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Mainframe dead? IT still sees it as robust, long-term solution, shows study

Archana Venkatraman

The rise of virtualisation, cloud computing, big data and the Internet of Things within enterprise IT has not really killed the mainframe. 93% of global IT execs cited mainframe as a robust, long-term solution in their enterprise IT strategy.

Mainframes are hardware used for large-scale computing purposes that require greater availability and security. While first generation mainframe occupied 2,000 - 10,000 square feet area within a datacentre, newer mainframes are about as large as a refrigerator. Popular in the 80s, many predicted the death of a mainframe in late 90s and the beginning of the new millennium because of its lack of scalability and the lack of skills in the IT workforce to manage mainframes.

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But the 8th annual worldwide survey of mainframe users by BMC Software has found that mainframe platforms continue to play a critical role in delivering computing power at a time when users expect access anytime, anywhere, regardless of the data volume and velocity implications.

IT professionals in Europe, the US and Asia-Pacific said that the mainframe is not only sticking within their IT estate, but that it is evolving to play an increasingly important role in enterprise IT environments.

Almost all respondents (93%) indicated that mainframe is a robust solution and is part of their long-term IT strategy. About half (50%) said that mainframe will grow and continue to attract new IT workloads in their enterprises.

None of the large enterprise respondents said they plan to eliminate mainframes from their IT infrastructure and just 6% of small enterprises indicated plans to eliminate mainframes from their IT.

Two-thirds of respondents also said that mainframe will be incorporated into their big data or cloud strategies.

“Mainframe will continue to play a big role in IT transformation, particularly in these times of unprecedented change,” said Jonathan Adams, general manager of data management at BMC Software that provides low-cost mainframes.

Particularly in finance, banking and insurance environments, long-established IT departments with many years' experience still have corporate databases running on mainframes. IBM, one of the biggest suppliers of mainframes, continues to invest in developing its mainframe line of products.

In 2012, after a 10% to 20 % dip in revenue in the first three quarters, IBM saw mainframe sales increase 56% in the fourth quarter.

“The unprecedented pace of technology evolution and the consumerisation trend is only solidifying the need for a platforms with superior availability, security and performance capabilities,” Adams said.

Availability advantages (72%) and security benefits (70%) of mainframe technology were cited as the main reasons for continued investment. Its suitability to run legacy applications, lower datacentre costs and centralized IT features were other reasons IT execs cited for using mainframes.

But the study also revealed that the current IT workforce lacks the skills to deploy and operate a mainframe environment. To overcome the mainframe skills shortages, enterprises are investing in internal training programmes (52%) and hiring experienced candidates (39%). Many are also looking to outsource or automate mainframe management.

Respondents also indicated that nearly half (46%) of their mainframe budgets are spent on software.

About 62% of the IT execs surveyed work in enterprises with over $1bn revenue and 45% represented financial and insurance industries while 20% represented government.


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