Why am I a Mainframer? It all started when my great uncle bought a Combine….
When I was growing up, my family and I made frequent trips to a farm on Manitoulin Island in Canada—about 250 miles north of Detroit—a remote place where farming was difficult and few made it big. It was an awesome place. My two great uncles owned farms side-by-side there, and were successful while others weren’t. They were chicken, dairy and beef farmers; they also farmed beans and corn for profit, and hay for the cattle. When I was about 13 or 14, they completely transformed their way of farming: they bought a Combine with a massive tractor and wagon. As a teenage boy, this Combine was of great interest to me – I mean, who doesn’t love big machines like that? I still have fond memories of that great big Combine, but until recently I didn’t realize how my early experiences with farming helped shape my views of the IT world.Curious about their brand new behemoth-like machines, I asked one of my uncles why they needed them now when they didn’t before. My uncle explained that the heavy lifting of farm work- the planting and harvesting- used to be accomplished there with the help of neighbors. Neighboring farmers would help with plowing and planting; same in the fall- everyone would pitch in to help with the harvest, the heaviest of the heavy lifting. Before, they had a small fleet of aging farm equipment- small tractors, single row corn pickers, corn shellers and more – but with a growing farm, they needed to get serious. It was no longer practical for them to continue operating their farms the way they were doing it back then.
Although the crop production side made money, I later came to learn that the dairy side of their business was actually the most profitable. The money from crop production was largely used to fund the dairy operation. While the dairy side of the business had largely fixed costs, there was opportunity to become a lot more efficient on the crop production side. My uncles could have replaced all of their old farm equipment with newer versions of the same type for less than it cost to buy the Combine, but Combines are extraordinary pieces of equipment; they are extremely efficient. Buying this one powerful machine was a brilliant move because it eliminated the need for a lot of smaller machines, and allowed my uncles to do the same amount of work with a lot less help in a fraction of the time. The Combine allowed them to actually grow the crop production part of the business, while leaving them with more time to devote to the dairy side of the business.
I was fascinated by the idea that one machine could help them do so much more, and asked him if there was a way for the combine to do even more of the work on the farm – he smiled and told me that it does plenty already.
So what is my point here? Well, I’ve come to realize that a Mainframe system does for an IT organization what the Combine did for my uncles’ farm. Most people who have looked at the numbers know that the Mainframe is the most operationally-efficient platform to run, and is actually more cost effective than other computing solutions. Like the Combine on the farm, the Mainframe in the datacenter does the work of many smaller machines, gets the hard work done faster, and is cheaper to run. But more than that, Mainframe systems allow IT organizations to maximize revenue by very efficiently handling the tough IT jobs (like transaction processing), and by making sure that the work happens reliably 100% of the time.The farm’s combine isn’t suitable for driving to the feed store or pulling a truck from the ditch- you could use it for those tasks- you just wouldn’t; but it is perfect for the hard, heavy-lifting work. You could probably use many smaller vehicles to do the hard work on the farm, but you just wouldn’t. Similarly, the Mainframe isn’t suitable for doing some of the smaller things in a datacenter- like inventory control or CRM, but it is the best machine available to do the hard work for large IT organizations- like high-intensity transaction processing, and growing business workloads. And it doesn’t make sense to use racked commodity servers for that type of work.
The Combine changed my uncles’ farming business. By saving time and money on crop production, they were able to invest more time and money into their dairy business, which ultimately allowed them to transform their farm operation into one of the larger dairy farms in that part of Canada. Without Combines to do the heavy lifting, they couldn’t have grown their business to that extent. Mainframe systems make it possible for businesses to run their most intense business operations quickly and cost-effectively, allowing the saved time and money to be invested in new IT assets (some of which will run on those same Mainframe systems) that in turn help transform a business to something more. Without the power and efficiency of the Mainframe, growing businesses might not be able to fund vital transformations.And that, in part, is what has driven me in my role as CEO of DataKinetics. Back then, I asked my uncle if there was a way for the Combine to do more, and now we’re focused on providing ways to help IT organizations to do more with their Mainframe systems. Today the Mainframe accounts for $10.55 of revenue for every dollar spent on it; compare that to $8.22 for distributed computing systems—and we help to significantly increase that Mainframe revenue figure.
Now, to be honest, I would be one of the first in the room to admit that not every company needs a Mainframe, just as not every farm needs a Combine. But they are both critically important for growth – large growing farms need Combines, and large growing businesses need Mainframes.
Originally published on LinkedIn.
Allan Zander is the CEO of DataKinetics – the global leader in Data Performance and Optimization. As a “Friend of the Mainframe”, Allan’s experience addressing both the technical and business needs of Global Fortune 500 customers has provided him with great insight into the industry’s opportunities and challenges – making him a sought-after writer and speaker on the topic of databases and mainframes.
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