Modern IT systems are heavily dependent on the power of mainframes. The technology is one of the few infrastructure components capable of processing the huge quantities of data required for mission-critical applications. Being able to run such applications securely also makes mainframes ideally placed for business-wide deployment of emerging tech such as artificial intelligence and blockchain.
Right across the economy, mainframe provides reliable and secure foundations for modern IT infrastructure. Indeed, 67 of the Fortune 100 companies rely on the mainframe to uphold their IT environment.
According to an IBM survey, 71pc of IT executives say applications currently based on the mainframe are essential to their business strategy. This dependence has only increased over the course of the pandemic, with mainframe’s capability to rapidly scale up computing capacity to meet an increased demand for online services a higher priority than ever before.
Much of this demand is based around the infrastructure requirements of critical workloads. Ensono’s research found that 84pc of IT leaders across sectors are using between one and four mainframes, and 16pc are using more than five. The typical applications deployed on these mainframes are data-intensive and essential to business operations, namely enterprise resource planning (ERP), customer relationship management (CRM), accounting and data analytics.
Neglecting your assets
However, mainframes face a core problem: business leaders are failing to plan for a long-term place for the technology in their IT strategy. Many seem to view it instead with a form of reluctance. The allure of a rapid public cloud migration is seen as the way forward and where technological investment needs to be focused, with the mainframe left in a stasis and not worth further budget.
Much of this assumption stems from a misguided belief that there is no more scope for evolution with the mainframe. High maintenance costs and a shortage of skilled mainframe talent is pushing businesses’ digital transformation journeys in a different direction, which for many is a migration away from the mainframe. Of IT decision-makers surveyed, Ensono found 37pc have either migrated or retired 26pc-50pc of their applications previously run on the mainframe.
Mainframe modernisation can help businesses to build a coherent strategy around the technology, ensuring they are maximising the possibilities of their current assets and building an IT environment that is able to adapt to ever-changing business requirements. Mainframe modernisation allows enterprises to tackle the pressing issues of mainframe hardware such as the cost of million instructions per second (MIPS), inflating software bills and the dwindling talent pool.
Modernisation also serves to amplify the already strong security capacity of the mainframe – an increasing business priority as bad actors constantly try to find new vulnerabilities to exploit in IT environments.
Mainframe modernisation allows enterprises to access advances in vulnerability scanning and automated security measures, keeping their infrastructure secure and vastly improving resilience against cybercriminals’ best efforts.
Placing the mainframe in business strategy
The typically siloed nature of technical teams means that many are excluded from strategy meetings and decisions, and subsequently many mainframe evaluations fail to connect the technology to its real-world business impact.
As a result, mainframe decision-making is based around short-term solutions to lingering legacy problems rather than investing in the long-term capabilities that modernisation offers. Businesses are neglecting the opportunity to turn the mainframe into a driver of innovation, adding value through increasing the agility of the IT environments to stay aligned with shifting end-user expectations.
Fundamentally, modernisation simplifies the mainframe environment, allowing for ease of transition when evolving the business’ technology stack. With this platform now in place, enterprises can easily deploy technologies that will feature with increasing prominence in the years to come. Business operations can be improved with enhanced data analytics and enterprises can take full advantage of next-gen AI or IoT workloads.
The modern mainframe environment
Looking ahead, enterprises need an honest and thorough evaluation of their mainframe environment, incorporating all relevant stakeholders to chart a long-term strategy applicable to their organisation. For many, this will entail a hybrid plan between public cloud services and the mainframe, circumventing the risk of downtime and data migration that comes with a wholesale shift to public cloud.
A mainframe modernisation strategy allows businesses to reap the benefits of both worlds, where mission-critical workloads can be supported by the mainframe but interact with other applications running in public cloud, setting up enterprises for the next stage of their digital transformation journey.
By Claire Connor
Claire Connor is a mainframe solution architect at IT company Ensono.
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