Why cloud and mobile bring growth – and new challenges – to the mainframe


There is abundant evidence that prove the mainframe remains the world’s most reliable, scalable and secure computing platform today. Does the adaptability, scalability and low entry costs offered by the cloud compete for its workload?

Short answer: no. Rather, cloud has increased the mainframe workload. Cloud, mobility, and the explosion of the application economy are directly responsible for driving growth in mainframe utilization. In fact, our mainframe customers have reported an average 8% to 9% growth in their mainframe workloads.

This might seem ironic to some – the popular storyline in technology is that new technology replaces what came before it. There are two reasons why mainframe is the exception to the rule: 1) more than 70% of corporate data still resides on the mainframe and 2) the mainframe remains a spectacularly reliable, scalable, secure, and cost-effective platform. So the more that enterprises deploy cloud and mobile, the more they use their mainframes. Furthermore, according to IBM, 55% of all enterprise apps, which are mushrooming, touch the mainframe in one way or the other because if they didn’t those apps would be static, shallow and quickly abandoned.

Given this reality, here are three imperatives for every IT leader, whose company has a mainframe, to build the right foundation in the application economy.

Commit to mainframe growth

Many IT leaders have neglected their mainframe environments as they’ve focused more on distributed, cloud and mobility initiatives. However, unless you’re going to undertake the costly, disruptive, and extremely risky path of massive application “re-platforming,” your mainframe environment is going to keep growing—which means its potential value to your business is going to keep growing too.

Smart IT leaders will re-invest in the mainframe to ensure that it can keep delivering reliable, secure, and cost-efficient computing services that underpin their mobile/cloud apps for the foreseeable future. Specifically, for those net-new critical workloads, consider designating your mainframe as the platform of choice, especially Linux workloads that can run very cost-efficiently at scale on IBM’s Linux on z Systems implementation.

Mainframe-enable your next-generation IT staff

As you build the foundation for your IT environment in the application economy, it’s also critical to enable your developers and ops teams with the right skills. Few if any of your younger developers have ever written a line of COBOL. Nor is it likely that anyone under 30 on your ops team knows anything about flattening mainframe workload peaks to keep MSUs down. Because you will be updating your mainframe apps, tuning your mainframe databases, and managing your mainframe environment, you therefore need to invest in tools and training that will enable a new generation of IT professionals to perform all the DevOps tasks you need them to perform including those on your mainframe.

Create a unified cross-platform approach to application performance management (APM)

If the digital capabilities you deliver to your employees and your customers utilize data and application code across multiple platforms—including distributed, cloud, and mainframe—then it makes sense to unify your application performance monitoring across those platforms as well. Without that unified monitoring, you’ll have trouble maintaining the service levels that are critical for both customer satisfaction and a high-productivity workplace.

Of course, unified APM is easier said than done. True cross-platform APM requires much more than a bunch of separate platform-specific tools. It requires an integrated approach to monitoring, along with troubleshooting/trouble-preventing processes that treats the entire end-to-end enterprise environment as a single entity. Shy of that, the mainframe will remain highly siloed—much to the detriment of IT’s efficiency and ability to support the business.

Simply put, organizations who understand the value and criticality of their mainframe technology will continue to invest when faced with the opportunities, challenges, and uncertainties in today’s application economy. The challenges play directly into the mainframe’s classic strengths, and the community of mainframe independent software vendors continues to innovate to meet challenges head on.

To succeed, IT leaders must come to terms with the big irony of Big Iron—which is that digital innovation is making the mainframe more important, not less. Mainframe management strategies must evolve accordingly.

Read more: Why the resiliency of the mainframe is not a surprise in the cloud computing age