Measuring performance for optimal ROI in the modern mainframe

Read time 4min 30sec

The modern mainframe can be defined as the core of trusted digital experiences that operates in some of the largest and most demanding computing environments in the world. From the days of the System/360 in the mid-1960s through to the modern mainframe of the z15, the systems have been designed along four guiding principles of security, availability, performance and scalability.

The modern mainframe is designed to support thousands of virtual machines, can serve vast amounts of data, and provides real-time insight and scalable sub-second transactional capability.

From banking, to retail, to healthcare, the modern mainframe is a platform for mission-critical apps and blockchain − where fast data access, transactional scale and the highest level of trust are required.

The pressing issues for all businesses are return on investment (ROI), performance and costs. With greater insight into mainframe performance, companies can control or reduce costs, increase efficiency, and free up resources for high-value activities related to digital transformation.

Let's examine what the key performance indicators (KPIs) are in mainframe. The IDC study referred to in my last Industry Insight notes the availability of IT staff with the required mainframe knowledge and skills was ranked as the top KPI by 18% of IT decision-makers surveyed. Acquiring the right talent still poses a problem with so few studying mainframe or COBOL these days.

From banking, to retail, to healthcare, the modern mainframe is a platform for mission-critical apps and blockchain.

However, it is notable that despite this, 56% of IT leaders are planning to extend their mainframe capacities. They also report that while they have ways to measure mainframe impact, only a little more than a third can turn data into insights, and only about a quarter are confident they can act on the results.

Assessment challenges

The good news from the IDG QuickPulse survey (IDG Research Assessing Mainframe Capabilities Survey, September 2018) is that 82% of respondents say they have ways to measure the business impact of their mainframe environments. The bad news is that many of these respondents say they are struggling to leverage those insights into action.

Some 37% of enterprises surveyed had at least one means of measuring the business impact of their mainframes and can successfully translate mainframe data into meaningful insights. The downside is that only just over a quarter of companies surveyed described themselves as competent at turning the results into actions for the development of best practices. Just over 40% confessed their little or complete inability to use data to improve their mainframe ROI.

This inability to turn data into actionable insight will become even more costly as enterprises increase their reliance on mainframe resources to support their mobile, security and analytics capabilities.

Driving better business outcomes

To meet this need for improved mainframe performance and ROI, enterprises are using various approaches. Nearly half of the respondents in the IDG survey said they are modernising their mainframes to reduce the need for specialised skills. Among organisations that are extending workloads running on the mainframe, 46% are implementing automatic remediation and/or cutting central processing unit utilisation.

More than one-third said they are performing capacity analysis to understand which workloads can be optimised to improve mainframe operations, reduce costs and boost business performance. Respondents are clear about the fact that they welcome solutions to the on-going challenge of turning mainframe data into actionable insights. An overwhelming majority highly rate the value of an automated tool capable of scanning a mainframe environment to quickly reveal hidden costs and operational deficiencies, while also delivering reports and actionable recommendations to optimise existing resources.

Companies with plans to extend workloads on their mainframes are even more likely to highly rate the value of an automated cost and process assessment tool. More than half of the companies surveyed that had plans to extend workloads on their mainframes noted that such a tool would be extremely valuable.

The following were highlighted as the benefits of an automated cost and process assessment tool:

  • Enable sound business decisions.
  • Free up resources.
  • Maintain costs easily.
  • Increase efficiency and reduce costs.
  • Cut time and IT workload.
  • Identify areas for cost savings.
  • Provide insights into ability to scale/assistance with product roadmap.
  • Help boost production while cutting costs.

Many of the potential benefits listed above are related to cost control and/or reduction, factors that directly affect cost-efficiency, which the IDG QuickPulse survey results indicate is among the most important KPIs used to assess mainframe environments.

Ideas abound from IT decision-makers around what they would do with the money they would save if they were to reduce mainframe costs. Many said they would invest in IT staffing and/or training, while others stated they would rather spend on IT services and outsourcing. IDG notes that roughly one in three said they would invest in digital transformation initiatives or DevOps.

In my third and final Industry Insight in this series, I will explore the all-important topic of mainframe and the cloud, and explain why the Big Iron was the cloud, before the cloud.

Gerard King

CA Southern Africa mainframe pre-sales and support engineer

Gerard King, CA Southern Africa mainframe pre-sales and support engineer, commenced his career in mainframe operations in the financial sector in 1982. In a career that has spanned almost 40 years, he completed training in mainframe assembler programming and moved from operations to systems programming.

King has spent the past 32 years as a z/OS systems programmer working at major financial and insurance corporations. He joined CA Southern Africa over a decade ago and is responsible for mainframe support and pre-sales.

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