Resisting the Pressure to Replace the Mainframe
By Christopher O'Malley, CEO, Compuware
IT teams and professionals are often led to believe that the mainframe and COBOL, its primary coding language, are outdated and should be replaced. However the mainframe has endured, with 92 of the world's 100 largest banks continuing to rely on these systems along with 23 of the world's top 25 retailers, and all of the top 10 insurers.
In fact, nearly 80 percent of all corporate data is still managed by mainframes.
The reason for this longevity is clear: when it comes to sheer computing power, security and reliability, the mainframe is the ideal system to support huge surges in mobile and other web-based transactions. With the highest standardized security certifications in the world, IBM z Systems can process 2.5 billion transactions daily, and are even estimated to be capable of withstanding an 8.0 earthquake!
Even the old moniker is incorrect. Mainframe hardware keeps getting updated, making it more powerful with each new incarnation. IBM recently announced the z14 featuring even more performance and security enhancements, including 35 percent more capacity than its immediate predecessor (the z13) as well as the ability to encrypt 12 billion transactions per day, making it a true engineering marvel. Mainframe hardware was a significant, and rare, bright spot in IBM's last quarter, with a 64 percent jump in revenue.
But despite clear evidence to the contrary, enterprise leaders have been told for years that investment in the mainframe is unwise because its days are numbered. This attitude creates a real problem: mainframe teams remain stuck in their silo with archaic tooling, lacking agility and creating obstacles for multi-platform development teams. With ever-condensing development and delivery timeframes, this is unacceptable.
Many organizations badly need mainframe modernization-that is, removing platform-to-platform demarcation lines and making the mainframe compatible with Agile Development and DevOps methods, which together help newer generations of developers and administrators work on and support the platform.
Unfortunately, the focus for some mainframe organizations is to move off the mainframe, versus modernizing on the platform. We've seen repeatedly that attempting to migrate mission-critical data and apps off the mainframe incurs risk, not to mention the efficiency that's lost by moving to a lesser system. Making matters worse, we've seen from experience that the significant amount of time and resources devoted to these types of projects delivers little to no clear customer benefit. Consider Pennsylvania's recent lawsuit against IBM, where a major modernization project to deal with its legacy technology resulted in complete failure. While it makes sense to consume some apps via the cloud, moving your mainframe-based IP with decades of valuable business logic has been shown to be, in most cases, bad business practice.
That's not to say there aren't ways the mainframe and other platform options, like the cloud, can be jointly leveraged for maximum benefit. For example, adopting a "Two-Platform IT" model entails evaluating the needs of individual applications and deciding which platform-the mainframe or the cloud-best supports it. If it's non mission-critical and non-differentiating, like an HR application, it's best consumed from the cloud, where its economies of scale can be realized. However, if the application is mission-critical and involves highly sensitive data, it should stay on-premise on the mainframe.
There are other options that take advantage of the strengths of each platform as well. In October, we announced availability of Topaz - our flagship solution enabling mainframe Agile/DevOps - on AWS, providing cloud access to modern mainframe development while still keeping mission-critical work on-premise. Topaz on AWS leverages Amazon AppStream 2.0 technology to stream Topaz to individual user desktops across large, globally distributed developer teams. Benefits include significantly faster implementation and administration, a virtual integrated development environment (IDE), and immediate developer access to software updates. The last of these is important, since Compuware delivers innovative new capabilities to customers every 90 days.
Regarding x86-based server farms, we find that large organizations that heavily leverage this platform ultimately spend significantly more money on extra resources to support and augment their systems - human resources, security solutions, etc.-than organizations that are "mainframe-heavy." Further, a study by Rubin Worldwide showed that over the long term, mainframe users generate more income per infrastructure dollar than x86-based organizations.
So, the better choice organizations can make is to adopt the Two-Platform IT strategy and modernize the tooling used to develop and support mainframe applications. This way, mainframe user organizations can continue to leverage the mainframe's superior strengths in security, reliability and scalability while exploiting the strengths of the cloud. Doing so will bring them closer to the holy grail of IT - delivering better-performing applications faster, without incurring unnecessary risks.