The Future of the Mainframe?

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The Future of the Mainframe_engThick Fog Is Giving Way to a Subtle Silver Lining on the Horizon

Industry ‘experts’ have been pronouncing the death of the mainframe for 25 years now. But the mainframe simply keeps going, and recently it’s actually been gaining momentum.

It is in particular large corporations that opt for host technology as the central backbone of their IT. In the coming years, many longstanding mainframe experts will retire. What will they leave in their wake?

The IT world is ever changing. Recently, trends such as touch operation, cloud computing as the new standard, progressing virtualization, etc. have emerged. At our last user days we asked three renowned experts on their take as to how this market segment will change in the near future:

During the panel discussion, they offered fascinating insights into the IBM world, and they all agreed on this: There’s life in the old dog yet!

More Power to the Mainframe

IBM’s main challenge is to create ‘top-notch technology that is affordable’ – even though the mainframe is never sold in vast quantities. This is Wolfgang Maier’s assessment.

This backdrop would explain the technology partnership forged in 2015 with semiconductor manufacturer GlobalFoundries; as part of this alliance, GlobalFoundries will deliver technology specifically tailored to the needs of the mainframe.

This is IBM’s strategy to make their products competitive and further improve the mainframe’s performance. It has led to the development of a 22-nanometer processor that has just been introduced on the market. And even as you are reading this blog, the next processor is being developed and made fit for the market.

Mobile Devices and Big Data Are Key Factors

Better and better hardware performance is but one side of the coin. Yet as Martin Bogdan sees it, the mainframe market will become ever more closely linked to mobile devices and topics such as big data. As regards big data, he considers it imperative that intelligent search functions and tools for analyzing vast data volumes be integrated.

Wolfram Greis is of a similar opinion.

According to his analysis, the mainframe is currently losing momentum due to three main factors:

  • the cost of software licenses,
  • insufficient expertise, and
  • the ‘dinosaur image’ associated with the mainframe.

He also points out that many IT schools do not yet have sufficient mainframe know-how. This is why this area of education needs to be pushed at schools, universities and IT vocational academies.

What our discussion revealed: What weighs heavier than the educational gap, which could be resolved by taking corresponding practical measures, is the dinosaur image of IBM.

The crux of the issue: Actually, the mainframe incorporates the latest and most cutting-edge technology available to date, but this fact is little known. It is especially younger managers who still have the old ‘dinosaur’ image stuck in their heads.

IBM Embarks on Journey to Rejuvenate the User Experience

The traditional green-black screens are fit to scare off any ‘newbie,’ no doubt. Today’s young generation is used to a completely different level of user interaction, namely well-designed GUIs and intuitive operation.

IBM has caught on to this, so they have been cooperating with Apple for some time now as part of the ‘Design Thinking’ initiative. Several design centers across the world have put their industrial designers on the case, tackling the problem from a very non-IBM-like angle by focusing on the user side.

This is also important: Young people need to be provided with more opportunities to interact with the mainframe outside of the office. If you want to learn about Linux, you simply download the application via the Web – when it comes to the mainframe, things are not that easy.

More Workloads on the Mainframe

In the near future, mobile devices will bring a lot more workload transactions to the mainframe, such as Amazon orders and the like. The data generated as part of these transactions must be leveraged. This, however, requires tools that make it possible to access data, analyze it and link it with unstructured information from various sources, including social networks – without complicated PL8 programming etc.

Where Will the Mainframe Stand in 2020?

According to the experts’ opinions, the future does not look bleak at all.

Wolfgang Maier: “The mainframe represents a highly important market segment for IBM, and this will not change. For this reason, the mainframe will incorporate up-to-date technology and will be a central component of the modern corporate IT landscape in 2020.”

Martin Bogdan: …It will still be a key market player.

Wolfram Greis: …and in better shape than before, provided we are successful in overcoming the three challenges: cost, training, new image.”

Well then…: It looks like IBM is in for better weather, with “thick fog giving way to a subtle silver lining on the horizon.”