Did someone forget to tell the mainframe it was irrelevant?

For many years, the much lauded death of the mainframe has been espoused by many pundits. Many believed the end of the mainframe would be further accelerated with the rapid growth of cloud adoption.  I am sorry to report to those naysayers, the mainframe didn’t get the message, and lives on, alive and well as the beating heart of many large businesses. For instance, the mainframe is leveraged by 92 of the top 100 banks worldwide, 23 of the top 25 US retailers, all 10 of the world’s 10 largest insurers, and 23 of the world’s 25 largest airlines.[i]

Mainframe is part of the digital business ecosystem

The drive for speed to counter competitors and deliver new and agile solutions has never been more evident.  Successful digital businesses have found the secret to unleashing the data and business processes within their mainframe-based applications. Starting with “ad-hoc” integrations between systems of engagement and systems of record, they soon find the ability to define innovative products and services is limited by an inability to evolve and improve their mainframe applications.  For instance, a simple mobile insurance application is actually just the gateway to a complex set of applications that must work seamlessly with the mobile application and with each other to provide customers and prospects with great experiences.

While some talk of their mainframe-based applications as assets, more view them as liabilities that impede their ability to innovate. Old applications embody calcified processes that prevent companies from responding to market opportunities with new products and services.  Despite its decades-long heritage, thinking of mainframe as “old school” is a misconception. Many in our field are familiar with the quote, “A fool with a tool is still a fool.” The mainframe is just a tool. How you use that tool determines its worthiness to your business technology agenda.

New tools are required to unleash the value of the mainframe

Forcing developers to use antiquated tools and processes that only apply to mainframe development turns new developers off. Giving them modern and familiar tools makes mainframe development just another technology to master and reduces the number of things that they need to learn, so they can be productive much faster.  The mainframe is not going away, but the way that you use it will change. Containers and microservices are coming to every platform, including the mainframe. Gradually breaking large monolithic applications into smaller services will help you transition to a containerized future that promises faster application delivery, greater scalability, and better manageability – regardless of the platform.

Forrester recommends funding mainframe app improvements through digital initiatives. Organizations struggle to fund modernization for modernization’s sake, but they usually have plenty of money for customer-facing initiatives that create new revenue opportunities. Clearly delineate how improving mainframe application delivery is essential to the success of digital initiatives, and build funding into the digital initiative budget to make the necessary improvements.

To learn how leading organizations are leveraging the mainframe and DevOps to drive velocity, Forrester clients can access the Forrester report, Digital Transformation Needs Mainframe DevOps.  As always, I welcome your comments, either in the blog or twitter, where my handle is @RobertEStroud.


Source: Rosalind Radcliffe, “Mobile to Mainframe DevOps for Dummies”, IBM, 2015, pp. 09-10