Xwave is staving off a potential skills shortage in its mainframe operations by automating some of the routine tasks of its database administration team.

The Canadian integrator on Tuesday said it was using SmartDBA from Houston-based

BMC Software to manage its mix of IMS, DB2 and Oracle databases. The software is expected to both provide a common look and feel across all of Xwave’s databases while also freeing up some of the more senior DBA staff to work on internal and customer-facing projects, executives said.

Xwave started an IT consolidation project several years ago where it merged three data centre into one, which brought several DBAs, systems programmers and other staff under one roof. Craig Piercy, Xwave’s senior technical analyst and team lead, Xwave, mainframe technical support, said the successful completion of the project coincided with the imminent retirement of several mainframe DBA experts.

Xwave employs about 21 DBAs in its data centre. The average age of those employees is around 40 now but until some retired it was even higher, he said.

“It didn’t decrease the workload. All we did is put three different sets of workload onto one data centre – there was a bigger machine,” he said. “This is an industry where it’s not the skills that are declining, it’s just the number of people that are declining,” he said.

Xwave didn’t merely choose SmartDBA because it could automate repeatable jobs, Piercy said, but because it contained a knowledge database that provides options for resolving problems when they come up. “They did a brain dump,” he said. “It has 30-plus years of knowledge.”

Xwave database administrator Marsha Robinson said automation can also eliminate the need to do time-consuming customization work for database Lpars (logical partitions) and make the team more productive. 

“Today I’m working on updating some of our indexes,” she said. “I can just click on ‘index’ in a GUI and it will allow me to either do a backup or an index build.”

BMC director of mainframe product management John Albee said the company did a blind study two years ago where it tried to assess customer needs. The higher up they went in an organization, he said, the more they found executives who were concerned about the retirement of mainframe DBA experts.

“Traditionally, the mainframe and the distributed database organizations were separate entities in an org chart. There’s been a drastic move to consolidate that,” he said. “The consolidation is really the precursor to driving a common set of tools.” 

Automation will allow the IT labour pool to go along with changes in business direction within the corporate enterprise, Albee added. “I don’t think it’s really going to change the best practices, it will enforce them,” he said. “Automation doesn’t just make things easier – it’s also about eliminating any errors.”

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