MainframeSpecial Report

Highlighting the benefits of mainframes for large-scale data processing

Despite the rapid adoption of cloud technology by businesses, large organizations continue to rely heavily on mainframes. Mainframe computers have the capability to process massive volumes of data, execute complex calculations, and handle critical transactions.

“Due to their processing power, exceptional reliability and security, as well as the ability to handle sensitive data, mainframes continue to be a cornerstone within many enterprises’ IT infrastructures, despite the rise of cloud technology,” Praveen Kumar, vice president for Asia Pacific at Rocket Software, said in an email interview with Back End News.

In essence, a mainframe serves as a central hub to which various computers are connected, functioning as the primary host for auxiliary computers with diverse functions. Mainframes are purpose-built to manage extensive data and processing demands.

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IBM defines a mainframe as the “main storage, execution circuitry, and peripheral units.”

According to reports, Howard Aiken and Grace Hopper are credited with the development of the world’s first digital mainframe, Mark I, supported by Harvard and IBM. The initial IBM mainframe was introduced in 1964.

The power of mainframes

A “2022 State of the Mainframe” survey by Rocket Software reveals that 56% of respondents reported that mainframes constitute the majority of their IT infrastructure, and 80% consider mainframes to be critical for their organizations’ business operations.

While cloud computing offers flexibility and scalability, mainframes deliver reliability, security, and efficiency. These qualities are especially valuable to sectors relying on mission-critical applications for high-volume financial transactions, data analysis, and large database management. Such sectors include finance, government, and large corporations.

Kumar emphasized that people engage with mainframe-reliant technologies daily, citing examples such as ATM transactions and online purchases.

The survey by Rocket Software lists the top workloads managed on mainframe systems, including transaction processing, financial applications, enterprise resource planning systems, batch processing, data analytics, customer relationship management systems, and industry-specific custom applications.

Mainframes in the modern era

While the rise of cloud computing might suggest a threat to mainframes, this is not the case. Mainframes have evolved with the times, often running on the latest Telum processors, where one chip can support approximately 40 Linux systems. They also incorporate built-in AI processors and separate IO processing, making them adaptable to contemporary needs.

“Mainframes are not just a one-trick pony with superior reliability and security features; they can also match and even exceed the capabilities of newer technologies,” Kumar clarified. “The IBM z15, for instance, exemplifies the blend of high performance and stability that mainframes offer, which helped them withstand the surges in workloads during the pandemic.”

Praveen Kumar, vice president for Asia Pacific at Rocket Software

Mainframes’ most significant challenge

The primary challenge to mainframes isn’t the cloud but rather the growing skills gap. Handling mainframe systems requires substantial expertise, and many seasoned professionals in this field may have left their companies.

Kumar highlighted that transitioning away from legacy systems can lead to prolonged product development cycles, especially due to coding-related delays. Simply transferring legacy complexities to distributed systems can perpetuate challenges.

Organizations that wish to maintain their mainframes should establish succession plans for critical roles and cultivate a new generation of mainframe professionals with expertise in multiple platforms, including cloud technologies.

Future of mainframes

Despite being labeled as legacy systems, there is no indication of their imminent obsolescence. The reliability of mainframes in preventing disruptions and ensuring security remains a compelling reason for large businesses to maintain and modernize their mainframe systems.

Kumar noted that many enterprises opt for a middle ground between the status quo and total re-platforming due to the continued maturation of hyperscale cloud infrastructures. Mainframes are increasingly recognized as a safe and secure essential part of mission-critical workloads in hybrid cloud strategies.

A survey by Rocket Software shows that only 4% of respondents favor moving to another platform due to the extensive work and potential business disruptions involved. For most organizations, modernizing in place offers enhanced user experiences and operational efficiency while leveraging years of tech investments in mainframes through the latest innovations.

“For most organizations, modernizing in place gives them the best of both worlds: enhanced user experiences and operational efficiency, sans the burden of re-platforming while having the ability to build upon years of tech investments in mainframes through the latest innovations,” Kumar said. “With this hybrid strategy gaining prominence, it is apparent that mainframes are here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Mainframes can complement the cloud, and vice versa. This strategy enables seamless data integration across multiple platforms and environments, leading to improved data quality, better insights, and more informed decision-making.

Companies have the flexibility to retain their most critical and sensitive data on-premises using mainframe infrastructure while taking advantage of public cloud resources for other workloads. This approach provides control over data and applications, enhanced security, and compliance management, along with cost-effective scalability when data usage increases.

It is safe to say that mainframes are poised to remain a critical component of the technological landscape for the immediate future.