How Mainframes Serve as 20th Century Solutions to 21st Century Problems

By Andrew Grzywacz

It’s 2016, and the expectation for virtually any company is that it has to be on the cloud, and it has to be mobile-friendly. That’s what employees expect and that’s what customers want, right? But in the race to adopt these more modernized approaches in an effort to make themselves more appealing internally to employees and externally to customers, a lot of these same companies may be making short-sighted decisions that, in the long run, do more harm than good. This is especially true for how some contemporary, ostensibly tech-savvy companies view mainframes. For example, in 2013, the insurance and financial service firm Irish Life shifted nearly its entire workload (97 percent) from a mainframe to a Windows server environment. The company's reasoning was that by shifting to this kind of cloud environment, it could make regular operations more user-intuitive and cost-efficient; however, it merely ended up being a short-term fix for a long-term problem.

As Computer Weekly notes, many of the world’s big name web-scale IT organizations – such as Facebook, Google and Amazon – have similarly turned up their noses at mainframes in favor of their own custom-built computing architectures. But when you actually crunch the numbers, z Systems still presents significant cost savings, potentially numbering in tens of thousands of dollars, over many non-mainframe alternatives.

You also have to think about the workload itself. It’s easy to dismiss mainframes as the “dinosaurs” of the industry, unable to keep up with the demands of today’s Big Data rat race, that frenzy of drawing in analytics from Google searches, website visits, social media traffic and mobile apps, then reworking your customer engagement strategies and platform UX to accommodate these numbers as best as possible. But the truth is, it’s not that mainframes can’t keep up – it’s actually the other way around.

If anything, mainframes are more adept at being able to handle the Big Data tasks that today’s businesses rely on to thrive. When you consider the tens of thousands of daily tweets, likes, comments and web page visits that determine just how effective your outreach efforts and UX designs are, mainframes offer an all-in-one solution to juggling these tasks. For instance, the IBM mainframe’s Customer Information Control System (CICS) processes 1.1 million transactions per second, up to 10 billion per day. For organizations that require heavy-duty processing power, or have to host up to thousands of virtual servers, z System mainframes are invaluable assets.

It’s easy to think that a cloud-first, mobile-centric world like today’s requires new, more recently built solutions for handling the Big Data challenges and server-hosting needs that organizations face in 2016. But the fact of the matter is, mainframes are as uniquely capable of meeting these challenges in 2016 as they were in 1964.

Mainframes provide experienced and always-evolving solutions to the data-crunching tasks of today’s IT professionals. SHARE provides these professionals with the insights, lessons and tools they need to best understand, and capitalize on, the role of the mainframe in the 21st century’s enterprise technology ecosystem.

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