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    The Mainframe Will Drive Digital Transformation

    BMC’s 16th Annual Mainframe Survey highlights how Big Iron is far from dead. Mainframes are not only growing in usage, but also are critical for digital transformation for larger enterprises.

    The online survey includes responses from  more than 1,300 mainframe professionals across 21 countries and covers the period between March 12 – 13 of this year. BMC divided this into two categories:  

    • Champions – organizations where the mainframe investment is growing and MIPS are increasing. 
    • Mainframe Laggards – organizations that have flat investments in mainframes.  

    About two-thirds of the survey is composed of Champions.  

    Benefits to Digital Transformation Initiatives

    Roughly 64% of Champions believe that the mainframe platform represents a source of long-term growth and new workloads. One of the key reasons for this is the emerging technologies available, such as artificial intelligence, modern databases, and languages like Java and Python. According to the report: “The consensus is clear: the mainframe has an important and growing role to play in the future of digital business.”

    The survey indicates that 68% of the Champions are experiencing rising transaction volume and 64% are seeing growth in data volume. In light of this, it should be no surprise that 63% report increases in the number of databases.

    “If you consider the fundamental tenets of digital transformation, it is the conversion of all records or data into a digital format and being able to extract or mine the information to generate results in real-time,” said Miten Marfatia, CEO of EvolveWare. “We are talking terabytes of data that have to be mined and this requires hardware with processing power that only mainframes have. Hence mainframes are extremely critical for digital transformation to be a success.”

    Also read: Mainframes Still Matter in the Digital Business Transformation Age

    Mainframe System Challenges

    Migrating or replacing mainframes systems remain major challenges. Because of this, companies are looking at hybrid strategies for transformation. 

    “Mainframe integration is a practical approach to help you accelerate digital innovation by building on what works to stay ahead of your competitors and connect to the digital world around you,” said Nicole Ritchie, head of product marketing at Software AG Mainframe Integration Solutions.

    Investments in mainframe technology have also helped to alleviate the staffing shortage. The fact is that it is extremely difficult to recruit engineers who understand legacy technologies. But with AIOps and modern DevOps, the Champions have been able to rely less on recruiting for mainframe talent. The survey points out that 40% of the respondents noted that staffing and skills are a top priority, down from 46% in 2020.

    Mainframe Security is a Plus

    Mainframes have some of the most stringent security systems. For example, there is IBM’s Resource Action Control Facility (RACF), which provides for permissions built into the machine.  There is also automatic logging. What’s more, mainframes are not as susceptible to common intrusions, such as email phishing.  

    Despite this, security remains the number one priority for the second consecutive year. Unfortunately, breaches are getting more sophisticated and frequent. And, with the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been even more security vulnerabilities because of the rapid move to remote workforces. The BMC survey reveals that 86% of the respondents conducted an internal security audit during the past two years and vulnerabilities were found. The common areas were with the operating system and configuration. 

    The research also shows that the focus is on comprehensive SIEM (security information and event management) approaches that detect and respond to threats in real time. This is then backed up by SOC (security operations center) teams. Just relying on periodic audits is no longer valid.  

    Also read: The State of ITOps: Digital Transformation, Technical Debt and Budgets

    The AI Factor

    The survey shows that 42% of extra-large shops say that implementing AI and ML (Machine Learning) is a top priority. Mainframes are certainly essential for this. The BMC survey shows that 72% of extra-large shops have more than half of their data on these systems, which are often focused on mission-critical operations such as customer transactions and the financials.  

    “Unfortunately, mainframe data remains largely sequestered in specific on-premises devices and systems often retained on slow VTLs or even physical tape, making it hard to use it in cloud applications,” said Gil Peleg, CEO and founder of Model9. “However, when it can be mobilized and moved to where it is most needed and can be best deployed — for example, in a cloud data lake — that means the mainframe data takes on a new, unmatched, transformative potential.”

    Another key to pushing innovation with AI and other efforts is DevOps. However, this has seen slower adoption in mainframe shops because of the complexities of the environments and the incompatibilities with modern systems. However, there has been more progress lately.

    “Our research shows that 88 percent of mainframe champions want to update their applications with greater frequency due to increased demand and expectations of their users,” said John McKenny, SVP and GM, Intelligent Z Optimization and Transformation at BMC.  “Forty percent are turning to mainframe DevOps to balance the paradox of the need for speed of delivery versus quality. Winning organizations will make agile DevOps a staple of development across the enterprise, and that includes mainframe environments. Those that do are seeing a rapid return on investment in less than a year.”

    Read next: AI and Observability Platforms to Alter DevOps Economics

    Tom Taulli
    Tom Taulli is the author of Artificial Intelligence Basics: A Non-Technical Introduction, The Robotic Process Automation Handbook: A Guide to Implementing RPA Systems and Modern Mainframe Development: COBOL, Databases, and Next-Generation Approaches (will be published in February). He also teaches online courses for Pluralsight.

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