Mainframe Insights – new surveys show continued reliance on IBM System z

How’s the mainframe market faring? This blog takes a look at BMC’s recent mainframe study and explores the characteristics of the current state of the market. It also compares these findings with some of Micro Focus’ own research.

BMC Mainframe Survey points to continued reliance on IBM System z

In October, BMC released their ninth annual mainframe survey, “2014 Annual Mainframe Research Results: Bringing IT to Life Through Digital Transformation”. The survey is widely regarded as a useful insight into today’s IBM mainframe world.

Let’s explore some of the findings from the BMC study, by looking at the key talking points.

Future strategy

The study was pretty clear: the mainframe remains part of the long-term business strategy and continues to shape the future of IT, according to 91% of respondents. A growing need for access on the go, 24/7 – for example internet banking – will increase reliance on the mainframe, and raise the demand for Millions of Instructions per Second (MIPS). Usage is expected to continue growing – with 61% of all shops expecting MIPS growth in the next two years, a clear indication of the faith in the mainframe longer-term. This is no surprise. Whether making a credit card payment, getting an insurance quote or booking a holiday,  the mainframe provides today, and will continue to provide, ‘mission critical’ processing.

The ongoing evolution of the mainframe continues to play an increasingly important role in today’s enterprise IT environments. Most respondents said they take advantage of the mainframe to benefit from updated technology such as mobile and cloud.

The Micro Focus view: As the continued reliance on mainframes is regarded as a given, it’s clear that organizations must maintain their investment in the centrepiece of their IT portfolio, in order to extract maximum value from it. Efficiency plays a key part in obtaining the value from a large mainframe investment – and gaining better understanding is the first step to improving efficiency. Cost-conscious IT managers and CIOs will appreciate gaining technical insight into a complex portfolio while benefitting from faster development and modernization projects.


“Small and medium shops’ need for training, either in improving specialists’ skills or hiring and training staff” was outlined as a mainframe priority for the upcoming year in the BMC study. On the other hand, recent Vanson Bourne research reveals that more than half of respondents have no difficulty finding IT workers with mainframe application skills. It is widely publicised that college leavers with COBOL programming knowledge is limited and that other object-orientated languages, such as Java, are currently the ‘in-thing’. As a likely consequence, recent years have seen increasing numbers of organizations, in particular smaller IT companies exploring outsourcing options.

Fundamentally a need for COBOL development is still high, and continues to be so with the majority of vital operational systems still running on COBOL.

The Micro Focus view: People are the lifeblood of any organization and having the right skills is vital – it’s equally important to ensure processes are in place to safeguard the future. With demand expected to outweigh the supply of COBOL programmers then a future resourcing strategy which enables a new generation of enterprise application developers is required. Such strategy must allow for current staff to be as efficient as possible, enable other staff to cross-train as needed, while providing a means for recruiting new skilled staff.



The BMC study supports the notion of ‘mainframe reliability’, with 88% of respondents experiencing no significant unplanned outages – a figure that is reflected year-on-year. Mainframes are renowned for their reliability, availability, and for having little or no downtime, providing what some refer to as ‘six nines’ availability.  It is still relied upon: global mainframe usage boasts 1.1 million transactions per second or 34 trillion every year. That’s significantly more than all tweets, Facebook ‘likes’ and Google searches carried out over the same period. Extensive self-checking and self-recovery capabilities have ensured the mainframe is a must-have for many of the world’s successful organizations.

The Micro Focus view: Reliability is a major plus point of mainframes and it’s why many organizations continue to rely on them as the platform of choice. To support future initiatives as well as sustain reliability, current infrastructure must be future-proofed through modernization. The key to successful application modernization is to adhere to the old adage ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Keep the value that the age-old infrastructure holds, while building on it to extract even morevalue.


Everyone is going mobile. The bulk of BMC’s survey respondents share this view:  ‘Making existing applications accessible for mobile, developing new mobile applications, and securing corporate data on mobile devices’ is the most important focus on the CIO agenda. A recent global study by Vanson Bourne suggests mainframe application accessibility through mobile is increasing, with 97% of respondents believing it is practical to develop mainframe mobile apps.

The Micro Focus view: Many organizations are considering how they can access their core applications on-the-go on a variety of platforms. Innovative modernization technology can take core mainframe green-screen interfaces onto mobile devices, to enable users to access mainframe applications wherever, whenever.

Cost management

According to the BMC study, 76% of larger shops and 52% of smaller shops expect to see MIPS grow over the next 24 months; moreover 70% of respondents answered ‘IT cost reduction’ as their main priority. Though the mainframe provides a stable, cost controlling environment, the introduction of modern tooling lowers Monthly License Charge (MLC) spending, streamlines CPU resources, minimizes downtime, and eliminates waste.

The Micro Focus view: Cost management is a top priority for many organizations, so when it comes to one of IT’s biggest investments – the mainframe – it’s important to ensure that maximum value is obtained. Ensuring the mainframe and related processes are streamlined means organizations can manage costs effectively.


The BMC and Vanson Bourne surveys suggest that:

1)      The mainframe remains a viable, long-term platform

2)      Uncertainty over future resource availability ensures the need for continued skills investment

3)      Reliance on the mainframe remains high

4)      Making current applications accessible for mobile is a main concern

5)      Organizations continue to juggle costs while trying to deliver value.

From the findings it’s clear that the mainframe still firmly underpins the majority of business processes in all major industries and is here for the long-haul.

Although with mobility, skills and cost management at the forefront of many business leaders’ minds, quick wins and business streamlining is key. Enabling organizations to make the most of what they have by unlocking the value within core IT systems through application modernization is crucial. Micro Focus helps organizations realise time to value sooner by addressing a number of key industry challenges – ultimately  delivering value back to the business faster than before. Micro Focus tackles the challenges raised from the surveys through:

1)      Enabling the mainframe to be used hand-in-hand with modern tooling

2)      A business-aligned IT resourcing strategy which ensures vital knowledge is maintained and passed onto the future generation of developers

3)      The implementation of quality tooling

4)      Enabling access to mainframe applications on-the-go through mobile devices

5)      Managing costs by streamlining the enterprise application delivery process, and by reducing unnecessary mainframe usage.

Find out more about Micro Focus can optimise the IBM Mainframe environment here or get in touch directly.


Beat The Clock – why COBOL is Grace Hopper’s enduring legacy

As a seven-year-old, the ever-curious Grace Hopper dismantled seven alarm clocks to find out how they worked. Quite why the family needed seven alarm clocks was never explained, but the anecdote illustrates the curiosity that ultimately inspired a remarkable woman to create something incredible. December 9 is Admiral Grace Hopper’s birthday. She would have been 108.

Grace Hopper

As a seven-year-old, the ever-curious Grace Hopper dismantled seven alarm clocks to find out how they worked. Quite why the family needed seven alarm clocks was never explained, but the anecdote illustrates the curiosity that ultimately inspired a remarkable woman to create something incredible. December 9 is Admiral Grace Hopper’s birthday.  She would have been 108.

It is tempting to simply record all her life achievements. After all, it’s quite a list. However, as Melissa Pierce, the would-be director of the #TheGraceHopperFilm, Born with Curiosity is keen to point out, it would be wrong to record her life as a simple list of stuff.

As has been noted before, it is ironic that for all the money Grace has helped to generate for the IT industry, no-one has offered to fund the biopic that will bring her story to life. As Melissa notes: “Steve Jobs and Bill Gates had more than 12 films made about them, but their legacies are built on Grace’s and there isn’t one documentary about Grace and her legacy. It’s time to change that.” While our company has contributed to the film ‘fighting fund’, we also devote nearly $55m every year towards supporting her most notable achievement.

Which isn’t the Mark 1 computer. Although a landmark invention, this was a behemoth of clanking, whirring computing machinery that has long been left behind. More than 55 feet long, eight feet high, weighing five tons and driven by almost 760,000 separate pieces, the US Navy used it for gunnery and ballistic calculations until 1959. Which is when Commander Hopper created the programming language that would be her longest-lived legacy.

Computer speak

Grace Murray Hopper changed the lives of the computer industry – and the businesses that would ultimately depend on mainframe computing – by developing the Bomarc system. This became COBOL, or the common-business-oriented language that is so popular today. So popular that COBOL transactions outnumber Google searches by 200 to one.

Originally used by the US Department of Defense as a portable programming language for data processing, it became de rigueur for computer manufacturers and boosted widespread adoption. Standardized in 1968, expansions include support for structured and object-oriented programming.

COBOL’s genius is that it enables computers to respond to words rather than numbers. Perhaps that is why there are around 200bn lines of COBOL in regular use across the globe today in government agencies, finance houses, banking, insurance and other mainframe owners.


COBOL is at the heart of many organizations’ core applications and represents a better, more stable, option than rewriting or replacement. Fifty years to the good, COBOL is here to stay. Such is the ongoing, enduring business value within the core COBOL systems, that a new generation of application development staff will need to take the reins in the in the years ahead.

Micro Focus was built on COBOL and our ongoing support of Visual COBOL is reflected by continuous, ongoing and substantial investment. This includes helping students to embrace COBOL and programmers to harness the power of modern platforms, such a JVM and .NET, through Object Oriented Programming (OOP). Our portable COBOL technology currently supports 50 platforms and our Developer Days help keep ‘COBOL guys’ up to speed with all that it can do.

COBOL – the legacy

In a world where Barbie is offered as a role model for girls looking to become computer engineers, Grace Hopper remains the real deal. As Melissa says, Grace the person as much as the computer pioneer should be reflected in film. “We believe Grace humanizes and makes notable women both inspirational and relatable. We want women and girls to see themselves in her place.”

Decades on from dismantling alarm clocks, it is clear that the name of Grace Hopper was always going to be timeless.