Mainframe Matters: The Unsung Heroes of Government Agencies

The mainframe is at the core of technology strategy in many industries, but critics often question whether it is still relevant. In this “Mainframe Matters” series, we’re examining some of the industries where the mainframe plays a critical role, and answering the question: Why does the IBM Z matter today?

So far in this series, we’ve discussed the essential role the mainframe plays in the finance and healthcare industries. Next, we turn our attention to government. From the IRS to the National Weather Service to state court systems, government agencies of all kinds rely on the mainframe to host their most important, mission-critical applications.

What is it about the mainframe that makes it such a strong platform for government agencies? We spoke with Mike Riggs, manager of systems and database administration in the Office of the Executive Secretary at the Supreme Court of Virginia, to find out what role the mainframe plays in the judicial branch of government.

Keeping Court Systems Up and Running

In the state of Virginia, the mainframe handles all processing for the court systems. According to Riggs, no other system has the ability to protect, integrate, and extend the way the mainframe can. Some courts in Virginia have tested this theory, allowing themselves to be wooed by other vendors to try different case management systems. But, Riggs explained, the few courts that left all returned to work with the mainframe system.

“The other vendors couldn’t keep up with the legislative requests, hours of operation and the level of service we provide,” Riggs said. “We simply couldn’t provide the same level of service and function to the citizens of Virginia without the mainframe.”

The mainframe enables the court’s entire case management system. For example, attorneys don’t have to come to the court during business hours to file initial case papers. Instead, they can submit online through a secure, encrypted portal, no matter the time of day.

Stability and Processing Power

Government — and the court system in particular — is an area that requires enormous processing power, alongside stability and reliability. No other platform can process so many transactions, so quickly, with so little downtime. At the Supreme Court of Virginia, the mainframe handles both online activity during the day and batch activity during the night, as well as 24/7 online case management services for the public. Over time, the mainframe has become even faster and more capable, according to Riggs.

“We’ve cut hours off the processing window,” he explained. “We used to finish batch processing by 6 a.m., but now we’re finishing by midnight. We can keep applications up into the night, which makes logistics easier for the judiciary when they have a late day requirement.”

Delivering at the Right Price

Government agencies aren’t exactly flush with cash, and every dollar spent on resources needs to justify the cost. Not only is the mainframe capable of handling the processing needs and scalability that government requires, but it does so without requiring massive funds, both in software costs and staff resourcing.

“Here’s an example,” Riggs explained. “There was a time in the early 2000s when we wrote our first Java app on Windows. When that proof of concept was done, they wanted to launch it statewide. But we couldn’t support that from a cost standpoint using an open systems approach. Around the same time, IBM came out with Linux on the mainframe, so we did another POC on that platform. Perhaps no surprise there – it worked well and ran without the added expense for provisioning multiple systems.  We’ve been with Linux on the mainframe ever since.”

Why Do Mainframes Matter Today?

At SHARE, we all know that mainframes are an indispensable asset for organizations of all kinds. Take a look at some stats demonstrating mainframes’ importance:

  • Mainframes host critical core IT for: 92 of the world’s top 100 banks; 23 of the 25 top airlines; nine of the top 10 global life and health insurance providers; and 71 percent of Fortune 500 companies.
  • More than 225 state and local governments worldwide rely on a mainframe to deliver 24/7 support across police and fire departments, utilities, garbage collection, parks and hospitals.
  • Mainframes consume only 2 percent of worldwide IT spend, yet they run 68 percent of production workloads and an estimated 220 billion lines of code, with the highest levels of security and reliability.

We’ll continue to explore other industries and ways that mainframes matter today — stay tuned for future installments in the series.

Check out the SHARE Content Center for more articles, webcasts and presentations touching on important issues in mainframe, including technology, training and industry trends.

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