Management

Does it take a super-hero CIO to stay on the mainframe?

Bruce Wayne and Clark Kent Can’t Get The Job Done Because They Don’t Go To Work Wearing Their Cape

I am really starting to get sick of the conventional wisdom that exists out there that maintains that companies should abandon the mainframe and do all their computing in so-called “hybrid cloud” environments. And why aren’t more IT leaders stepping up and bringing an end to this so-called wisdom? It kind of reminds me of the super heroes who generally don’t get involved until they can go away and put on their super hero cape. For the super hero, it’s about seeking anonymity; for the IT manager it might be that or a fear of making waves. Either way, I say it is time for IT leaders to not be afraid and proudly wear your cape to work, and do what’s needed without delay. The notion that we should combine virtualized x86 infrastructure in their own data center with the XaaS resources from cloud providers and abandon the mainframe is likely not in the best interest of most companies but it requires some IT superhero fortitude to debunk it.

Imagine if, when Clark Kent was working for The Daily Planet, he had access to Google. Faster than a speeding bullet, he could have come to the obvious conclusion that basic IT economics will paint a very different picture of the value of the mainframe. The excessive cost of commodity x86 infrastructure is well documented, and the dollar spent per dollar of revenue received is not at all in line with classic mainframe services. IDC shows us how badly server opex is spiraling out of control—even as capital spending on servers remains flat. Rubin Worldwide has also documented the high costs borne by server-intensive IT organizations, as compared to more mainframe-intensive ones and I have quoted him a few times in my own blog posts. If you haven’t looked at his research, you really should—it’s a real eye-opener, and it may be just what you need to pick up your cape.

Let me be absolutely clear. There is absolutely no doubt that hybrid IT environments are optimal. But the two platforms that should comprise that hybrid environment are the mainframe and the XaaS cloud. Companies should seriously deal with the questionable perceptions here and downsize their x86 infrastructure, and do so as soon as possible. Why? Because it is the real villain; both scary expensive and a significant impediment to business agility.

Now, a superhero movie might begin with a villain hatching an evil plan that starts out small, and builds to a disastrous climax that required the intervention of the super hero. The superhero confronts the situation, ending with the evil plan in ruins, and everything better afterwards. Similarly, IT projects that make sense at a small scale can morph into a large-scale project that turns into a budget disaster. In real IT life, it’s time for the IT leader to confront the evil plan, do what needs to be done, and save the budget from disaster.

We all have an IT department and we all know that they spend countless hours patching, upgrading, and troubleshooting the intricate and complex conglomerations network of servers, storage and devices, operating systems, and various other data center gear that has shown up over the years. It takes an army of experienced, well-trained technicians to maintain and run these ultra-complex environments and to keep them running. The problem is that introducing transformational change into these environments typically involves convoluted projects with such a high degree of risk that it is difficult, if not impossible, to even know where to begin, let alone plan for success. Add in the fact that they simply cannot be properly secured and you have an infrastructure that always expands faster than enterprise defenses.

Perhaps worst of all is the ultimate threat to shareholders – the risk of jeopardizing revenue is far more of a concern than simply reducing isolated hardware costs will ever be. More servers require more software licenses and more infrastructure, which requires more staff and more physical data center capacity to house, power, and cool. Contrast this with the mainframe—which delivers exceptional performance, unmatched security, rock-solid reliability, and incremental data center costs that approach zero—and the economic logic of two-platform IT quickly becomes evident.

Run your critical applications in-house. And, by critical, I mean the applications that are generating cold hard cash for you. Everything else, the things that you need that help you run your business but don’t contribute to revenue directly – these are your kryptonite. It is your HR, office productivity applications, sales automation, CRM, and the like – get this out of your data center, run it in the cloud, and keep tabs on it there. Word processing, spreadsheets, slide tools, and payroll don’t deliver competitive advantage, so it makes sense to run them where economies of scale are greatest and capex is non-existent. Plus, when a better solution comes along, you can readily change your XaaS provider.

Are you ready for your cape yet?

The logic of two-platform IT is clear and ironclad which means there are only three reasons IT organizations aren’t doing it and I again continue my superhero analogy:

  • The presence of the disillusioned chief of police who hinders positive change. They are there in every movie. These individuals don’t think there is a problem, are resistant to change, and actually choose to believe the superhero is somehow a menace. Many IT leaders still choose to pretend that the total cost of ownership for distributed infrastructure is reasonable. But it’s not. A full accounting of all IT-related operating costs will bear this out. It takes a while but, eventually the chief of police and the superhero see eye to eye, become friends, and then get on with running an amazing city.
  • The sneaky mayor who is somehow profiting in a way he shouldn’t. People involved in large IT projects — IT vendors, IT staff, and IT contractors — have a personal stake in the perpetuation of the data center status quo and they go out of their way to make sure that their interests are not thwarted. (To be fair, it’s more human nature than sinister, but it is not in the best interests of the company.) But two-platform IT requires leadership that puts the interests of the company ahead of the interests of IT practitioners – superhero-type IT leadership.
  • The villain’s henchmen. The dominant culture, set forth by certain analysts and some members of the tech media, has been staunchly anti-mainframe and pro-commoditization for years. This view, established by those who don’t actually work in the big IT environments they target, fails to take into account the key reason mainframes continue to be doing what they are doing – they run revenue-generating applications that are responsible for the top-line profits, not the bottom-line expenses. And it is often motivated by big migration project consulting dollars.

Two-platform IT is a practical strategy that can yield tremendous returns in both agility and shareholder value. It’s not for the faint of heart, and it can’t be done without committed leadership. Leadership that doesn’t need to run into a phone booth to change into their cape, but leadership that will proudly wear their cape in the office. In any case, the super hero had better step up fast, or the villain will win.

This article originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse, Dec 10 2015.

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Allan Zander

Regular Planet Mainframe Blog Contributor
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.
Allan Zander
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