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Why the Mainframe Demands Relevance in a Cloud-Centric World

Simon Ratcliffe

Simon Ratcliffe
Principal Consultant, Advisory

In a previous post, we asked if the Mainframe is an Anomaly in a World of Digital Transformations. The mainframe is the bedrock of enterprise computing. It is the foundation of banking, manufacturing, retail, energy, most of the public sector and many more vertical sectors. With this breadth of use, this is not going to change any time soon. Yet, despite being heavily ingrained in the technology DNA of so many companies, many people continue to view the mainframe as obsolete, unnecessary, unfashionable and generally unloved.

However, this noisy minority perception could not be further from reality. Today, 80% of the world’s corporate data is still managed by mainframes. Clearly, unfashionable or not, the mainframe is a capable and necessary part of the enterprise IT ecosystem. As trends in computing have come and gone, the mainframe has always remained. And the reason for this is simple, solid metrics.

Mainframes operate at a speed and scale that far outstrips the capabilities of many of the systems that were supposed to supersede the technology. Take, for example, the CICS (Customer Information Control System) application server, which runs on the IBM mainframe. This is a perfect example of the capability of a mainframe application today. The CICS on IBM’s mainframe hardware is publicly noted as being able to process in the region of 1.1 million transactions per second (TPS). In comparison, the default limit for AWS is closer to 10,000 TPS on a single instance.

A system for today’s data applications  

In today’s transaction-heavy environment, everything from the internet of things (IoT) and the industrial internet of things (IIoT) to telemetry capture and high-frequency trading creates enormous amounts of transactional data. This is information that needs to be processed and used at breakneck speed in order to keep production lines running and end user applications responding. A mainframe is the hardware for the job, capable of serving demanding users and demanding business applications with an uninterrupted service level. This is why the mainframe demands relevance in today’s IT environment more than it has ever done.

The mainframe is not old, rather it was decades ahead of its time at its inception and it has continued to stay at the forefront of technology to meet the demands for running modern applications and their ever-increasing transaction volumes. It is a point that was illustrated in the latest Ensono-Cloud Industry Forum (CIF) survey. This study revealed that two thirds of large companies questioned – those with more than 5,000 seats – are actively using mainframes at the core of their IT data strategy. This is a clear endorsement of the use of mainframes in any data-centric large enterprise environment. In fact, over half of all businesses surveyed, including much smaller companies, are using mainframes. This will include new mainframe purchasers, as well as legacy users. It is therefore no surprise that mainframe sales are growing. For example, IBM’s z-series mainframe sales were up 70% in the last year. New investment in mainframes generally is being driven not only by big data and growing information volumes, but also by growing demand for data encryption capabilities that won’t result in insurmountable bottlenecks in IT performance. “Widespread use of encryption without impact to service level agreements (SLAs) and without requiring application changes Is another area where the mainframe excels and, in these highly litigious, data security-conscious times, delivers tremendous value.”

Cloud-mainframe hybrids 

Nonetheless, we cannot overlook the fact that the emergence of the cloud has changed the outlook and the role for mainframes. In the era of big data, analytics, mobile app-centric computing and even the likes of artificial intelligence and machine learning, there are many demands on modern business operations that require consistency, unquestionable reliability and flexibility in their underlying platforms. These are aspects where the mainframe and the cloud operate hand-in-hand, rather than one eclipsing the other.

There is also an opportunity to support and grow the role of mainframe-based business logic and data services, rather than replacing the mainframe altogether.

The cloud is the future of hyper-scalable and flexible computing, but the mainframe remains the system of record that large companies trust implicitly. Fused together, the hybrid of the cloud and the mainframe represent a truly formidable and capable platform that takes the cost, power and reliability of the mainframe, and frees it from the confines of a single site, exposing its capabilities to users and applications globally while leveraging the most cost-effective infrastructure on offer and delivering operational savings in the region of 20%.

Mainframes will continue to be the engine that powers the biggest companies in the most compelling vertical sectors. However, as global business becomes more interconnected, more cloud-centric and more on-demand to fit the expectations of users and customers, the mainframe will move from a CapEx consideration to an OpEx one as it moves into the modern data center as a critical service rather than a legacy technology.

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