right year –on the mainframe: 13 into 16 does go.

Editors Note Regular MainframeDebate contributor Derek Britton works at application modernization experts Micro Focus and is always keen to reflect on the hot topics in the mainframe world (want to know more check them out here Micro Focus) . Derek and Micro Focus’ support for the mainframe and this blog is always appreciated.  Follow Derek on Twitter at @derekbrittonuk on twitter) .