Mainframe Mayhem? Just A Flesh Wound!

Continuing my homage to Monty Python, I’m confirming that despite the many claims of the ’s demise – which don’t quite predate tape’s obituary, but coexist with the much more recent disk and PC eulogies – it really was just a flesh wound, states a survey from Corporation. Or as Gartner put it, if the growth in the number of inquiries by Gartner clients regarding mainframe migrations is an indication of growing interest, then why are the migration vendors showing so little progress?

Then there’s the IDC report putting IBM in the lead for worldwide revenues for $250K+ servers, surging 66.1% year-over-year in the first quarter of 2015. “People say the mainframe is dead,” said Vernon Turner, an analyst at IDC, “but we say, hmmm, that’s a $4.5 billion tombstone.”

So if the mainframe market appears to be still going strong — and even adding new customers – then what’s the problem? According to the self-proclaimed ‘world’s leading mainframe-dedicated software company’, the biggest challenges to the Mainframe Now Redux is a looming : 70% of respondents (350 mainframe-owning CIOs) are concerned about knowledge transfer and risk; and 39% have no explicit plans for addressing mainframe developer shortages.

“This is the real Y2K,” said Chris O’Malley, President & CEO, Compuware. He told IT Trends & Analysis that unlike the original Y2K disaster that never was, the looming retirement of the mainframe workforce is “a much more complex problem to solve and there’s nowhere to go.”

There are tens of millions of lines of code in mainframe programs, and up to 70% of the people involved with maintaining, updating and writing this code are due to retire in the near future, he said. “The people they are losing are not the ones you can go to the market and get.”

A looming skills shortage is a major concern, but the survey identified other mainframe strengths and weaknesses. These include:

·88% believe the mainframe will be a key business asset over the next decade;

·78% see the mainframe as a key enabler of innovation;

-75% recognize that distributed application developers have little understanding of the mainframe;

-70% are concerned that a lack of documentation will hinder knowledge transfer and create risk; and,

·70% are surprised by how much additional work and money is required to ensure new platforms and applications match the security provided by the mainframe (i.e. Gartner’s The Moribund State of the IBM Mainframe Migration Market report referenced earlier).

“I’m hearing less and less that people are going to get off this platform,” said O’Malley. Going back 5-7 years ago, a lot of customers were saying they were going to get off the mainframe, but didn’t. He said one reason is that the average mainframe shop has $1 billion invested in mainframe software, and that “business code isn’t going anywhere”.

As customers learn about the total cost of ownership in open systems, the cost differential of staying or moving to smaller systems “is staggering between the two in the favor of the mainframe. So there’s a bullish mentality around the mainframe that you haven’t seen in decades.”

While the mainframe is once-again bathing in the limelight as a cost-effective platform for hot IT trends – like mobility, cloud and Big Data/analytics – in addition to the skills shortage, there is also a culture change looming, he said. There’s digital disruption all over the place and IT is moving towards agile development. “The mainframe has been wonderful… in terms of 12 or 18-month development cycles.” Now organizations are looking for fast IT, programming in days and weeks, rather than months and years. “So it’s not just a people problem, but a process problem.”

A third major challenge is finding really smart people to work on the mainframe, said O’Malley. CIOs clearly need to re-prioritize investments in the mainframe in order to maximize the value IT delivers to the business and to effectively mitigate the risk associated with the generational shift in IT staffing. “Hope is never a good mainframe strategy.”

While Compuware – and IBM – have a vested interest in addressing the mainframe skill shortage, they’re not alone. Last month CA Technologies was one of the supporters at last month’s Enterprise Computing Conference in New York state. Participating in the ECC National Conference is one of many ways that shows its support for bringing up the next generation of mainframers, the company stated. Through programs like Associate Software Engineer (ASE), is helping to ensure that computer science skills, such as coding on large enterprise systems, aren’t lost when the baby boomers retire.

In other news from Compuware, the company announced the third release – this year – of Topaz, its development-and-operations suite for IBM z Systems environments. “With the latest release of Topaz, Compuware is demonstrating its ongoing and timely commitment to providing tools that can add value to mainframe environments for both experienced and Millennial IT staff,” said Tim Grieser, Program VP, Enterprise System Management Software, IDC. “Topaz for Java Performance can help IT organizations understand issues such as CPU utilization and memory usage for Java on the mainframe, providing information that can be used to tune application performance and help optimize operational costs.”

Mainframe Minutiae

Last year IBM celebrated the 50th anniversary of its first mainframe, the System/360, although mainframes first started shipping in the 1950s from a number of other companies. From a Big Iron perspective, today Big Blue accounts for an estimated 90% of the mainframe market, around 3,000 customers and 10,000 systems. IDC reported that IBM sold 2,700 mainframes in 2013, up from 2,300 systems and $4 billion in 2002.

According to IBM:

-more than 70% of enterprise data resides on a mainframe;

-71% of all Fortune 500 companies have their core businesses on a mainframe;

-92 of the top 100 banks use the mainframe;

-23 of the world’s top 25 retailers use the mainframe;

-10 out of 10 of the top insurers use the cloud on the mainframe; and,

-more than 225 state and local governments worldwide rely on a mainframe.

Author: Steve Wexler

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