Companies move from batch processing to real-time data feeds on IBM mainframes

Research reveals that the UK's mainframe users are increasingly using their big boxes for application control in an attempt to...

Research reveals that the UK's mainframe users are increasingly using their big boxes for application control in an attempt to make IT work harder for less expense

There has been a revolution in the way mainframe computers are used by UK businesses over the past five years.

A study of large UK IBM mainframe users, exclusive to Computer Weekly, has revealed that most companies have moved from using their mainframe servers for batch processing and are now using them to deliver real-time information feeds.

Batch processing is where data is stored up and processed in batch jobs - for example, the way credit card companies process billing.

The report found that, of the 21 large organisations surveyed, three-quarters are using real-time information feeds from their mainframes, and about a quarter said all their applications require real-time data.

Nine organisations said they had extended the use of their mainframe and were setting up new applications that required mainframe access. Some were doing this on a daily basis, others on a monthly or between two and six times a year.

The applications that required real-time access to data were mainly core to the business. They included billing, claims, customer information, despatch, financial data, ATMs, loans and credit, reservations, e-commerce and web applications.

Research firm Market Clarity carried out the study for mainframe integration specialist Neon Systems.

The research found that six firms had implemented a service-oriented architecture (which uses reusable chunks of code); five were using web services (a standards-based way of integrating web applications); and one used an event-driven architecture (where the system responds to user or system activities).

Five companies used all three types of architecture and the rest were shifting from one set-up to another. Most of the companies said these architectures extended to their mainframes.

Ian Clarke, enterprise solutions director at IT services firm Compuware, said, "What this research confirms is that modernisation is well on the way. In the past three or four years, everyone concentrated on [mainframe] cost reduction. They are now concentrating on cost management and agility in IT."

Clarke added that the main driver was the need for firms to give customers real-time access via the internet to data held in back-office systems. Three to five years ago call centres handled the requests customers are now making online, he said.

Phil Payne, principal at Isham Research, said mainframes have steadily been moving towards real-time data processing over a number of years.

"Mainframes are the only way to do large-scale real-time data processing. People are very fond of saying Google can do everything with 10,000 PCs, but they have also got 10,000 different versions of their database. Centralised systems are essential," he said.

"Customers are increasingly familiar with instant gratification, and are using mobile devices to access mainframe data and, in many ways, bypassing the desktop PC. Within five years, every banking customer will have a banking terminal in their pocket, drawing on the mainframe."

IBM has invested heavily in its zSeries mainframe servers, developing high-availability operating systems such as z/Transaction Processing Facility Enterprise Edition; and a host of Linux and Java tools and applications to assist real-time processing.

It has also introduced architectural features, such as on-demand processing, where the server ships with free processors that are activated as required; and clustering technology for dynamically managing and mirroring critical storage, processor and networking resources.

How the research was conducted

Research firm Market Clarity surveyed 21 large UK organisations that use IBM mainframes. (Between 220 and 250 companies run IBM z/OS mainframes in the UK.)

Respondents came from a range of industries, including banking, finance and retail. They were all involved in mainframe integration or application development projects.

The research was commissioned by mainframe integration specialist Neon Systems.

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