Mainframes ForeverBy Samuel Greengard Print
Big iron continues to play an important role in enterprise computing.
See also our slideshow, Mainframe Expertise In Demand.
During the last few years, IT executives have found themselves sorting through a dizzying array of choices about technologies, systems and tools. Yet, in an environment increasingly ruled by the low cost and simplicity of distributed servers, there’s a growing recognition that mainframes definitely aren’t ready for the scrap heap.
“Mainframes continue to play an important role in business and IT,” observes Mark White, principal and CTO for Deloitte Consulting.
In fact, many traditional users of mainframes—financial services firms, transportation providers, e-commerce companies, government agencies and others with massive databases—continue to use these computers to handle a variety of tasks. Mainframes are evolving, and enterprises are relying on them for a wider range of IT requirements, including running virtualized machines, supporting private clouds and running a mix of operating systems, including Linux.
According to Adam Burden, global lead for application modernization at Accenture, recent advances in architecture enable organizations to tackle tasks on these computers that they couldn’t have imagined only a few years ago. “Organizations that have made a commitment to this computing platform are finding that it is breathing new life into their business,” he says. Mainframes remain especially valuable for organizations that require high availability and bulletproof disaster recovery.
Burden says that in today’s business environment, three primary groups rely on mainframes. The first group includes organizations that currently depend heavily on enterprise software suites such as ERP or CRM. Many of these organizations are gradually migrating off mainframes and onto Unix or Windows architectures. “They are essentially looking to retire the hardware,” he says.
The second group includes enterprises that continue to use mainframes because they’ve made a huge financial and labor investment in them. Many of these companies’ business applications run on big iron, and they are looking to extend their applications’ useful life by tying them into emerging technologies in order to tap into new uses, including mobile commerce and private clouds.
The third category encompasses organizations that continue to invest in mainframes and rely on them as a mainstay of their computing environment. Many of these users, Burden says, are adopting new systems and tapping into their power for both traditional uses and new channels—often involving IBM’s Integrated Facility for Linux (IFL) processors with Linux and Java subsystems.
“It’s an incredibly cost-efficient use of mainframe computing,” Burden notes. “They’re able to support rapidly growing transaction processing needs from new channels without taxing their core business systems.”
What’s more, mainframe users can substantially reduce site-licensing costs and save on cooling and energy expenses. Some experts also believe that mainframes provide a more secure operating environment than distributed servers.
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