Referred to by many as a legacy system, the mainframe is still alive and kicking, even if some refuse to believe it. All you have to do is look at the majority of Fortune 500 companies and discover how mainframes keep their businesses running. Mainframe systems process approximately 30 billion business transactions in a single day, including major credit card transactions, money transfers, and stock trades. Core banking has always been the mainframe’s strong suit, together with telecommunications billing and the private sector. With the data that companies need to process growing at a steady—and rapid—pace, the mainframe seems set to be a computing fixture in the years to come.
In assessing the viability of computing systems, one shouldn’t be quick to jump on a technology by virtue of it being the newest or latest. Looking at your current systems will allow you to assess it and evaluate current business needs. In a digital transformation, the prudent thing to do is to build upon what works. If you already have a mainframe system in place, the key is to keep it up to date through mainframe modernization. What are the elements of mainframe modernization?
● A distributed in-memory data fabric
Transfer mainframe data into a distributed in-memory data fabric by capturing them using a Change Data Capture (CDC).
● Fast analytics
Establish minimal latency by leveraging fast analytics and extreme transaction processing.
● Integration with modern technology
Integrate mainframe systems with modern applications by exposing COBOL or CICS applications through microservice-based API’s.
The cloud is a very appealing platform due to its mobility and the fact that you can only pay for the services you currently need. It’s a powerful platform because it allows organizations to access the data and applications they need where and when necessary, with the added benefit of providing cloud-based storage. Modern mainframes, however, have the capability for full virtualization of workloads that allow them to run cloud services and even hybrid implementations that combine both the power of the cloud and on-premise systems. This is the reason why third-party cloud service providers don ‘t treat mainframes as the competition, because they don’t have the economies of scale to beat the mainframe. In this aspect, the age of the mainframe works to its advantage; the system has had a long-enough market presence that has allowed users to focus it to the things that it does best. The efficiency of mainframe ownership is hard to match—even by cloud services.
It’s a different story with on-premise commodity servers; cloud service platforms can better manage server farms than any IT team in an organization with their own commodity servers. Although the initial cost of a commodity server is lower than acquiring a mainframe, the willingness of cloud service providers to compete against commodity servers in contrast to its non-competitive stance with the mainframe hints at the inefficiency of the server in the long run. The trend of server virtualization, together with the migration to the cloud, has made it possible to consolidate and optimize workloads so that the number of servers can be minimized. Even today, servers have very low levels of utilization, and it seems that this is a trend that will continue.
As mentioned earlier, a number of companies today already have a mainframe system in place, and it would be impractical to completely replace these systems. The fact that the mainframe has retained its relevance despite the rise of newer and more modern technologies speaks to its robustness and raw power. Recent research shows that 50% of businesses in Europe and the US are planning to expand their mainframe systems, due in large part to growing interest in artificial intelligence (AI). Despite the popularity of cloud services, there are also companies who have opted to take the hybrid approach and retain their mainframe systems, deciding against the reduction of mainframe capabilities and choosing to modernize the system instead.
Why do many companies rely on relatively old technology for business-critical applications and tasks?
● The mainframe lightens heavy IT workloads.
Two major industries—banking and eCommerce—rely on mainframes to meet their demand for high processing power, especially today, when a large number of consumers are shifting to contactless payments. Globally, the mainframe handles 87% of credit card transactions.
● The modern mainframe can be used by almost anyone.
Modern mainframes can support mainstream operating systems, making them easier more accessible to non-IT professionals. Mainframes are also adapting to new use cases by leveraging the AI ecosystem and using open source languages.
● There’s significant improvement in mainframe security, privacy, and compliance.
Architecture-wise, the mainframe gets high marks for its security. Mainframes are also essentially different from other computing platforms, even more modern ones, that the chances of cyber attacks are low.
Although it’s hard to conceal the age of the mainframe as a computing platform, this doesn’t detract from its viability and cost-effectiveness. Its continuing modernization will help put it roughly at the same level as newer systems, bringing more capabilities to the table. A number of applications that used to be reliant on the mainframe are gradually integrating with current technology, further cementing the mainframe’s position in the annals of modern computing.