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Why Mainframe Computing is Here to Stay (And What You Can Do About It)

Scott Konash | | April 4, 2019

Despite widespread predictions of its demise for the past several decades, the mainframe computer is here to stay. While the mainframe may have a shrinking user base in this era of the cloud, companies that are still on the mainframe are likely to remain there into the foreseeable future.

71 percent of organizations with a mainframe report that they used it for at least half of their mission-critical applications in 2018. What’s more, 93 percent of organizations on the mainframe believe that the technology has “long-term viability.”

Depending on your organization’s stance towards mainframes, this may be good news or bad news. While you can’t change the fate of the mainframe, however, there are steps you can take to affect its course within your organization. In this article, we’ll discuss how your business can navigate in a landscape that seems committed to the mainframe in the short and medium terms.

What is the Mainframe Used For?

Mainframes are primarily used by large organizations to process massive volumes of data for critical applications.

If you’ve ever used an ATM, taken a flight, or invested money for retirement, you’ve relied on a system that depends on the mainframe. Typical applications include:

  • Processing customer orders
  • Processing financial transactions
  • Controlling production and inventory
  • Payroll

“Serious” industries like finance, healthcare, and insurance are some of the biggest consumers of the mainframe. This is largely due to the mainframe’s strengths as a technology: security, scalability, reliability, and availability.

Modern mainframes are so stable that systems may run for months or even years without encountering unexpected downtime. What’s more, they’re highly resilient when it comes to disaster recovery. After subjecting IBM’s z13 mainframe to rigorous stress testing, researchers have determined that it can survive an 8.0-magnitude earthquake.

Why It’s So Hard to Leave the Mainframe

By their very nature, mainframe workloads are complex—after all, that’s why they’re on the mainframe in the first place. Of course, this complexity also makes it more difficult for organizations to migrate away from the mainframe.

Much of the work that takes place on mainframes is very “all or nothing” in character. That is to say, these processes are so highly interdependent that moving them piecemeal is nearly impossible. Mainframe workloads typically include multiple aspects: Job Control Language (JCL) files, transaction processing monitors, database engines, and mainframe programming languages such as COBOL, FORTRAN, and Pascal.

As a result, businesses have hacked together a number of hybrid solutions, using the mainframe in combination with more modern technological offerings like the cloud. Most organizations have decided that the costs and complexity of migrating from the mainframe are more important than the productivity to be gained from doing so.

What You Can Do About the Mainframe’s Longevity

If catastrophic natural disasters can’t take down the mainframe, then neither can your organization. What’s more of a concern, however, is the slowly expanding “mainframe talent shortage.” As mainframe specialists—mainly baby boomers—leave the workforce, there aren’t enough younger employees who can step up in their place.

There isn’t an easy answer to this quiet crisis in the tech industry. Solutions may include retaining your existing talent, working with a managed services provider, and reducing your dependence on the mainframe. To learn more about your options, download our new white paper “IBM Db2: How to Address the Mainframe Talent Shortage.”

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