Mainframe Popularity Grows

For decades the mainframe, AKA Big Iron, has been declining in significance, with shrinking sales, fewer customers, and smaller, faster, simpler and less-costly alternatives nipping at its heels. However, while competitors and pundits have been forecasting its imminent relegation to history’s trashcan, the venerable platform has been staging a recovery and a new survey from software vendor BMC finds that the is not only alive and well, but looks poised for renewed growth and even more relevance as it carves out a bigger slice of the huge-and-growing digital transformation market.

“I think that one thing we’re seeing in the survey is that clients really do, in an increasing way, value the platform’s strengths (particularly and ),” said ’s John McKenny, VP of Zsolutions. “I cannot remember a time in the last 15 years when there has been a more positive outlook for the platform,” he told IT Trends & Analysis.

Almost all (92%) of the more than 1,100 executives and technical professionals surveyed view the mainframe ‘as a strong long-term platform – the highest level in five years’. “Digitization and mobility are placing incredible pressure on both IT and mainframes to manage a greater volume, variety, and velocity of transactions and data, with workloads becoming more volatile and unpredictable,” said Bill Miller, president of ZSolutions,BMC, in a prepared statement.

While succeeding at digital transformation is really hard, the rewards justify any and all efforts, i.e. a 33% increase in speed to market; 40% increase in customer satisfaction; and 37% increase in new business revenue. On average, companies going digital expect to increase annual revenues by 2.9% and reduce costs by 3.6%, but businesses going all-in can achieve both revenue gains and cost reduction of more than 30% at the same time.The stakes are incredibly high, and the mantra of ‘go digital or die’ is driving a multi-trillion-dollar phenomenon and the mainframe is an essential part of DT.

Of special interest to BMC, if not the overall enterprise IT market, application and operations teams reported they are taking advantage of new practices and technologies to modernize their mainframe environments: 82% are using Java on the mainframe; 48% are using agile/DevOps practices in their mainframe environment; 42% ranked application modernization as one of their top four priorities; and, 20% ranked AIOps and operational analytics as one of their top four priorities. Staffing and skill shortages are still challenges, but there are some signs for hope, including: 63% of respondents reported they were under the age of 50, up from 53% in the previous year; and 95% of millennials are positive about the mainframe’s long-term prospects for supporting new and legacy applications.

McKenny said the demographics are slowly improving with 10% of respondents under the age of 50, and 12% younger than 30. “The millenials and Generation X have a bullish attitude to the platform.”

It wasn’t a surprise finding , but executive perceptions of the mainframe continued their improvement, he said. “This year 93% of executives… said this year the mainframe will be around a long time…. that’s the highest response we’ve ever seen.” That’s something that bodes well because executive perception has been one of the negatives, he added.

What was somewhat of a surprise was the jump in recognition of the innovation taking place on the platform, said McKenny. New technology on the platform is a strength, but 5-6 years ago that wouln’d have been considered despite the ongoing innovation that has been transforming the mainframe, he added.

A couple of months ago provided analysts an update on mainframe innovations. Big Blue made “a compelling argument for both the IBM Z’s continuing relevance and its role as an engine for future-focused business transformation,” said analyst Charles King, Pund-IT.

The message that we liked most during the day-long presentation was this: IBM Z is just another member of a hybrid cloud – just like any other device such as mobile devices, distributed systems and so on – and that IBM offers products and has made IBM Z open, noted Joe and Billy Clabby, Clabby Analytics. ‘With its rich suite of development tools and utilities and its very rich operations management environment, Z can be readily integrated into any enterprise hybrid cloud strategy.

Speaking of tools, BMC plans a very busy October, with a humber of announcements, said McKenny. Analytics and automation will be the highlights of an “exciting month”.

The bottom line is that the mainframe isn’t heading for extinction anytime soon, and in fact could have found the fountain of youth with DT. For a platform that already accounts for a big chunk of enterprises’ crown jewels — i.e. 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 — the future is looking much brighter.

DISCLAIMER: I am an IBM shareholder.


R-Cubed (Recent Related Reportage)

IBM Z: Making Dev Work with Ops

IBM Z Systems Software – Thinking Inside, Outside and Beyond the Box

Mainframe Renaissance Accelerates

IBM’s Master the Mainframe Contest: It’s All About Skills Development and Opportunity

IBM’s Pivot Is Basically Over and They are Back to Kicking Butt


Author: Steve Wexler

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