Business intelligence resurrects mainframes

Reports of the mainframe's death may have been greatly exaggerated

Despite the general received wisdom that mainframe computers have long been consigned to the computing dustbin, business intelligence (BI) companies seem to be resurrecting their use.

According to Madan Sheina, senior analyst at Ovum, the re emergence of the mainframe was signified by the decision by Cognos to make its BI software available on the IBM System z mainframe running Linux.

“Mainframes are alive and kicking and remain critical components of a company’s IT infrastructure, especially for mission-critical high-volume transactional environments, like financial services, where the mainframe has proven itself to be a trusted platform for housing large amounts of data in a secure and centrally managed environment,” suggested Madan for whom there were several benefits to be had by putting BI on the mainframe.

“First, it enables enterprises to confidently (and smoothly) scale up the performance of sophisticated data analysis and other BI functions against larger volumes of data. Second, since more customers view BI as a mission-critical application, why not run it on a resilient and scalable mission-critical platform, which plays directly to the strengths of the mainframe, namely industrial-strength processing power, high-availability, reliability, security and centralised IT manageability. Finally, BI is still a growing market. Pushing the software onto the mainframe helps companies to both protect and leverage their mainframe investments (i.e. using BI to drive legacy modernisation without replacement of the mainframe).”

Research by Ovum has shown that that mainframe revenues are rising and MIPS capacity is at an all-time high, the growth almost certainly due to existing mainframe users either upgrading or growing their mainframe usage. Mainframe technology vendors are also introducing new pricing strategies to make it more cost-effective for both the hardware and software fronts that extend its reach to companies that once felt priced out.

Despite its optimism Sheina conceded that some challenges still existed. “Mainframes have to co-exist in a heterogeneous client-server, web SOA, software as a service and increasingly cloud computing world. Customers need to ask themselves how easily they blend into these modern architectures. “[And] even though data volumes and workload processes are spiking, mainframe datacentre staffing levels have not changed significantly, despite these increases. That perhaps remains the greatest challenge for the mainframe. There are simply not enough young, bright people wanting to learn mainframe skills over PHP, Java, Flash, and other ‘hip’ Web 2.0 technologies.”

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