The Mainframe Witch-Hunt

The Salem witch trials were an ugly moment in US history. A combination of groupthink, bad religion and confirmation bias led an entire community to act irrationally. And the results were not pretty. Twenty people—most of them women—were executed for being something we know they could not have been.

The mainframe has also been a victim of groupthink, bad religion and confirmation bias. That groupthink centers on the popular but clearly erroneous idea that mainframe is excessively expensive—and that its days are somehow numbered. The bad religion is a dogmatic faith in all things commodity compute. And confirmation bias is a refusal to look objectively at the facts of the matter.

Those facts include:

  • Mainframes account for 68% of IT production workloads, but only 6% of IT spend (Source: Solitaire Interglobal)
  • Over the past five years, costs at server-intensive IT shops have gone up 65% more than those of mainframe-intensive IT shops. (Source: Rubin Worldwide)
  • Mainframe-intensive companies earn 28% more per dollar of IT infrastructure than server-intensive companies. (Source: Rubin Worldwide)
  • Between 2005 and 2014, the ratio of mainframe MIPS to mainframe full-time equivalent employees has grown 351%.  As a matter of historical significance, never in the history of IT, have so many owed so much to so few, as when it comes to dedicated, long-serving mainframe employees.  (Source: Gartner)

In other words, mainframe economics have been proven to be better than distributed computing economics.  Not by a little, but by a lot.

The enlightened CIO

CIOs who don’t suffer from groupthink, bad religion and confirmation bias will recognize the mainframe for what it is: the world’s most powerful, scalable, reliable, secure and resource-efficient platform. The good news is that puts them in position to take unfair advantage of the mainframe’s power and superior economics to achieve things that less-enlightened peers cannot—especially when it comes to supporting technology intense requirements for rapidly growing mobile, transactional, and IoT workloads.

The bad news is that enlightenment doesn’t come without conflict. For one thing, resistance to groupthink requires a certain sort of intellectual backbone. You have to believe what you believe because it’s true—not simply because everyone else believes it.

For another, you have to invest in the generational transfer of mainframe stewardship. One casualty of the “mainframe witch-hunt” has been the diversion of an entire generation of IT professionals away from the world’s most powerful and secure compute platform. So if you’re going to keep leveraging the platform as your veteran mainframe talent heads into retirement, you must transform your mainframe culture and your mainframe toolkit.

Neither of these things comes easy. But if you have a mainframe and the will to fight for what’s right, you will be able to do more for less—and with far greater confidence—than those who have been crying “Witch!” for far too many years.

And now for something completely different…

Given the “witch” metaphor, I couldn’t resist including this little excerpt from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”—because it captures the nature of the rhetoric used against the mainframe by the Cotton Mather(s) of distributed computing. Enjoy!

Peasant 1: We have found a witch, may we burn her?

Vladimir: How do you known she is a witch?

Peasant 2: She looks like one!

Vladimir: Bring her forward.

Woman: I’m not a witch! I’m not a witch!

Vladimir: Ehh… but you are dressed like one.

Woman: They dressed me up like this!

All: No we didn’t! No!

Woman: And this isn’t my nose! It’s a false one!

(Vladimir lifts up carrot)

Vladimir: Well?

Peasant 1: Well, we did do the nose.

Vladimir: The nose?

Peasant 2: And the hat. But she is a witch!

All: Yeah! Burn her! Burn her!

Vladimir: Did you dress her up like this?

Peasant 1: No. Yes. A bit. But she has got a wart!

(Peasant 3 points at wart)

Vladimir: What makes you think she is a witch?

Peasant 2: Well, she turned me into a newt!

Vladimir: A newt?!

(Peasant 2 pauses and looks around)

Peasant 2: I got better.

Some shockingly helpful mainframe economics reference materials to end the “mainframe is a witch” debate:

Webcast Replay: The Surprising Economics of Mainframe Technology presented by Dr. Howard Rubin, Founder and CEO of Rubin Worldwide, Ross Mauri, General Manager, IBM z Systems and Chris O’Malley, President and CEO of Compuware

Research Paper: The Surprising Technology Economics of Mainframe vs. Distributed Servers: Understanding the Impact of Your Strategy in Real Terms authored by Dr. Howard Rubin, Founder and CEO of Rubin Worldwide

This article originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse, May 13 2015.


Chris O’Malley is CEO of Compuware. With nearly 30 years of IT experience, Chris is deeply committed to leading Compuware’s transformation into the “mainframe software partner for the next 50 years.” Chris’s past positions include CEO of VelociData, CEO of Nimsoft, EVP of CA’s Cloud Products & Solutions and EVP/GM of CA’s Mainframe business unit, where he led the successful transformation of that division.

2 thoughts on “The Mainframe is a Witch!”
  1. Back when we all had mainframes and more ‘modern’ architectures debuted, it became fashionable to convert everything without really thinking things through–after all, if you wanted the cover of CIO Magazine or Computerworld, you had to be a ‘with it’ CIO and ’embrace the future.’

    Some of us spent time understanding the pros and cons of various architectures, which lead us to modernize when that made sense and keep investing in mainframes when that was the right answer. We may not have gotten the magazine covers, but we did our best for the firm’s that paid our salaries.

    The mainframe is not dead. Studying mainframe architectures and using mainframes properly is still worthwhile for today’s CIO.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *