Will the Mainframe ever go away?

When I started my career, everyone said “The mainframe is dying“. I still hear the same comment today as well.

This was a comment that I heard yesterday from my colleague who is 20 years old in the IT industry. Application Transformation, Legacy Modernization are buzz-words that one hear in the industry but have the mainframes retired? Not at all. I heard another colleague say that 499 of the Top Fortune-500 companies have a mainframe. Why then is the talk still heard about the Mainframe going away? Are the Modernization exercises successful? Very rarely.

One hears that Mainframe developers are retiring and hence more firms are planning to move out of the Mainframe. Will they ever do it? All discussions about retiring the mainframe are mainly because there are no skills in the market. Looking at the robustness of the solution deployed, why do organizations even think of changing the technology.

Is Offshoring the best solution then? Maybe. Most of the Indian IT firms have tonnes of developers in the Mainframe technologies. New joinees are given training in multiple technologies – Java, Microsoft, Mainframe. Thus, there are enough developers who can support the Mainframe. If so, why bother moving out?

Do you agree? If not, what is your opinion?

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19 Responses to “Will the Mainframe ever go away?”

  1. Dwain Agamao Says:

    What’s up to every one, the contents existing at this site are actually awesome for people experience, well, keep up the good work fellows.

  2. Jodayodr Says:

    Mainframes are not dying. Those that are still on the the z/os or z/vm platform are staying and adapting Why? Because these systems have RAS: reliability, accessibility and serviceability and also host 85% of most mission critical applications and data. These machines also have the ability to run (or host) multiple operating systems, and thereby operate as a host of a collective of virtual machines. In this role, a single mainframe can replace higher-functioning hardware services available to conventional servers
    In addition, mainframes are designed to handle very high volume input and output (I/O) and emphasize throughput computing.
    Mainframes can add or swap system capacity without disrupting system function, with specificity and granularity to a level of sophistication not usually available with most server solutions. Mainframes are here to stay, at least in my lifetime!

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Agree totally. There has never been a more robust server built so far.

  4. Abdul Jaleel KK (@ialjkk) Says:

    No doubt, Mainframes are here to stay for decades. What need to change is people’s attitude towards Mainframe as a ‘legacy’ technology.

    -Developers should change their mindset that COBOL is an inferior language (Today, COBOL can even run on top of JVM and on Android devices, making it possible Java developers to code in COBOL .NET using their familiar Eclipse environment and host COBOL apps on cloud)

    -Architects should recommend Mainframe based solutions to customers (It’s highly impossible to meet the utilization and availability capabilities of a Mainframe system by a distributed system, Virtualization capabilities of zVM is something that inspired today’s hypervisors and VMs – zVM is the first virtualization program written and today it is capable of managing 1000s of OS images with high Utilization rates – on distributed platform and Mainframe was an internalized cloud for decades)

    -Management should stop giving superior treatment to non mainframe technologists (We see different salary grades, benefits and visibility differences for mainframe folks). I can say that in many oraganizations, management underestimates the capabilities of Mainframe systems

    – It’s true that Modernization is the buzz word today, but I think CIOs should focus on modernizing mainframe applications using SOA, Web enablement, Service enablement etc. than moving completely to a different platform. You can never match the RSA capabilities of a Mainframe system.

    Let us take a look at today’s major buzzwords and see how mainframe systems has a better solution compared to distributed world:

    1. Cloud Computing – Mainframe hardware with zVM programs can very well become a cloud hosting environment. It can host many server images inside a single box and deliver high speed in-memory based hypersocket communication between servers, giving zero possibility for intrusion and hacking. zVM can handle thousands of OS images running on the hardware and high utilization rates can be achieved with the help ‘Share everything’ resource provisioning. Tivoli products allow automated image provisioning making it possible to scale in and out based on requirement. On demand resource on/off facility for every hardware spare components (CPU,Memory,IO adaptors) keeps mainframe systems fail rates extremely low. MTBF is in decades for Mainframe systems. VM images running on separate LPAR on IBM Mainframe hardware never will face ‘Noisy Neighbor’ problem as in Public cloud systems (Remember, NetFlix problem on Amazon EC2).

    2. Big Data – Today, there are technologies that can handle batch processing of large volume of data on distributed systems. For decades Mainframe systems (especially COBOL language) are best known for its batch processing capabilities. Many organizations has data residing in IBM Mainframes, but it lacks data analytics capabilities due to the unavailability of software on mainframe systems. It is just a matter of time that we will have Hadoop running on System z (on Linux images) and it will definitely bring a booming market of data analysis and analytics for many Mainframe shops to take better decisions using their data.

    3. Green computing – Less wired infrastructure (in-memory communication between servers), Low cooling requirements, Low space requirements – are just few parameters for a better green computing systems. Even though today we have cloud based infrastructure reducing footprints for on-premise energy requirements for organizations, behind the scene large server box farms are running for cloud service providers and the energy footprints are really high for such systems. Utilization of resources on those server boxes is another key factor – x86 servers never can match Mainframe resource utilization rates and it leads to leaving high energy footprints.

    4. Highly scalable databases (NoSQL DBs) – Every website that needs high scalability use key value store databases by compromising on ACID. Even though we can run k/v stores on linux images hosted on mainframe systems, traditional databases like DB2 is now adding NoACID (NoSQL)specific features to existing relational model. This will change the rule of the game very soon and DB2 can become DB choice for highly scalable websites.

    Cost is the one key entry barrier for IBM Mainframe systems, specialty processors can challenge this claim upto some extend, but it is expensive for organizations to start with an IBM mainframe hardware than using today’s No Capex. I am sure IBM will shift their charging model soon to make more room for new organizations to come-in. Their move towards mainframe based cloud infrastructure services is a promising offering considering the hardware capabilities it can offer compared to non mainframe servers.

    Within an organization what we need is more awareness on the capabilities of Mainframe systems and how new technology trends can be fit into mainframe world. I am sure that lack of awareness or ignorance towards mainframe technology is what it made mainframe systems ‘legacy’ and ‘dying’ technology.

  5. Madhusudan Rao Says:

    Thanks for the detailed comment, Abdul. The key to increased Mainframe adoption will be the difference in cost model provided by IBM. If they offer more flexibility, I feel the Mainframe will go places.

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  8. Marcel den Hartog Says:

    Madhusudan, nice blog. And Abdul, great summary. Two things; Firstly, the cost issue. I visit many large customers and cost always comes up. But on my question “What % of the corporate transactions depends on your mainframe and what % of your IT budget do you spend on it?”, I hardly ever get an answer. It’s “en vogue” to say the mainframe is so expensive because this gives people the opportunity to spend more on other stuff…. Which eventually skews the cost unbalance even more.

    Cloud.. Where do all these new Cloud Services get their data from? Will we just copy and move terabytes around again like we now do with distributed systems? or will the mainframe still act as the enterprise data server feeding other apps with our most valuable asset: Our corporate data? I would say yes, and that immediately explains why many people think Cloud will just grow mainframe usage.

    more on Mainframe & Cloud (and many other thoughts) can be found here: http://bit.ly/ukwiSX

  9. Madhusudan Rao Says:

    I will let Abdul give his opinion but from my side, the assumption that mainframe is expensive is mainly due to the cost model that IBM has. You can never buy a mainframe like a “bar of soap” (heard another friend of mine say this).

    Also, Mainframe will still act as the enterprise data server as you say it. The adoption will increase further thanks to the very existence of the M/F in the enterprise…

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  13. eswarann Says:

    Mainframe may go away but not legacy !! It will be as challenging as ever..
    http://eswarann.wordpress.com/2012/01/26/challenges-in-it-legacy-systems-transformation/

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    • Anonymous Says:

      But this is the true fact…if you have more than 8 years of exp in mainframe technologies..very hard and impossible to get a job change….but in open and internet technologies with this exp…so many openings… in mainframe when u experienced..u loose ur value..this is not with other technology…

      • Anonymous Says:

        True. I too agree that as your experience increases in mainframe you loose your value.

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