3rd platform and the mainframe

The Third Platform is defined as the interdependencies between mobile computing, social media, cloud computing, and information/analytics (big data), and possibly the Internet of Things (IoT). Here is a nice rendering of the Third Platform model from Forbes.com. It shows our new concerns: Mobility, Analytics, and Cloud (SMAC-IT) at the top level on the “Third Platform,” our LAN/Internet and our Client/Server apps on the “Second Platform,” and the clunky old Mainframe on the “First Platform.” When talking about the First Platform, people say that we know how these systems worked and how they were used, as if it’s all in the distant past. And that’s a mistake.

Platform Levels

As I have spouted before, your mainframe systems will be, should be, a central focus for your Big Data and analytics plans Mainframe – The dinosaur on the cutting edge. In fact, these systems may play an important role in how emerging IoT technology will affect your business and your IT systems Internet of Things: Managed by your Mainframe.

And because your mainframe systems currently handle the lion’s share of your transaction processing, and your customer and transaction records databases, it only makes sense that your most powerful, reliable and secure systems should play an important role in any Third Platform plans as well.

But isn’t the “Third Platform” all about dumping the old platforms and embracing the new ones? Well, that’s an interesting question, and it points to an unfortunate weakness in the understanding of what “Third Platform” thinking is all about. What do I mean by that?

Well, what the above image fails to show is that the mainframe is an integral part of all three platforms. In fact, in many cases, the mainframe and its green-screen terminals are still in use today.

In other cases, the mainframe is integrated with thick-client applications, with the mainframe being the “server” part of the client/server relationship. More than that, the mainframe is also integrated with some private cloud offerings, its transaction data being of prime importance in any serious Big Data initiative, and continues to be integrated into current and cutting-edge web and mobile offerings. In fact, when you use your mobile device to check your bank balance, you’re actually accessing a mainframe system behind the scenes.

So that’s the problem: too much focus on the term “platform,” and not enough on business goals. Third Platform transformations should not be seen as a hardware/software platform migration, or any other IT asset transformation, but rather a business transformation—and that should be a completely platform-independent consideration. Thinking about actual hardware platforms in this context is getting way ahead of yourself, and distracts you with preconceived biases that may actually hinder your progress toward meeting your ultimate goals.

And if one of your ultimate goals is selecting a hardware platform preference, you’re completely missing the point. Think about the driving motivators for the big SMAC-IT items on the Third Platform:

  • Cloud – Hosted on many different platforms, including the mainframe. But it’s all about what the end user wants: accessing content without worrying about supporting the computer systems in the next room. They don’t care for cloud; the cloud just delivers what they need.
  • Mobility – Also not a “platform” issue. This is all about consumers accessing the content that they’re interested in: Do you think they care about what hardware is on the other end?
  • Big Data Analytics – Of course, this about data, the completeness of the data, the analytics that the data supports, and the actionable business intelligence that the analytics deliver—the type of hardware platform that delivers it is a distant and secondary concern.
  • Social Networks – A continuously evolving paradigm. The only constant: customers will interact with you in ways that they choose. You’ll have limited success trying to shoehorn them into using your preferred applications and hardware.

The truth is that your First Platform, your mainframe systems, aren’t going away any more than your Second Platform systems (internet) are going away and, in fact, will be the foundation for anything that you do within the Third Platform paradigm.

It’s all about delivering your best and most innovative business solutions, using whatever platform will give you the biggest bang for your buck. If that means a mainframe handling your transaction processing, your internet applications front-ending most business, and the cloud addressing your most cost-sensitive concerns, then that’s what you need to do.

Change for the sake of change? Forget that. Change what you need to change, invent/create what you don’t have, and leverage what still works best—that’s the smart play. Always has been, and always will be.

Originally posted on LinkedIn Pulse.

Regular Planet Mainframe Blog Contributor
Allan Zander is the CEO of DataKinetics – the global leader in Data Performance and Optimization. As a “Friend of the Mainframe”, Allan’s experience addressing both the technical and business needs of Global Fortune 500 customers has provided him with great insight into the industry’s opportunities and challenges – making him a sought-after writer and speaker on the topic of databases and mainframes.

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