Big iron sticking around, mainframe survey finds

Big iron isn’t going away anytime soon, say mainframe users who remain committed to the platform for its reliability, security, scalability and efficiency.

Mainframe sect tackles new roles, old stereotypes

When asked about the future of the mainframe, 57% of users surveyed by BMC Software said the mainframe platform will grow and attract new workloads during the next year. Another 37% said the mainframe will remain a viable platform in the long term, although limited to running legacy workloads. Just 4% found the platform not viable and said exist strategies should be considered in the next five years. (The remaining 2% responded “other.”)

BMC today released the results of its annual mainframe survey, now in its fifth year. Among 1,707 global mainframe users surveyed, nearly half of the companies have revenues in excess of $1 billion. The majority of respondents come from banking/financial services (26%), technology (14%), insurance (13%) and government (9%) industries.

As BMC has found in its previous surveys, mainframe users cited availability, security, centralized management and transaction speed as the primary reasons for continued MIPS growth.

“It’s no surprise that most people talk about the availability of the mainframe, its security, the centralized data serving platform, and transaction throughput,” says Bill Miller, president of mainframe service management at BMC. “All of those things play very well with the mainframe, and this survey reinforces that’s what [the respondents] care about.”

When asked about overall IT priorities in the coming year, 65% said reducing IT costs is a top priority, followed by disaster recovery (34%), application modernization (30%) and business/IT alignment (29%).

Cloud computing and software-as-a-service ranked fairly low among overall IT priorities, cited by just 10% of respondents, but BMC expects these areas to gain ground over time. “We think cloud computing and SaaS are going to be even more prevalent in future years,” Miller says.

BMC also asked mainframe shops about the use of specialty mainframe processors, which include IFL for running Linux workloads; zAAP for Java and XML transactions; and zIIP engines for consolidating databases and applications such as ERP and business intelligence. More than 50% of large IT shops indicated they would expand their use of specialty engines in the next 24 months, with zIIP engines leading as the most popular specialty engine of choice.

By offloading workloads to specialty mainframe processors, companies can reduce general purpose MIPS consumption and save some money on licensing fees, Miller says. “Both Linux engines, or IFLs, and the zIIPS, which run a special type of workload, are becoming more and more popular,” he says. “Most of the large shops are now using at least one specialty engine, and some of the bigger ones are running many, many specialty engines.”

Survey respondents also addressed hybrid workloads and cross-platform management capabilities.

Earlier this year IBM launched its zEnterprise system, which allows IT teams to manage diverse server workloads -- running across IBM System z, Power7 and System x blade servers -- as a single, virtualized system from the mainframe console. IBM, which spent $1.5 billion over three years to develop zEnterprise, called it the most significant mainframe design change in 20 years.

Drawing off that trend, BMC (which offers a number of mainframe management tools) asked about the importance of hybrid management tools that can administer a mixed OS platform running z/OS, z/Linux and other future OS options. In particular, users said they’re interested in cross-platform monitoring and event management (cited by 74%), system/task automation (73%), workload/batch management (69%) and performance tuning (66%) capabilities.

“What we’re hearing from customers is that they’re probably not going to jump to the new zEnterprise or hybrid workloads tomorrow, but over time our customers are saying that they think it makes sense and it’s something they’ll consider,” Miller says. “It’s on their radar for sure.”

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