For the better part of 40 years I’ve been updating the mainframe’s obituary, but like Monty Python’s infamous ‘flesh wound’ skit, it has continued to linger on. Now – even with the accelerating skills shortage – it appears that Big Iron is back with a vengeance, gaining more new customers than are moving off the venerable platform, attracted by its brute power, flexibility and security. It seems cloud, mobility and customer empowerment are all better on the mainframe.
Mainframe software ISV Compuware has been seeing the growth in the market, and it’s recent survey provided empirical proof, said CEO Chris O’Malley. He told IT Trends & Analysis that everyone who was using “a hope-and-pray strategy that the mainframe would go away” are being disappointed. Not only are organizations “walking away from trying to shift from the platform,” but the mainframe is growing in popularity. “We’re also seeing things like mobile and analytics causing new workloads to be moved to that platform.”
This mainframe renaissance is atypical of the IT industry, where vendors are always searching for new, better and different, and dumping commodity hardware. It wasn’t that long ago that rumors surfaced that like its PC, printer and server businesses, Big Blue’s mainframe unit was up for sale.
But that was then, and now, Big Iron is once again big. “You remember the mainframe, that platform that supposedly was dead back in the 1980s,” recently asked analyst Rob Enderle, Enderle Group? “Well, once again IBM showcased there is evidently life after death because that puppy grew more than a whopping 70 percent year over year.”
Not only is the mainframe alive and kicking, it’s also drawing interest from unexpected quarters. IBM’s
“Master the Mainframe” annual contest designed to teach students to code and build new innovations on the mainframe drew almost 17,000 students this year. “A look at the demographics of this year’s event reveals some real eye-openers: 80% of the registrants were new to the program; the average age was 22 – with participants as young as 13 and as old as 68; and 23% of participants were female,” noted analyst Billy Clabby, Clabby Analytics.
The Compuware study, conducted by Forrester Consulting, found that 72% of customer-facing applications are completely or very dependent on back-end mainframe workloads, and users are running more of their critical applications on the platform – 57% of enterprises with a mainframe currently run more than half of their business-critical applications on the platform — with that number expected to increase to 64% by 2019.
“Before the advent of Linux on the mainframe, the people who bought mainframes primarily were people who already had them,” said former IBM CTO Leonard Santalucia. “They would just wait for the new version to come out and upgrade to it, because it would run cheaper and faster.
“When Linux came out, it opened up the door to other customers that never would have paid attention to the mainframe. In fact, probably a good three to four hundred new clients that never had mainframes before got them. They don’t have any old mainframes hanging around or ones that were upgraded. These are net new mainframes.”
Former mainframer and current analyst Gary Barnett believes people don’t understand how the platform has changed over the years: ‘Today’s mainframe is significantly more open, runs a wider variety of work-loads and offers far better price/performance than its predecessors.’ The problem is that ‘there is a whole generation of IT professionals who simply don’t know what today’s mainframe is capable of.’
He said in the x86 world, cloud providers are struggling to learn how to do things that the mainframe has been doing for as long as most of us have been alive. While the mainframe may not be the ‘better’ choice in every case,’ Barnett believes that in the next five years ‘we’ll discover a number of scenarios where for reliability, scalability and cost the mainframe will offer a very attractive alternative.’
For its part, Compuware is continuing its aggressive product roll-out on a 90-day cycle (14 consecutive quarters) with this week’s announcements:
-a new ThruPut Manager web interface that provides mainframe staff with visually intuitive insight into how batch jobs are being initiated and executed—as well as the impact of those jobs on mainframe software licensing costs; and,
Based on key performance indicators (KPIs) developed in collaboration with customers and aligned with Forrester research, zAdviser leverages machine learning techniques to analyze application quality, development velocity and the efficiency of your development team—empowering you to make evidence-based decisions in support of your continuous improvement efforts, said O’Malley. ThruPut Manager empowers even relatively inexperienced mainframe ops staff to safeguard performance of both batch and non-batch applications, he added.
O’Malley is pleased by the survey results, and his company’s continuing success, but he noted that there are still problems surrounding this market, over and above the critical skills shortage. He said they are seeing their customers split into two segments, companies that are transforming and the ones that aren’t doing anything. The transformers are taking aggressive steps, and the laggards tend to fall back on cliched excuses like culture and lack of tools.
Many CIOs are facing a do-or-die moment when it comes to the mainframe, said O’Malley. “They must quickly re-think, re-design and re-tool their approach to mainframe DevOps or face a future where they are simply too slow and inflexible to keep pace with their more nimble competitors.”
“There is need for disruption in the mainframe market, and we’re doing that”.
DISCLAIMER: Despite years of disappointing results, I’m still an IBM shareholder.