Time to Reconsider Mainframe Computing

For 20 years people have been predicting the death of the mainframe. For the past seven years BMC has conducted a survey of mainframe shops worldwide. Clearly the mainframe not only isn’t dead but is growing in the organizations where it is deployed.

Yes, mainframes appear more expensive than PC servers, but entry-level mainframes have a starting price of $75,000 and can do the work of hundreds of PC servers. The total cost of ownership of a mainframe compared to those many PC servers can be less, often much less.

Organizations that only run distributed systems, mainly PC-based servers, may be surprised by the survey results.

Key survey results:

• 90% of respondents consider the mainframe to be a long-term solution, and 50% expect it will attract new workloads.
• Keeping IT costs down remains the top priority—not exactly shocking—as 69% report cost as a major focus, up from 45% from 2014.
• More than 55% reported a need to integrate the mainframe into enterprise IT systems comprised of multiple mainframe and distributed platforms.

The last point suggests IBM is on the right track with hybrid computing. Hybrid computing is IBM’s term for extremely tightly integrated multi-platform computing managed from a single console (on the mainframe) as a single virtualized system. It promises significant operational efficiency over deploying and managing multiple platforms separately.

That means the newest mainframes can host your Windows applications as standard Windows applications on PC-blades running in an attached blade cabinet and manage it all as a single system. It eliminates the need to deploy a number of people to manage your different servers. Instead, a small team can handle it all from one point, the mainframe.

IBM also is on the right track in terms of keeping costs down. One mainframe trick is to lower costs by enabling organizations to maximize the use of specialized mainframe processors in an effort to reduce consumption of costly general purpose processing. The special processors optimized for specific workloads, such as Java or Linux or databases or Web serving. Due to the idiosyncrasies of mainframe software licensing, software running on these specialty processors run for free. Not only do specialty processors avoid software licensing fees but they cost less on a cost-per-unit of processing basis. More savings in your pocket.

This year the issue of Business/IT alignment jumped from 7th to 4th in the ranking of priorities. Greater alignment between business and IT, however, suggests a strong need for hybrid computing, where varied business workloads can be mixed yet still be treated as a single system from the standpoint of efficiency management and operations.

Survey respondents (59%) expect mainframe usage to continue to grow. Of that growth, 31% attribute it to increases in legacy and new apps while 9% attributed it to new apps. Legacy apps were cited by 19% of respondents.

In terms of modernizing apps, 46% of respondents planned to extend legacy code through SOA and web services while 43% wanted to increase the flexibility and agility of core apps. Thirty-four percent of respondents hoped to reduce legacy app support costs through modernization.

With the growth of hybrid computing and ongoing efforts by IBM to constrain mainframe costs, now may be time to look at what a mainframe could do for your organization. The recent introduction of a new top-of-the-line mainframe means good deals can be gotten on the earlier machines and can replace a lot of your current IT costs.