Within enterprise data centers, three key market factors are in the process of colliding. The result of this clash is a potential skills crisis that can significantly affect organizations' ability to handle enterprise-class applications and data. Based on a combination of demographics and industry trends, we believe the issue can be summarized in three points:

  1. Despite the growth of Web-based and distributed systems, organizations continue to rely on mainframe platforms to operate many mission-critical applications.
  2. According to META Group, a leading IT analyst firm, more than half of data center managers are over the age of 50 and will become eligible for retirement in the next five to seven years.
  3. Younger workers entering the IT field lack mainframe and enterprise data center skills and are not motivated to master them.

Little has been done so far to tackle this looming crisis. If left unaddressed, this has the potential to cause significant damage.
According to Gartner, Inc. analyst Diane Tunick Morello, most companies do a very poor job of managing and planning their skills base, especially their aging skills base. According to Morello, companies don't realize that they're putting themselves at risk by having a significant part of their day-to-day business relying on skills that are no longer even being taught in schools.

As an association representing the needs of enterprise and Internet data center executives and vendors around the globe through our think-tank, the Data Center Institute (DCI), AFCOM has spent a lot of time and effort over the last 12 months identifying strategies organizations can use to begin to address this looming skills crisis. The result of this work is the Data Center Knowledge Initiative, which provides strategies that organizations can implement to impact these market factors. The Data Center Knowledge Initiative concentrates on training, technology and management practices.


One of the first steps in addressing the looming skills shortage is training. Unfortunately, many colleges and universities no longer offer courses in mainframe, legacy systems and data center management. Following a rigorous selection process, AFCOM has formed a relationship with Marist College's Institute for Data Center Professionals, which will offer accredited data center courses and training via the Internet. The online classes will be augmented with hands-on practicums at AFCOM's twice-yearly data center conferences.

Initial offerings from Marist College, located in Poughkeepsie, New York, include an undergraduate degree completion program for data center professionals, a separate undergraduate degree in data center technology, a certificate in data center technology and credit-bearing courses toward certification as a CDCP (certified data center professional).

Marist also offers for-credit courses toward other data center certifications, including data center systems and software, networking, facilities management, operations and process management, product development, financial planning and security. Additionally, Marist will provide organizational and leadership skills courses and practicums.


Another key aspect of addressing the skills crisis is applying technology to the issue. One of the most cost-effective ways to mitigate the skills gap is to promote new technologies that can help organizations simplify the management of increasingly complex IT environments. The technology component of the initiative is based on the latest mainframe and data center software solutions provided by leading enterprise software providers such as ASG Software Solutions Inc., BMC Software Inc. and Cybermation.

These vendors have developed innovative solutions to limit the need for intimate mainframe systems and subsystems knowledge while improving service, reducing costs and increasing business value. Specific technology solutions identified through the Data Center Knowledge Initiative include those that achieve mainframe integration across distributed systems through a single point of control, freeing valuable human resources. In addition, other technology solutions can provide organizations with ubiquitous wireless access to key systems management platforms, including mainframe resources.

Management Practices

The third leg of the initiative involves the promotion of proven management practices accumulated by AFCOM members. We have reached out to leading data center managers around the country to determine how they have begun to deal with this issue, and the range of innovative management practices is remarkable. Already, organizations are implementing cross-training of the existing staff to "home-grow" expertise.

The DCI will continue to use AFCOM's unique membership base and network of contacts to promote joint training program sponsorships by mainframe-based companies and universities. The Data Center Knowledge Initiative will expand to include additional vendors, technologies, best practices and training resources on an ongoing basis. We are already incorporating many new sessions into our conferences to spread the most effective anti-crisis practices throughout the industry, and we encourage organizations that have already taken steps to address this to let others know what they are doing.

Eventually, the institute will create a repository of management practices that will be available at www.afcom.com.

The looming mainframe and enterprise data center skills crisis is just that ­ looming. By taking steps now to address it, we can all avoid the pain of systems that can't be supported.

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