The mainframe has been lambasted for years as legacy software; some have even predicted that it’s on its way out with the birth of more innovative computing solutions. Despite it being past its prime, however, the mainframe is far from being retired, and it still has the power to handle most business needs. Admittedly, the mainframe is a bit long in the tooth, being a platform that was first used in the 1940’s. Most organizations believe that digital transformation meant simply adopting a new platform like cloud computing, but this notion can’t be farther from the truth. The “lift-and-shift“ notion of moving legacy systems to the cloud does not automatically provide all the benefits that can be gained from the new platform. In fact, this can lead to more complex and expensive architectures than the one you already have.
There’s also the question of training your IT team to move away from the traditional IT framework and learn the nuances of the cloud platform. Many organizations, together with the majority of Fortune 500 companies, still rely on mainframes in data centers due to the robust nature of the platform, which has cemented its position in computing history. A complete migration to the cloud isn’t necessary, however, and there’s a way to start your organization’s digital transformation journey while retaining the computing platforms that continue to serve you well.
The Mainframe or the Cloud?
Mainframes are often preferred by large companies because they’re a cost-effective solution that can last for years—even decades. When it comes to computing power, mainframes can handle large workloads without issues and slowdowns, even when done over a set of distributed systems. The first modern mainframe developed in 1964 was able to perform 229,000 calculations in a second, a feat during the time, and the reason why the mainframe became an enterprise staple. Even today, there are more than 10,000 mainframes that help businesses run thousands of enterprise apps.
The cloud, on the other hand, is a newer technology that disrupted the tech world through its mobility and collaborative features. The biggest draw of cloud computing is the easy access to applications and data anywhere, anytime. You can also pick and implement only the features and services you need at any given time. For mobile teams, the cloud provides a platform that will allow them to run the apps they need and access relevant data regardless of geographical and time differences. Migrating your system to the cloud, however, can be a very taxing and costly process, and most organizations already have a mainframe system in place so migration isn’t a practical move on the long run, unless moving to the cloud is an absolute necessity.
Fortunately, this dilemma of making a choice between the mainframe and the cloud can be resolved through modernization of the mainframe, which involves implementing incremental improvements or gradually adding capabilities to existing core systems rather than completely overhauling your platform. Modernization should be ongoing so replacement can be minimized and functions can be preserved in the current systems. Updating applications or enhancing functionality is less risky and can be done more quickly, with mainframe applications being updated along newer web service-based interfaces.
There also needs to be sound resource management for the duration of the modernization process. To achieve an interconnected IT ecosystem across an organization, it must be decided where the necessary resources should be applied. Modernizing the mainframe means allowing it to work with cloud-based systems through either a virtualized or hybrid IT environment. A private cloud environment can also be run using mainframes since they have all that’s required to do so: massive storage, huge amounts of memory, and workload virtualization capabilities.
The Mainframe AND the Cloud
The choice between a mainframe or the cloud ultimately boils down to your current business needs and your existing computing platform. Although the cloud environment may be ideal for some, the cost involved in migrating from a traditional IT infrastructure into the cloud should be considered. For those that already have a mainframe-based system, the move to the cloud might not be the most practical step toward digital transformation. Either way, ensuring that your IT teams are proficient in both mainframe- applications and cloud-based applications is important.
Keeping your options open whenever possible is best when it comes to digital transformation, since the whole process requires flexibility and an agile approach. Fortunately, there is a way to get the best of both worlds. The right blend of both on-premise mainframes and third-party cloud platforms may just be the key to powering an organization that can adjust as fast as the computing world evolves—and that means almost instantaneously.
Edward Huskin is a freelance data and analytics consultant. He specializes in finding the best technical solution for companies to manage their data and produce meaningful insights. You can reach him via his LinkedIn profile.