Admittedly, I’m as much a music fan as I’m a technophile—perhaps it’s this combination that makes it easy for me to draw comparisons from the punk music genre to that of the mainframe. After all, punk hasn’t changed—it has simply evolved. From the early days of 1970s New York City, to the United Kingdom bands of the 1980s, to the bands that spawned the sound track to the X Games—and now the bands that play the Dew Tour—the music genre has influenced our social fabric, taking on a new audience and a new meaning for every generation.

So what of the mainframe? The trajectory of mainframe technology is no different. Those who are “out of the know” may look at the 50+ years of its history and simply harken back to the good old days, dismissing its relevance as a modern contender—never realizing that the mainframe isn’t dead—it too, like punk rock, is here to stay, with an ever-building power based on a long history of hard-core use.

So I ask the question: should I start a punk band called System z? I digress—let’s talk technology and the continuing health, relevance and durability of the mainframe.

A platform powerhouse

Technically, the mainframe platform is unrivaled. Over the past 50 years, its availability, scalability, reliability, security and performance are unsurpassed—they are far beyond that of any distributed or cloud infrastructure. None of these come close to delivering what the mainframe does. That’s why:

  • 92% of the top 100 banks use a mainframe
  • 90% of the Fortune 100 are mainframe users
  • About 80% of all corporate data is managed by mainframes
  • 71% of all Fortune 500 companies have their core business on the mainframe
  • 23 of the world’s top 25 retailers use a mainframe
  • 10 out of 10 of the top insurers have commitments in mainframe technologies
  • 9 of the top 10 global life and health insurance providers process their high-volume transactions on the mainframe
  • Over 225 state and local governments worldwide rely on a mainframe
  • Most critical workloads in the public and private sectors continue to run almost exclusively on mainframes
  • Large corporations have not moved their mainframe’s position from center stage

Greenfield projects and the mainframe

If you are contemplating a greenfield project, you would probably assume that a mainframe would be too expensive. Not necessarily.

Analyst Eric Cothenet at NOVIPRO talks about a “non-fictional” example for an insurance implementation of Oracle’s Siebel CRM paired with Oracle’s DBMS. The infrastructure in the example was a 204-processor Intel setup. This meant the customer had to purchase 204 Oracle licenses. According to Cothenet, the architects of the system could have chosen four IBM processors and saved enough on Oracle licenses to pay back the mainframe hardware premium in as little as three years. Further, Cothenet suggests that a closer look at MTBF would, more often than not, show mainframes exhibiting higher uptimes than machines built on commodity hardware.

In addition, you need to consider the cost of downtime as part of your total cost of ownership (TCO). If you added the costs of downtime, the mainframe would win out. It’s definitely something to consider, depending, of course, on your downtime costs.

IoT and the mainframe

The Internet of Things (IoT) connects to almost anything, including PCs, tablets, smartphones, smart TVs, Internet media devices, smart cars, and sensors of any kind. In other words, If you have something capable of IP communications that is sufficiently smart enough to send or receive a message, then you will be connected.

Strategy Analytics estimates there will be “33 billion connected devices in the next six years, up from 12 billion predicted at the end of this year [2014]. That will be four for every person on the planet.”

According to Frank DeGilio, Chief Architect for Cloud, IBM Software and Technology Group, with today’s IoT “you are adding a very chaotic component. The end points are not known.” He states that without the mainframe, chaos would ensue. Although the mainframe plays an important role in IoT, it can’t do it alone: “The value of the System z is to take a much less controlled environment and bring sense to it.” System z brings the required processing horsepower and scalability to manage large chunks of the IoT workload.”

Mobility and the mainframe

Today, individuals, businesses, and governments are immersed in mobile technologies. They are part of our daily lives: we use them to check our bank balances, to navigate to our next destination, to shop and to communicate.

With the explosion of myriad devices and innovative new technologies, there is a greater reliance on the mainframe to manage the mushrooming complexity of IT environments seamlessly. In other words, mainframes are more relevant than ever when you consider our “anytime, anywhere” approach to life.

Consider this: today, mainframe processing happily buzzes along—in real time. The more mobile the Internet access, the greater the number of mainframe touch points: to fulfill a mobile order, a series of B2B processes are involved, and these are driven by the mainframe. With the use of self-service applications rising, and with the Internet rapidly increasing the number of these mobile orders, the scalability and reliability of the mainframe is more important than ever and entrenches it firmly as a mission-critical asset.

The BMC Mainframe Research Report confirmed the mainframe’s continued growth is being powered by today’s digital “always on” world, which demands secure access to applications and data at mobile speeds and scale. With many mobile devices connecting to corporate networks, security is a huge issue. In BMC’s report, security was the largest factor for continued investment in the mainframe, with 56% responding that they see the security strengths of the mainframe platform as an advantage.

Like punk, the mainframe has evolved

Although punk has undergone a myriad of mutations over the years, it is as relevant today as it was in the 1970s. As we have seen, the same applies to the mainframe and, if anything, it is even more relevant and required today. Imagine the chaos if the mainframe hadn’t survived.

The mainframe was dubbed a dinosaur and its imminent extinction predicted—in the 1990s. In the twenty-first century, the mainframe has become more relevant than ever with the emergence of the Internet, electronic commerce, and the enterprise-resource-planning (ERP) software packages that are required to handle critical enterprise transactions.

Furthermore, the mainframe supports applications of varying ages, even when they have been upgraded many times, and they continue to work with many combinations of old, new, and emerging software. Add to that the mainframe’s long-lasting performance as, once installed, mainframe systems work for many years without any major issues or downtime. This fact has become crucial, since the mainframe not only continues to support many mission-critical transactional applications at organizations across industries, but it also, with the advent of Big Data technologies, offers options for organizations to enable analytics on valuable mainframe data.

Today, the mainframe is a perfect fit. And organizations that are prepared with their IBM z/OS environment will be poised to handle high volumes of data not only efficiently and reliably, but also cost-effectively. The mainframe can no longer be perceived as a dinosaur threatened with extinction, but as a modern, scalable and reliable powerhouse that can manage today’s high-transaction environment, meet the increasing demands of Internet and mobile applications, and support business-critical, customer-facing applications in the retail, banking and telecommunications industries.

Larry Poirier

Larry Poirier

A CEO and co-founder within multiple industries with a proven track record of 3 successful exits, A hands-on leader with deep understanding of scalable market strategy for building recurring revenue.
Larry Poirier

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