The Biggest Challenges Facing the Mainframe Industry

For years -- decades, even -- people in the IT industry have been predicting the death of the mainframe. Yet despite all the doomspeak, the mainframe's future remains bright. Enterprise-wide architecture like Business Integration and Virtualization, as well as zIIP, zAAP and IFL engines are all working to increase the potential of mainframes in a way that is just as exciting as when the mainframe first came out in the 1970s. While the old green screen terminals have been replaced with terminal emulation software, and while emerging cloud technologies continue to generate buzz, the mainframe remains the platform of choice for the majority of the world's Fortune 500 companies.

So why all the talk?

There are three main challenges facing mainframes in the modern computing environment and these are the three main reasons that so many have predicted the downfall of the mainframe. These include:

  • Costs: Some companies have found that mainframes are too expensive to maintain. For smaller companies, the initial capital investment in a mainframe is too much when cloud-based services are popping up on the internet that require nothing more than a subscription fee to access.
  • Lack of agility: The information that a mainframe stores is important to your business; however, often the mainframe makes it difficult to expose these legacy assets to be utilised within an organisation.
  • Skill shortage: Perhaps the biggest challenge facing the mainframe industry is that the majority of skilled mainframe technicians are rapidly approaching retirement and the new generation of mainframe technicians is not large enough to cope with the loss. Most young IT graduates are believing the hype that the mainframe is not a good long-term career option and are instead focusing their skill sets elsewhere.
Why the mainframe will survive...

Whatever disadvantages and challenges the mainframe may face, it is still the benchmark in terms of reliability. Its centralised nature is essential for large enterprises that cannot afford periods of downtime -- often, these periods can bring costs that run into the millions. As mentioned earlier in this article, the majority of the world's Fortune 500 companies continue to rely on mainframe technology and terminal emulation software such as 3270 emulation in order to store their critical data.

Additionally, the mainframe is also the benchmark when it comes to security. Whereas distributed systems are much more vulnerable to intrusion, the mainframe remains extremely safe. Take the IBM z9, for example, which boasts anti-tamper packages for its master encryption keys. In the z9, data is zeroed out, which stops intruders from gaining access. Mainframes also enable partitions to be segregated, which allows background features, such as the backing up of data, to run without compromising overall performance.

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