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GCN : August 2015
GCN AUGUST 2015 • GCN.COM 13 Mainframe as a service: Big iron without big headaches BY TONY ENCINIAS INDUSTRY INSIGHT ALTHOUGH THEY ARE CONSIDERED very old tech- nology, mainframe environ- ments are still widely used to manage large-scale batch and transaction processing jobs. Without mainframes, most state governments could not operate their depart- ments of health and human services, tax departments or departments of motor ve- hicles, or run the numerous other baseline governance activities on which taxpayers depend. The technicians who know how to manage those environments are aging as well. It is estimated that 35 percent to 40 percent of the workforce trained on mainframes could retire tomorrow. Most CIOs would prob- ably elect to replace their mainframes with more advanced cloud comput- ing and storage solutions. However, governments often have enough funds to run their mainframes but not the funds (or the appetite for new taxes) to replace them. That leaves CIOs with the choice of managing existing mainframe environments with the staff available today or choosing main- frame as a service (MaaS), which provides computing and storage capabilities as a cloud service. Government institutions will be dependent on main- frames for years to come, even with the advances in cloud computing. But the talent constraints combined with the cost of replacing mainframes argue for out- sourcing the infrastructure and support to capable third parties. The key benefit of MaaS is that the provider pays for the maintenance and up- grades to IT infrastructure, which can mean dramatic cost and risk avoidance for government CIOs. The MaaS user pays only for the computing, storage and batch time consumed in the course of normal opera- tions. That approach frees government employees to focus on their business func- tions rather than on the IT infrastructure. Best of all, CIOs can ditch the nerve-jangling task of maintaining aging computer equipment. A deeper examination of MaaS reveals a longer list of benefits, including: • Scale. MaaS allows users to scale up or down ac- cording to their changing requirements. • Continuity. MaaS offers assurances of business continuity because vendors can offer redundancy that agencies might find cost-pro- hibitive. It means markedly reduced downtime in the event of a mainframe failure and assurances of full recov- ery in the event of a disaster because data is mirrored at a second site. • Ease of migration. The MaaS vendor runs the same IBM z Systems mainframes that governments are running, so migration is smooth. • Predictable costs. Top- tier vendors will offer a service-level agreement that gives accurate predictions of the cost of transportation, installation, de-installation, configuration, initial train- ing, requested levels of man- aged service and preventive maintenance. Users of MaaS move to a consumption model for mainframe ser- vices and pay for them out of operating expenses rather than capital expenses. • Support. The best MaaS vendors offer 24/7/365 support. • No deactivation charges. Top-tier providers will have no minimum charges and no penalty for deactivation of services, which offers great operational flexibility to CIOs or others managing the mainframe environment. It would probably be to agencies' advantage to replace mainframes over the long term. But budget constraints often force the government to settle for an interim solution that gets the job done. And MaaS allows agencies to get top performance without having to pay outright for top-tier IT infrastructure. The rising popularity of MaaS is easy to understand once all its benefits are taken into account. Adopt- ing MaaS is just a matter of a new mindset in terms of how mainframe services are consumed, but clearly, it is becoming a top option for mainframe operators look- ing for prudent solutions to today's pressing personnel and budget constraints. • --- Tony Encinias is vice president of public-sector strategy at ViON and former CIO of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Talent constraints combined with the cost of replacing mainframes argue for outsourcing the infrastructure and support.