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Powering Results

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2011-06-14 Print this article Print

Big iron continues to play an important role in enterprise computing.

Powering Results

It’s no surprise, then, that many Fortune 1000 organizations continue to rely on mainframes as a foundation for an IT strategy. “A lot of businesses look at their computing environment and realize that a mainframe provides remarkable power, a very mature and stable platform, and a single hardware provider to deal with,” Deloitte’s White explains.

“It remains an appealing concept.”

In fact, because a mainframe can run hundreds of virtualized machines or logical partitions, it provides a high level of flexibility and agility. Organizations that handle huge back-end processing loads benefit from the technology. So do commerce providers that must scale quickly to meet fluctuating demands: They can use a mainframe as a transactional hub that interacts with database analytics or a mobile computing environment.

Mainframes also allow enterprises to provision and deprovision test environments rapidly. In some instances, these processes can take place in hours rather than weeks or months. Some enterprises find mainframes appealing because they provide an antidote for server sprawl.

Finally, mainframes excel at failover, load balancing and disaster recovery. In addition, strong virtualization features make mainframes ideal for private clouds. Says White: “Any organization that has a mainframe and is looking into a private cloud should consider connecting the two.”

White notes that while mainframe sales have trended downward in recent years, the number of mips a typical machine handles has spiked. IBM, Hitachi and NCR are continuing to introduce new features and more-advanced capabilities, including microprocessors that are optimized for a wider array of computing tasks. As a result, he says, the anti-mainframe sentiment of the late 1990s and early 2000s has largely subsided.

The challenge now, for many enterprises, is finding the talent to handle development and programming tasks on mainframes. In an era of PC-based servers, social networking and Web 2.0, interest in programming for mainframes is waning, some experts warn.

Nevertheless, predictions about the demise of mainframes are largely exaggerated. “They’re still the best choice for many organizations,” Accenture's Burden concludes.  

Samuel Greengard is a freelance writer for Baseline.
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