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Updated by Charles Bystock on 04/05/2023
future of mainframe

As traditional mainframes become more difficult to maintain, IT executives are struggling to determine how to bring existing mainframe technology with them into the future. Do we abandon mainframe systems in favor of a cloud-based platform, or do mainframes simply need to be upgraded and modernized? Here’s how to decide which option is best for your organization.

The future of mainframes

“Mainframes” and “future” in the same sentence? Despite mainframes’ longevity, we’re not the first to wonder if they are incompatible with modern technology. Even back in 1991, Stewart Alsop, former InfoWorld editor-in-chief, predicted mainframes would be obsolete by 1996.

But as our current technological landscape demonstrates, mainframes clearly haven’t gone anywhere. On the contrary, 75% of business executives and IT leaders say mainframes have long-term viability. According to BMC’s 2022 mainframe report, 95% of survey respondents say the mainframe will remain a “long-term platform that will grow and attract new workloads.” The report also found “mainframe growth shows no sign of slowing down while organizations are prioritizing processes that improve resiliency and efficiency.”

This doesn’t mean mainframes don’t require some modernization. Most IT leaders agree many mainframe systems need to be upgraded, modernized, or replaced, but doing so is often easier said than done. In a 2020 report, 74% of participants had started a modernization program for legacy systems but failed to complete it, citing fear of change and lack of funding as the primary reasons.

Business needs and goals should certainly play a role when deciding whether to replace or modernize mainframes. But too few companies realize how ongoing innovation can merge mainframe technology with newer cloud-based support, applications, and storage for the best of both worlds, rather than completely replatforming your mainframe. Which is best for your organization? The benefits of each are outlined below.

Pros and cons of replacing or replatforming your mainframe

While it may be tempting to consider simply replacing or replatforming your mainframe, especially in the era of the cloud, such temptation isn’t the right move for many businesses. Consider how replacing your mainframe can disrupt your customer and business activities. For example, TSB infamously invested $500 million into a mainframe transition project, resulting in “almost 2 million customers being locked out of their accounts.” This potential for disruption is part of why only 4% of IT leaders say their businesses are transitioning to a cloud-native system.

Offloading everything to the cloud can also be costly and time-consuming while requiring specific technical skills, new hires, or expensive consultants. As a result, the “rip and replace” tactic can be cost-prohibitive.

This is not to say cloud-based computing is all a loss. When you consider 90% of business leaders agree it’s difficult to find talent to maintain mainframes, it becomes obvious new technology makes it much easier to hire talent to innovate and maintain. In other cases, modernizing your mainframe becomes an ongoing project as applications need to integrate with more and more new systems, making modernization less efficient in the long run.

In either case, business needs should always drive your decision, considering your many options. For some companies, moving to a cloud-based model may ultimately be more effective, while other businesses may be able to reduce risk and improve cost-effectiveness by replacing their mainframe or modernizing their existing system.

Benefits of modernizing your mainframe

Modernizing your mainframe offers a host of benefits. For many companies, mainframes provide a more efficient method of managing large workloads and data volumes. As such, finding ways to modernize and upgrade your mainframe to meet existing demands while integrating with newer technology is an ideal solution.

  • Mainframe modernization can lower infrastructure and operational costs dramatically, as much as 60-70% in some cases.
  • Modernizing improves your mainframe performance and reliability, offering more consistency to consumers, especially during peak shopping periods.
  • Modernizing reduces risk by allowing you to use existing skills and resources, shortening timelines and eliminating customer disruption. Most modernization projects can be completed in less than a year.
  • Modernization provides a stable way to future-proof your business by harnessing the power of the cloud and the latest technology on top of existing systems.

For many companies, modernizing existing mainframes to fit with new and emerging technologies can be more effective and affordable than replacing the system entirely. If you need more talent or support in maintaining and future-proofing your mainframe, consider mainframe outsourcing with Windsor Group.