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Why The Mainframe Is Still Going Strong

by James Simons
Why the Mainframe Is Still Going Strong

When IBM and the seven dwarfs (Burroughs, Unisys, NCR, Control Data, Honeywell, GE, and RCA) launched the computing era in the early 1950s, they competed for crucial software, advanced modeling, and large-scale transactions and workloads among the world’s largest companies. Compute capacity, storage, and networking have seen multiple waves of centralization and decentralization amidst each wave of disruptive technology adoption over the last seven decades.

Pundits, commentators, and market watchers have predicted the end of the mainframe with each wave. Despite this, the venerable mainframe has triumphed. In a Q4 2020 study on mainframe use, IBM shared the following figures on mainframe adoption:

  • 67 Fortune 100 companies; 
  • 7 of the top 10 retailers; 
  • 4 of the top 5 airlines; 
  • 8 of the top 10 insurance companies; 
  • 45 of the top 50 banks; 
  • 8 of the top 10 telecommunications companies;

make use of the mainframe.

While it’s one thing to brag about how many companies are using a technology, IBM has increased use by 350 percent in the last ten years, as calculated by MIPS, a method of measuring the raw speed used.

For Hybrid Cloud, Many CIOs Have an “and” Strategy Rather Than a “or” Strategy

The latest mainframes include the Fujitsu GS21 series, which was revealed in April 2018, as well as Fujitsu Software GSS21sx V20, which supports open systems connections. IBM unveiled the IBM Z15 in September 2019, highlighting key features such as encryption everywhere, cloud-native growth, and instant recovery. The mainframe continues to play a key role in their overall modernization strategies, according to several conversations with CIOs in healthcare, travel, financial services, and pharmaceuticals. For both cost and security purposes, many of these companies are collaborating with public cloud providers such as Amazon Web Services, Microsoft Azure, Google Cloud, and Alibaba Cloud while maintaining their mission-critical workloads on the mainframe. 

In reality, many competitive market leaders see a hybrid approach with cloud and mainframe as a trusted, efficient architecture for delivering intense hybrid workloads like securely filing a healthcare claim, making life-saving prescriptions, booking travel, initiating a credit check, and reducing fraud in online banking. To minimize risk, top companies should use a hybrid approach to apply the right technology to the right workloads. What is the reason for this? 

Understanding Elasticity

Elasticity, distributed computing and storage, and shared networks have all proven to be long-lasting. As one Fortune 50 financial services company’s CIO put it, “We have the confidence to retain our hybrid solution because of the mainframe’s security, performance, durability, and value equation. Data movement and I/O would be prohibitively expensive in our proposed public cloud contracts.”

Furthermore, organizations such as Broadcom and IBM have invested in Zowe, the free mainframe initiative, giving all users access to an advanced and extensible open-source architecture for z/OS. Via a collection of standard APIs and OS capabilities, users can access open systems and open applications using a single language. As a result, developers can work on both the cloud and the mainframe with the same software, allowing a larger pool of developers and resources to work on both. 94 of the top 100 IBM Z Enterprises, according to estimates, operate Linux on Z and may modernize their mainframes. In addition, approximately 90% of enterprise computing professionals accept that the work market for their capability set is improving, and 75% say there is a high need for their mainframe skills, according to a 2019 survey of mainframe professionals conducted by Forrester for IBM.

In a Hybrid World, Mainframe Use Continues To Coexist and Develop

The expansion of the public cloud has coincided with the rise of mainframe adoption. According to Constellation, the public cloud now hosts 20% of the world’s workloads. The coexistence of mainframe, on-premises, and cloud deployments will continue for at least the next decade as adoption continues. According to a Deloitte survey from 2020, mainframe use is on the rise, with:

  • 74% believe the mainframe will continue to be a strategic platform for their companies in the future.
  • In the next 12 months, 91 percent of respondents said extending their mainframe footprints is a moderate or essential priority.
  • In the next three years, 72 percent of respondents expect to update their mainframe.

The Bottom Line: When It Comes To Computing, Take a Hybrid Approach

Why the Mainframe Is Still Going Strong

Although public cloud adoption is on the rise, hybrid cloud strategies are becoming increasingly popular among Fortune 500 companies. Many business and technology leaders have increased and extended their mainframe investments for vital next-generation computing environments. In reality, in a hybrid world, companies depend on both the cloud and the mainframe to lead digital transformation efforts based on trust in order to achieve peace of mind, with speed, protection, flexibility, elasticity, and scale on-demand.

To boost organizational ROI, leaders should concentrate on getting the best out of their cloud and mainframe investments as they move forward. The mainframe can be modernized in conjunction with distributed and cloud platforms. The best technologies for transactional processing and sensitive workloads will be determined by balancing data gravity and I/O costs. Meanwhile, across all platforms, including the mainframe, teams can simply use the same resources and standards, such as open-source. Form follows purpose, and technological decisions must be in line with the business use case. For decades to come, the mainframe, according to Constellation, will continue to play an important position in the overall infrastructure and corporate planning of leading organizations.

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