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GCN : August 2015
14 GCN AUGUST 2015 • GCN.COM The misunderstood mainframe is ready for another round BY CHRIS O’MALLEY INDUSTRY INSIGHT WHAT CAN BE REPLACED in favor of newer, more efficient, safer technology? CIOs and CTOs of large organizations constantly ask the legacy question. And not just because the Office of Personnel Management's recent data breaches have raised that inquiry for the mainframe and its Cobol programming language. A deeper examination is warranted, but it's likely the ultra-secure mainframe was not to blame. Underappreciated in our cloud-fixated era, the main- frame is in fact the most powerful, cost-efficient tech- nology fueling government databases and applications. It has retained that distinc- tion throughout its 63-year history and should prompt us to review our nega- tive perceptions of legacy systems. How has the mainframe managed that longevity? There are several answers, but one is its ability to constantly modernize, adapt and address new technol- ogy needs. Look closely and you'll see that, right now, we are in the early stages of another period of main- frame rejuvenation. Here are the early clues. The one bright spot in IBM's recent earnings was the mainframe. Sales of the new z13 --- a machine ca- pable of handling 100 Cyber Mondays every day --- grew 9 percent, with 24 percent capacity growth. That was particularly impressive given last year's strong quar- terly performance; IBM's mainframe business had a difficult revenue comparison to beat. Another clue is the disconnect between the number of organizations exploring mainframe mi- grations and the rare few actually executing them. My colleagues and I are hearing this from several industry analysts, and their anecdotal evidence is supported by a recent global survey of CIOs in which 88 percent said the mainframe will continue to be a key business asset in the next decade. Other notable results from that survey: • 81 percent said their mainframes are running new or different workloads than they did five years ago and handling greater big- data throughput. • 78 percent see the main- frame as a key driver of innovation. • And in a finding particu- larly relevant to the OPM breach: 70 percent of CIOs said they were surprised by the additional work and money required to ensure new platforms could match the security of the mainframe. As today's CIOs grapple with the need for real- time performance and unmatched security, they are starting to have a new appreciation for the main- frame and are investing accordingly. But several key challenges remain before an organization can have its mainframe investment sup- port the needs of the future: • Agility. The speed at which applications must evolve or add features is at odds with the slower pace of mainframe development. The mainframe must be more responsive to business needs with more frequent software updates and shorter mainframe develop- ment time. • Collaboration. Typically the mainframe was seen as performing set tasks and rarely, if ever, interfacing with other systems. This is out of sync with the sprawl- ing interconnected tech- nologies upon which large organizations now depend. Simplification and standard- ization in the mainframe ecosystem are coming and will speed that progress. • Brain drain. Many main- frame engineers are retiring, and organizations must enable the next generation to understand the business logic built into their most critical applications. CIOs can accelerate prepara- tions for this generational shift by providing the right tools, processes and culture to fully capitalize on their mainframe knowledge base. Forward-thinking organi- zations are already rejuve- nating and expanding the return on their mainframe investments by address- ing those issues. And that process is simply repeating the historical pattern of the mainframe, which has al- ways managed to keep pace with the times. So the biggest mainframe challenge might not be about replacing legacy tech- nology but about reversing legacy thinking. • --- Chris O'Malley is CEO of Compuware Corp. Look closely and you'll see that, right now, we are in the early stages of another period of mainframe rejuvenation.