In recent times, a number of businesses have adopted digital acceleration, a process that utilizes advanced technology to modernize operations and increase efficiency. The benefits of this approach are numerous, such as improved productivity, reduced costs, and improved customer satisfaction.
Many businesses still employ reliable mainframe computers, although the languages used to construct them may no longer be in use. As baby boomer engineers retire and are replaced by younger staff, there is often a lack of knowledge in the use of these languages.
Businesses may be wondering if mainframes still have a place in their strategies for digital acceleration. In this article, we will discuss the advantages of continuing to utilize mainframes, the challenges that may be faced, alternative solutions that could be considered, and the potential future of mainframes.
What exactly is a Mainframe?
Mainframes were developed in the mid-twentieth century as computers with a casing containing the central processing unit (CPU) and main memory. They differ from smaller computers (e.g. servers, microcomputers, workstations and personal computers) in terms of their data handling and processing capacity, the type of software they can run, and cost.
Due to their large size, early mainframes required their own heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, dedicated power supply, and sometimes a dedicated room. Mainframes are often portrayed as the main computers in media set in the mid-20th century.
Mainframes are renowned for their impressive throughput in both directions and rapid processing speed, which is measured in millions of instructions per second (MIPS). They are invaluable to corporate computing due to their size, storage capacity, processing power, and dependability. For example, they are capable of supporting multiple operating systems, enabling organizations to complete a vast array of tasks. Thus, they can be seen as analogous to many servers.
Keeping Mainframes in Use
Mainframes are currently the preferred choice for processing large datasets, with billions of dollars’ worth of commercial transactions being processed daily, the majority of which are credit card transactions. It is expected that mainframes will be increasingly used in the coming years, rather than becoming obsolete.
IBM’s tech blog outlines the advantages of mainframes as a safe, robust, and agile platform for mission-critical data and applications in the digital transformation of organizations. The essay discusses how mainframes can help address issues such as data security, privacy and availability, with particular relevance for the service sector, including banking, insurance, healthcare and retail.
The cost of replacing existing technologies is a significant factor to consider when making a decision on whether to continue using them. Downtime for installation, data migration and initial troubleshooting, as well as staff training on the new system, can be costly.
Problems with the Mainframe
Despite their significant benefits, older mainframes can present issues. They may not be fast enough or may be incompatible with more recent software, such as cloud and mobile applications. Furthermore, after years of use, mainframes can suffer from the “too big to fail” syndrome. As they are interconnected with other, older programmes, even the most experienced IT professionals are hesitant to make alterations due to the risk of causing a system-wide outage.
Finding personnel with the necessary skills to maintain systems built on COBOL, a programming language, is becoming increasingly difficult. This is due to the fact that many computer science courses no longer teach it, as reported by InfoWorld. As a result, it is becoming increasingly challenging to locate workers who are able to keep mainframe-based Cobol applications running efficiently.
Other Potential Courses of Action
It is suggested by industry professionals that companies should not rush into transitioning to cloud computing, instead they should take a more balanced approach that utilizes both cloud and on-premises resources. According to an article on Reworked, “it is possible to integrate a reliable mainframe with the data lake in the cloud, which can support new applications that bring about changes to processes, culture and business value such as a chatbot to quickly respond to customer queries.
Middleware can help to extend the lifecycle of legacy mainframes, enabling businesses to continue to use them for new purposes without the need to immediately migrate mission-critical applications. This approach not only reduces implementation costs, but also creates a more reliable and robust system.
The Future of Mainframes
Mainframes have the potential to provide comprehensive data protection, making them a valuable asset in the ongoing struggle against cybercrime. Furthermore, the integration of machine learning and artificial intelligence technologies increases the efficacy of these systems, and the increased availability of open-source systems is expected to further enhance their capabilities.
Computing on Mainframes Will Continue for the Foreseeable Future
Companies aiming to accelerate their digital operations should not overlook the value of their mainframe systems. Despite their age, they offer various advantages and many of their drawbacks can be addressed. Whilst other elements of an organization’s IT infrastructure may be updated over time, many organizations continue to rely on mainframes to carry out their most critical computing tasks.