The Mainframe: The Technology of Tomorrow with an Image Problem

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    Considerations for Maintaining Critical Business Continuity

    When I was briefed on BMC’s annual Mainframe Research Results, the largest survey on opinions surrounding the mainframe that I know of, I thought about how it showcases a couple of very interesting contradictions. The biggest is that while respondents who are using mainframes treat them as strategic assets focused on future loads and capabilities, the general market seems to think of these platforms as dinosaurs that have remained in service after their “use by” dates. That is the definition of an image problem. Let’s talk about the BMC survey and what it means this week.


    What makes this survey so interesting is that it covers the U.S. and Europe broadly, is spread across financial, government, technology and other industries, and is focused mostly on technology pros and managers, with enough executives to showcase differences in the power groups. Total respondents are nearly 1,200, providing enough response volume to get a decent sense of what people are thinking. Job functions cut across most types as well, with greater representation for systems programmers, systems administrators, and DBAs; a broad cross-section of other titles is also included.


    Within the respondents, most of whom are mainframe users, the vast majority (90 percent + from 2013 to 2014) believe that the mainframe will grow and attract new workloads going forward and will continue as a viable platform. In effect, the mainframe’s demise isn’t on their strategic planning horizon. On the contrary, they plan to continue to treat it as a strategic, forward-moving platform for their foreseeable future. Less than 10 percent, which were heavily weighted by non-mainframe users, thought that the mainframe was non-viable and that firms should be moving to get off of it.

    For those eliminating the mainframe, a whopping 57 percent see this as coming from management, which likely doesn’t touch the product but still sees it as obsolete. IBM software costs are cited 52 percent of the time, which is consistent with a perception of a tax, or in other words, IBM isn’t communicating the value of its offerings to contrast with prices and price increases. About 40 percent think they can do things more cheaply on something else, and about the same number cite staffing shortages and hardware costs as the reasons to abandon the platform. The staffing problem is real but the other positions, given the contrast with firms growing their mainframe footprint, showcase more of an image problem then a technical one with the offering.

    For instance, those who are growing their mainframe cite, in contrast, mainframe availability advantages (74 percent), security strengths (71 percent), superior performance as a data server (64 percent), and transactional advantages (60 percent) as primary advantages driving their increased investment.


    Growth shows a sharp contrast between firms that actively use and don’t use this technology, which builds on my image problem theory. When taken across the survey years of 2012-2014, the smaller shops that didn’t use this technology consistently ranked it as obsolete, while the large enterprises generally showcased the platform as vibrant and gaining more strategic focus and investment. This small-to-large breakdown continues into growth projections, with over 55 percent of the large shops showing growth of 1 to 10 percent, and 21 percent showing whopping growth of over 10 percent. In the small shops, 20 percent conversely showed declines of 1 percent to over 10 percent. This also suggests that large enterprises see more clear benefits from this technology.

    Data Center

    IT Top Priorities

    Largely unchanged, the top priorities remain IT Cost Reduction/Optimization (70 percent), Application Availability (52 percent) and Application Modernization (48 percent). Data Privacy moved up this year to number 4, and is now at 47 percent. Given Sony’s recent breach, I expect this one will continue to move up.

    Breaking down Cost Reduction, 22 percent need to reduce resource usage during peak hours, 19 percent plan to migrate off the mainframe, 18 percent plan to consolidate mainframe software vendors, and 12 percent plan to explore zIIP and specialty engines to reduce costs.

    Of the Data Privacy group, a whopping 48 percent are focused on compliance, which massively outstrips all other concerns. For those focused on Business/IT Alignment, 54 percent are citing faster response as their most critical need.

    Tactical Initiatives

    The tactical initiatives section emphasized the software license as a tax theory, as the largest group (22 percent) is focused on lowering their software licensing costs. Moving down this list, 20 percent need to improve application availability, about 14 percent are focused on improving performance, 12 percent on improving related skills and implementing greater automations, and 9 percent are focused on staffing up in related skills.

    Strategic Plans

    Long term, about 35 percent of the firms plan to modernize to take advantage of more updated technology, 19 percent are focused on delivering more functional data to the end user, 13 percent are focused on making their systems more web accessible, and 12 percent are focused on integrating existing applications more completely with the business. Only 10 percent were focused on a mobile audience, which is interesting given that mobile is one of the major trends being reported this decade. Out of that 10 percent, 22 percent were focused on existing application accessibility, 18 percent on new apps and the same percentage on security, and 12 percent on meeting mobile performance requirements.

    There has been a massive change in Big Data plans for the mainframe, with a jump from 27 percent to 34 percent of firms that plan to incorporate the mainframe into that strategy.


    Outages seem to be holding flat year over year at 12 percent for critical outages with significant business damage which, for this class of system, remains too high. But, given the increasing loads and increasing cyberattacks, the fact that this isn’t going up either reflects on how robust these systems typically are. Recovery remains the most important criteria after an outage, at 38 percent, with about a quarter of the respondents needing the ability to predict how long it will take to get the system back up and running. It is interesting to note that nearly half  of the respondents (39 percent) cannot tolerate an outage of more than one minute, however, even more interesting is that a nearly equal number (40 percent) can tolerate an outage of over five minutes.

    Wrapping Up:  Addressing the Problem, Not the Symptom

    Two things continue to jump out at me here. First, the contrast between people who don’t have mainframes and those who do. Those who don’t have mainframes think they are obsolete; those who have mainframes think they are vibrant, current, and a major component of their future and increasingly their Big Data strategy.  The other is how software licensing costs are treated like taxes or something to be avoided. This last supports why BMC is so successful with its software license management offerings. But that product deals with the symptoms; the problem is sourced in the buyers’ belief that they aren’t getting good value.

    In short, the mainframe isn’t dead, it is alive and vibrant. It just needs a stronger marketing effort to get people to see it for what it is and not for what it was. That’s my big thought from this year’s BMC Mainframe survey.

    This survey is used to refine and create BMC software offerings; if there is a need identified in this survey, BMC either has or will have a product to address it.

    Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, a forward-looking emerging technology advisory firm.  With over 30 years’ experience in emerging technologies, he has provided regional and global companies with guidance in how to better target customer needs; create new business opportunities; anticipate technology changes; select vendors and products; and present their products in the best possible light. Rob covers the technology industry broadly. Before founding the Enderle Group, Rob was the Senior Research Fellow for Forrester Research and the Giga Information Group, and held senior positions at IBM and ROLM. Follow Rob on Twitter @enderle, on Facebook and on Google+

    Rob Enderle
    Rob Enderle
    As President and Principal Analyst of the Enderle Group, Rob provides regional and global companies with guidance in how to create credible dialogue with the market, target customer needs, create new business opportunities, anticipate technology changes, select vendors and products, and practice zero dollar marketing. For over 20 years Rob has worked for and with companies like Microsoft, HP, IBM, Dell, Toshiba, Gateway, Sony, USAA, Texas Instruments, AMD, Intel, Credit Suisse First Boston, ROLM, and Siemens.

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