Is the Mainframe Still Viable?

07.31.2012

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The question “What would make the z/OS mainframe a viable choice today?” was posted in the LinkedIn group “IBM Mainframe – Unofficial” (here) towards the end of 2011. Raising concerns over cost, flexibility and fitness for (new) purpose(s), the original discussion raised concerns that things looked bleak for the z Series, stating such concerns do not make it “a platform of choice except in companies already using it”. Does the mainframe have a future?

Since the statement was raised over 240 comments were posted to the group in the following 9 months. A variety of views were shared. Our view is very simple: we contend that the mainframe is as viable as ever.

The adage about mainframes being outdated, cumbersome and costly is, we feel, fallacious. By looking at some of the key facts of the matter one is able to build up a picture of the genuine contemporary value the mainframe can bring.

Let’s consider the first term “outdated”. It suggests an antiquated platform receiving no investment and no longer relevant yet, if you consider that the majority of the world’s business transactions continue to take place on mainframe computers, this indicates continued relevance. Let’s also consider the investment angle. IBM’s 2010-11 launch of the new zEnterprise range, including the ground-breaking z114 (business-class), zBX and z196 (enterprise-class) platforms represents a significant continued investment by the manufacturer and, moreover, through the innovations provided, a sustained contemporary role for the mainframe.

What about other operational concerns? Two of the most common complaints levelled against the mainframe environment are those of its inflexibility and cost. It is widely held that the environment is not designed to meet new and emerging business needs, and it is simply too expensive. It is worth examining each contention in turn to see how true those statements are nowadays.

The issue of agility contests that the mainframe is not the most flexible platform. However if you look closer, mainframe systems now embrace both traditional z/OS platforms as well as providing contemporary environments such as AIX, Linux and Windows. This enables a variety of applications to execute across its breadth of server environments, providing much greater levels of flexibility both in terms of platform choice, software strategies and cost models.

Regarding cost, the mainframe has been regarded as the high-cost, high-value enterprise server. With lower TCO server platforms becoming available, CIOs started to scrutinise the cost element, making it harder to justify mainframe expenditure. This relative cost issue has been tackled head-on, with the newer zEnterprise systems offering some of the lowest price / performance ratios of mainframes ever. Additionally, with new flexibility afforded by multiple operating platforms, traditional high-cost software choices can be scrutinized and lower-cost contemporary technology solutions can help reduce the software costs (often the largest single OpEx category for a mainframe environment). New software options available to the market provide lower-TCO alternatives to traditional 3270 tooling, offering mainframe shops a real opportunity to take software costs right down in areas such as application development and even system testing. Further technology even enables z/OS systems to execute on UNIX, Linux or Windows LPARs according to business demand, providing further cost management opportunity.

To recap – we suggest customers look again at the mainframe world. Things have evolved both in terms of hardware, systems configuration and the ecosystem of software tools. This is as true in the mainframe world as elsewhere, with IBM and other vendors having invested significantly for its customers.

The new zEnterprise environment provides lower-end and hybrid systems which offer a sensible middle ground for organizations looking for lower TCO and greater flexibility. These new mainframes provide a flexible and viable powerhouse workhorse engine on which many organizations rely to run their businesses.

Smart technology choices enable organizations to renew and even improve the value of mainframes and how quickly and cost-effectively systems can be delivered by and for them. Micro Focus supports the evolution of the IBM mainframe and zEnterprise platforms, and the latest Micro Focus Mainframe Solution offerings enable organizations to exploit and harness the real value provided by the new IBM environment, and also provide unprecedented improvements to the processes and technology to maximize the value of the mainframe world. For more information, see http://www.microfocus.com/solutions/mainframesolution/

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