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The modern mainframe: All mashed up?

Derek Britton Head of Brand, AR, and Customer Advocacy, OpenText
The world of IT has gone hybrid. But what does that mean in 2022 for the established mainframe market. Derek Britton looks ahead.

As others have observed, the year 2022, when said aloud, sounds like "2020 too"—like an unwanted sequel or the continuation of a bad dream. When Microsoft recently announced it had found a glitch in its server technology akin to the old Y2K issue, you could be forgiven for imagining some surreal, dark drama replaying itself. As another commentator put it, "2021 felt a lot like 2020, especially when it came to tech."

Thinking more positively, the last few years have been a busy, exciting period for the mainframe world. Here's what's been happening and what lies ahead.

Mainframes meet modern challenges

The mainframe has come far from what's portrayed in those dusty sepia images the press often uses when talking about it. Today’s incarnation of the IBM flagship, the Z15, is the result of huge investment. It's packed with power, performance, and business potential. The 2021 BMC Mainframe Survey tells us that:

  • 92% of respondents see the mainframe as a platform for long-term growth and new workloads
  • 86% of extra-large customers expect to add mainframe MIPS (millions of instructions per second) in their shops
  • And 72% of extra-large shops have more than half their data on the mainframe

What's driving that growth? How is the mainframe serving today's business needs? At the November 2021 GSE (Guide Share Europe) conference, held by and for the mainframe community, one of the keynote sessions was titled "The Road to Digital Transformation Is Paved with AIOps, SecOps, and DevOps" and related how the mainframe is filling those roles. 

Meanwhile, the Open Mainframe Summit, held in September 2021, "expands beyond the mainframe to highlight influencers with strengths in the areas supporting or leveraging the technology like continuous delivery, edge computing, financial services and open source." 

Change, in the context of the mainframe platform, involves developing faster and more accurate insight using open-source, AI-based, and holistic approaches to security and delivering new capabilities rapidly.

In a recent blog post reviewing AWS's mainframe modernization service announcement, consultant Trevor Eddolls asserted that many mainframe organizations "won’t find any advantage in moving wholesale into the cloud. Their mainframes provide so many security advantages that they are better off retaining the platform." 

A hybrid future is still being written

Underscoring a pragmatic approach to hybrid computing in the mainframe arena, Alan Radding, a.k.a. Dancing Dinosaur, recently espoused a hybrid approach that should "keep the proven benefits of the mainframe—high availability, high capacity, and rock-solid reliability—while supplementing it selectively with capabilities cherry-picked from the numerous options available through cloud and distributed platforms."

That notion of hybrid integration seems pervasive. BMC's 2021 survey also mentions, tellingly, that 66% of respondents are "mainframe champions investing in new technologies … and integrating the mainframe into enterprise IT."

Nothing stands still for long, and you can expect 2022 to shift the sands further. Hot on the heels of the AWS mainframe modernization announcement, you can doubtless expect further initiatives by both the cloud service providers and any number of systems integrators with their own mainframe-related services.

The elephant in the room, if you'll pardon the pun, is what IBM is doing. While its software divisions remain busy—IBM has its own mainframe modernization offering—all eyes will soon divert toward Armonk and Poughkeepsie, New York, for news about the next generation of mainframe technology.

IBM's release cadences are typically on a three-year cycle, which would make September 2022 the right time to look forward to fresh news. If the already "modern platform," as described here by independent consultant Craig Mullins, is to be further modernized, expect the game to change once again.

Accelerate transformation and beware anything too shiny

Anybody remember mashups? Those are combinations of disparate approaches or tech that would bring about higher value. At its heart, the concept acknowledges the value of existing ideas, or methods or technology, but dares to imagine greater return through the combination of forces—1+1=3, if you like. Genuine productive collaboration.

This has been a central theme for Micro Focus' mainframe solution for some time—we've been building mainframe application technology since the 1980s—further reinforced by our recent support for AWS' new mainframe modernization service, allowing users to move and modernize their on-premises mainframe workloads.

The technology industry is peppered with groundbreaking innovations, scattered among the rubble of many more false dawns. Things that sounded too good to be true have often ended up being just that. Today's CIO must be equally mindful of the proverbial gilded cages as they are made of silver bullets. It means finding the right blend of innovation and the tried, tested, and trusted—by no means an easy task.

To that end, as many are suggesting, cloud, mainframe, and IT security, mashed together sensibly and collaboratively, will be vital in the journey toward transformational success in enterprise IT.

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