Not only has ‘Big Iron’ shrugged off its naysayers — suffering neither Monty Python’s ‘flesh wounds’ nor Mark Twain’s ‘reports of my death’ — the mainframe appears to be poised for a renaissance, one that software developer Compuware hopes to accelerate with its recent DevOps announcement for Amazon’s popular AWS cloud platform. “We’ve made Topaz [its flagship solution for mainframe Agile/DevOps] into what customers are evaluating and incorporating as a force multiplier,” said CEO Chris O’Malley.
“The next step is bringing Topaz to AWS,” he told IT Trends & Analysis, accelerating DevOps availability to “minutes instead of months. In some cases, it can take more than a year for competitive products.”
The mainframe, or at least IBM’s version, has been a staple of IT for more than 50 years, and it shows no signs of disappearing. The numbers speak for themselves: 55% of enterprise apps need the mainframe; 70% of enterprise transactions touch a mainframe; and, 70-80% of the world’s corporate data resides on a mainframe.
However the installed base appeared to be shrinking as newer, less-costly alternatives proliferated. Annual mainframe system sales have declined from a high of about $4 billion earlier this decade to $2 billion in 2016, accounting for just 3% of IBM’s total revenue (although the associated hardware, software and technical services accounted for nearly 25% of IBM’s sales and 40% of its overall profit last year).
Apparently Big Iron is back in vogue. According to a new study, the global mainframe market is expected to see a compound annual growth rate of 2.58% between 2017-2021.
In March it was reported that mainframes had reached an inflection point where they will either continue as a revenue-supporting mechanism or evolve into a revenue-generating platform. “IDC believes that the mainframe has a central role in digital transformation; businesses that do not take advantage of its broad range of capabilities are giving up value and, potentially, competitive advantage,” the research company stated.
‘The mainframe is not going away, but the way that you use it will change,’ noted Robert Stroud, Principal Analyst, Forrester, in a blog entitled DevOps And The Mainframe, A Perfect Match?. ‘Containers and microservices are coming to every platform, including the mainframe. Gradually breaking large monolithic applications into smaller services will help you transition to a containerized future that promises faster application delivery, greater scalability, and better manageability – regardless of the platform.’
A month ago IBM refreshed its z series mainframes with the LinuxONE Emperor II. “LinuxONE is a highly engineered platform with unique security, data privacy and regulatory compliance capabilities that doesn’t require any changes to developer or open source code, combined with a design optimized for data serving and transaction processing at extreme scale,” said Ross Mauri, General Manager, IBM LinuxONE, in a prepared statement.
‘Overall, these latest generation LinuxONE offerings richly deserve their Emperor and Emperor II designations, and spotlight the value that continuing, evolutionary platform modernization offers to IBM and its customers’, said analyst Charles King, Pund-IT. Occasionally, he noted, ‘vendors deliver next gen solutions designed to run rather than walk toward the future.’
Veteran IBM-watcher Joe Clabby, Clabby Analytics, also believes that Big Blue has finally gotten its latest announcement right. ‘Clabby Analytics has argued for years that IBM needs to do a better job of explaining which workloads belong on which servers (x86, Power Systems, mainframes).’ This year, IBM seems to have gotten the message that it has to do some ‘workload positioning work.’
‘Right now we have a strategy shift statement that will focus LinuxONE on databases and security. This is a step in the right direction – but IBM needs to provide a lot more guidance using use cases and customer proof points if it intends to convince the market that LinuxONE servers are the optimal choice to execute secure, data-intensive workloads.’
ISV CA Technologies, whose mainframe roots go back to 1976, stated there is a gap between current capabilities and desired objectives. “Enterprises don’t have efficient mechanisms for turning ideas into software,” said CA’s Otto Berkes, EVP and Chief Technology Officer.
That’s where companies like IBM, CA, BMC and Compuware want to play an increasing role, making the mainframe more relevant to a new generation. Software developers are one of the biggest costs associated with mainframes, said O’Malley. “Very large organizations have 2,000, 3,000, even 4,000 developers… and as the workforce shrinks, software quality has to go up, not down.”
Moving DevOps to the cloud makes it easier for geographically-dispersed developers to quickly make use of the latest tools and resources, as well as providing access to “a very robust environment… an entire DevOps toolchain”, he added. “It’s the combination that brings incredible benefits to customers”, said O’Malley.
He believes this is a “huge deal” for this market, and customers who have been previewing the offering, especially those that haven’t dealt with Compuware recently, “they’re shocked.” O’Malley says this solves the greatest impediment to the mainframe. “It is the most disruptive area on the platform… the existing tools are outdated… and when you fix that problem… it becomes just another server.”
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