COVID-19 puts mainframe front and centre of IT global stage

The evolving platform constantly presents new opportunities to deliver value at higher performance levels with new architectural capabilities.
Read time 4min 40sec

Many governments around the world, at national and local level, plus large corporate businesses, are running on mainframe, prompting an upsurge in what is often referred to as Big Iron activity.

The coronavirus pandemic is revealing just where this technology is meeting the challenge.

In the US, for example, over 30.3 million people filed for unemployment insurance due to COVID-19 during the first six weeks of lockdown. These applications would have been processed on mainframe technology. Yes, system failures were reported − not due to the technology but rather to the dearth of skilled technicians who can programme mainframes. Organisations are desperately seeking COBOL skills and new ways to expedite working with systems and architecture.

So much for the analysts who, only a few years ago, advised that the first step to upgrading corporate IT architecture and infrastructure is to get rid of the mainframe. Rather, it is still positioned for a long and successful future.

This is an evolving platform that constantly presents new opportunities to deliver value at higher performance levels with new architectural capabilities. It develops by adding new layers of capability, not by forcing companies to throw away previous investment in applications − quite the opposite.

The fact that mainframes have been the stable and efficient technology workhorse in numerous industries for decades is unlikely to change.

The fact that mainframes have been the stable and efficient technology workhorse in numerous industries for decades is unlikely to change due to various critical business reasons, including cost optimisation, where it is a winner. This is supported by the fact that most government and financial services institutions still use mainframes, as do 71% of Fortune 500 companies. Organisations are looking to maintain and modernise these systems, not replace them.

What is mainframe's most significant winning attribute?

One word answers that question: cost! Mainframes may have a high cost of entry, plus even higher cost of exit, but cost per transaction is unquestionably the lowest option in the industry.

Mainframes efficiently process high-volume transactions such as credit card purchases, run mobile application back-ends, and offer the high availability and capacity that increasingly sophisticated data analytics and machine-learning algorithms rely on − all in a cost-effective manner.

The digital revolution is being fuelled by so many technologies today, including mobile, cloud, the Internet of things and more that have evolved over the past two decades. But the mainframe is playing an increasingly important role in enterprise IT.

It remains the most mission-essential platform powering the world's largest organisations. Leaders in mainframe operations are often challenged with balancing the need to drive digital transformation initiatives with managing costs and SLAs.

Unfortunately, mainframe IT leaders face the heavy burden of conveying the facts surrounding the value of mainframe. Dwindling resources and above all, lack of qualified talent, make proving this value a highly time-consuming process requiring deep platform and pricing expertise. But the value proposition is there and is tangible, although getting it on paper for justification for a doubting Thomas is not always easy.

Let’s talk about speed

The mainframe remains the Ferrari of the computing world. In an IDG QuickPulse survey of enterprises running mainframes, respondents reported an average of nearly 6 000MIPS (millions of instructions per second) installed on their system. For larger enterprises, MIPS installations of 20 000, or far more, are typical. One bank in South America reportedly has more than 1.5 million MIPS in its mainframe environment.

The IDG QuickPulse survey was designed to determine how companies measure the capabilities and business impact of their mainframe environments, and the steps they are taking to drive business outcomes from their mainframes. This survey also asked respondents to assess the perceived value to enterprise IT of an automated solution that can both scan the mainframe environment − to quickly reveal hidden costs and operational deficiencies and deliver actionable recommendations.

QuickPulse survey respondents listed more than half-a-dozen key performance indicators (KPIs) for assessing mainframe capabilities. They most often cited 'security risk' (26%) and 'cost efficiency' (22%) as the top KPIs, with larger companies increasingly likely to value cost-efficiency as a leading performance metric for mainframes.

Digital transformation is driving an exponential increase in data and transaction requests, which in turn drives a need for more (and increasingly efficient) resources to support enterprise operations and meet market expectations. This makes mainframes essential to improving business performance and maintaining continuity.

It also puts growing pressure on IT to reduce mainframe costs and improve return on investment (ROI), all while enabling digital transformation. Therefore, IT leaders must be able to assess their mainframe capabilities to achieve the optimised operational efficiencies required by the economic realities every company faces without exposing the enterprise to additional risk.

The drive for ROI − which is the uppermost concern for all C-suite execs − is even greater amid the global economic meltdown due to COVID-19. This business priority is one of the main reasons that companies will not be seeking to replace their mainframes any time in the coming decades.

In my next Industry Insight in this series of three, I will expose details around mainframe cost optimisation and provide insights on the measurement of performance in pursuit of optimal ROI.

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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