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October 26, 2010

60% see mainframe taking on new work: survey

Most firms expect to increase Big Iron usage, according to a survey by BMC. So why is the platform still attracting new workloads?

By Steve Evans

Demand for the trusty old mainframe has survived the recession and is still a vital part of many companies’ IT infrastructure, according to BMC Software’s 2010 Mainframe User survey.

The survey, now in its fifth year, quizzed 1,765 IT professionals, managers and executives from businesses all over the world. The majority of respondents (84%) said they expect to see growing or steady MIPS (millions of instructions per second) usage on the mainframe while 60% believe the mainframe will grow and attract new workloads over the next year.

"The results are a reflection on how the mainframe is used in the modern data centre," John McKenny, VP worldwide marketing, mainframe service management at BMC, told CBR. "They are the power house for critical services. Data volumes are through the roof – people rarely carry cash these days and use cards for everything, even their morning coffee. Along with apps on mobile devices, Web 2.0 and social media it’s putting huge pressure on the back-end infrastructure and creating a massive number of transactions that need to be processed."

While many are confident about adding new workloads to the mainframe the cost and complexity of getting started with a mainframe environment has always been listed as an obstacle to its adoption.

How will new companies be tempted to begin looking at installing Big Iron? "Newer businesses will need to look at their IT requirements," McKenny says. "If they do not need 24/7 availability or the ability to run thousands of apps then perhaps a mainframe is not for them. But when that company gets more mature and regulatory needs dictate the need for better availability then it makes sense to look at a mainframe."

Over half of the large IT shops quizzed said they planned to expand their use of zIIP speciality engines over the next couple of years to further reduce mainframe costs. Reducing the cost of IT was the top priority for most (71%) respondents, followed by improving disaster recovery practices (34%) and application modernisation (32%).

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As businesses look to data centre consolidation and virtualisation, many are relying on the mainframe to help them achieve their goals, BMC says. 70% of respondents said that server virtualisation was a dominant strategy and 61% said the same about consolidation. With many big firms also looking and private, public and hybrid clouds and SaaS, PaaS and IaaS, use of the mainframe is a, "no-brainer and you can consolidate many servers on one platform, it’s the original virtualised environment," according to McKenny.

One long-held criticism of mainframes, that an ageing workforce nearing retirement age with no one coming through the replace them will result in mainframe skills dying out, is also misguided, McKenny said. The survey found that just 12% of respondents felt a skills shortage was a concern.

So the mainframe is not yet dead, despite the many years of people saying so. "People need to look at the business benefits of a mainframe and the deliverables that come from it. As more data is created there will be more transactions to process and mainframes will be needed for that. It might be an expensive bit of kit but if you look at the price per transaction and the people it takes to run it offers a distinct advantage."

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