Director, Large-Scale Business Technologies Division
When you think of a mainframe what thought goes through your head? Large, on-premise? Racks and rows of servers housed on several data centre floors? The truth is, mainframes have evolved. In this article we dispel 5 mainframe inaccuracies and reveal some truths behind the nature – and future – of mainframes.
False: Mainframes are best suited for onsite computing environments
True: Mainframes can enable scalable, hybrid cloud architectures
Mainframes were traditionally seen as on-premise computers used primarily by large enterprises for critical applications and transaction processing.
Today, more than 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies still use mainframes. They also account for 68 percent of global IT workloads. Many of these organisations have deployed hybrid applications that include on-premise, private cloud, third-party public cloud and mainframes.
The truth is, the massive computing power, storage and scalability features of mainframes make them ideal central processing units for hybrid cloud architectures. Organisations are realising the benefits of greater flexibility by enabling workloads to move between private/public clouds and mainframes as their computing needs and costs change.
Another advantage mainframes offer in a hybrid environment is simplicity. Complex, multi-cloud environments that span a variety of on-premise and cloud resources run a high risk of failure. But mainframes, such as the IBM Z series, deliver broad functionality – simply, efficiently and inexpensively. Mainframes are, therefore, more relevant in a hybrid world and can become the central point of complex, multi-cloud and on-premise solutions.
False: Only on-premise mainframes offer the best security
True: Cloud-enabled mainframes are now more secure than ever
As the world becomes more digitised and interconnected, mainframes remain one of the most stable, secure and mature environments to support IT initiatives. In fact, IBM states that 87 percent of all credit card transactions and nearly US$8 trillion in payments a year are processed on mainframes. Next-generational technologies, such as blockchain, already utilise mainframes for compute-intensive tasks and storing data.
But are cloud-enabled mainframes as secure as their on-premise counterparts?
It would seem so, with big tech vendors such as IBM releasing secure, cloud-ready mainframes. These mainframes include robust security with pervasive encryption, powerful analytics and machine learning. This is critical in a world of increasing cybersecurity concerns, viruses and malware.
Today’s cloud-ready mainframes are capable of processing billions of fully encrypted transactions a day. And they are designed to provide industry-leading security delivered in on-premise environments within public cloud data centres.
As a result, CIOs and tech specialists can provide cloud-ready mainframe environments to their users without compromising trust, while also meeting industry compliance regulations.
False: Mainframes function only with onsite IT and support staff
Truth: Virtual support teams can provide mainframe as-a-service
Mainframe talent constraints, combined the with cost of replacing tech staff outright, are forcing CIOs to make a choice: manage existing mainframes with available on-site IT staff, or consider mainframe as-a-service solutions. The days of managing mainframes with a centralised IT department are dwindling, as is locally-sourced talent.
Mainframe as-a-service (MaaS), on the other hand, enables organisations to tap into mainframe vendors that provide all the necessary IT infrastructure and support. These service providers normally cover all the costs of maintenance and upgrades which translates into significant cost- and risk-avoidance. In fact, most MaaS end-users only pay for the compute, storage and batch time consumed in normal operations. And MaaS enables them to scale up or down according to their changing requirements.
The result: CIOs can scrap the nerve-jangling task of maintaining aging mainframes.
MaaS also offers assurances of business continuity. Most service providers offer extensive disaster recovery and redundancy, including mirrored sites, which many organisations find cost-prohibitive.
SLAs enable MaaS vendors to provide very accurate predictions of the cost of deployment, configuration, training, managed services and preventive maintenance for mainframes. In addition, most MaaS vendors offer 24/7/365 support.
The advantages of virtual teams hired to manage mainframes include the ability to tap into geographically dispersed, highly qualified talent. On-site IT staff can augment their mainframe know-how with knowledge transfers from experienced foreign colleagues. Organisations can then delegate certain functions to virtual teams while maintaining business-critical or sensitive activities on-site.
False: Mainframes require regular, manual updates and maintenance
Truth: Apps can provide automated, real-time mainframe support
Traditional mainframes required regular, consistent on-site monitoring and manual, batch updates. The task of keeping them well serviced and running smoothly became onerous which resulted in long incident management chains and service downtimes.
But today’s mainframes can be supported remotely and automatically with business applications on mainframe servers. These apps can digitize, accumulate and share the experience of support teams.
They can also work remotely to manage and maintain mainframe systems to ensure business continuity. This includes monitoring distributed teams and apps from one entry point. The result is a clear picture of the state of business applications, staff actions and mainframe software and hardware.
Embedded AI modules can spot operational support problems in real-time and generate and suggest solutions. Tickets can be automatically assigned for relevant actions on problems.
By blending human experience and expertise with automation and AI-enabled apps, mainframes are starting to bridge the legacy of the past with the landscape of the future.
False: Mainframes take up huge amounts of floor space and are becoming irrelevant
Truth: Mainframes are the size of your fridge, and mainframe capabilities are expanding
The old, workhorse mainframes of the past took up hundreds of metres of data centre space. And they incurred costly electricity and utility fees, with cumbersome airconditioning units consuming vast amounts of energy.
Today’s new mainframes do not require special space, cooling or energy. They are also smaller than some of the earlier “big iron” machines (remember the first computers that would fill the space of an entire room?). With standard 19” racks, the latest mainframes seamlessly coexist with other platforms in a data centre. A single-frame unit requires 75 percent less floor space and reduces power consumption by 40 percent. To put them in perpective, these mainframes are the size of your fridge.
Mainframes have always been capable of hosting business-critical applications such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), finance and accounting and big data transactions. However, more organisations are starting to expand the capabilities of mainframes to host and compute next-generational technologies based on AI, blockchain and the Internet of Things (IoT).
Top-end mainframes can now process up to 800 billion transactions daily. As such, modern mainframes will continue to play a significant role in highly digitised, automated and hybrid infrastructures.