No. But it has been a victim of friendly-fire.
I’m not sure that there is a headline relating to IT and enterprise software more cliché than the one at the top of this article. Cringeworthy? Perhaps, particularly If you’re in your 4th decade in the mainframe and enterprise software market as I am. But here’s the thing: our marketing guy manages our digital presence and monitors the analytics of our various campaigns and efforts. He tells me that not a week goes by that someone doesn’t conduct a Google search using the keywords “is the mainframe dead” and they end up on our site. It’s clear that we need to keep talking about it, and while the topic isn’t new, perhaps there are some new things to say about it.
This post is not meant as the latest rant from some old COBOL programmer in defense of the mainframe (especially since I’m an Assembly programmer). Let’s look at the data: what we see, such as the BMC’s 2018 mainframe research, continues to position the mainframe as a critically important enterprise computing platform. These predictions of the mainframe’s bright future are in line with what we see. In early December, I was onsite with a customer, a large enterprise in the top 100 of the Fortune 500. I heard firsthand of the long struggle to migrate off of the mainframe, at a cost of $500 million, with no results to show for it. The mainframe lives on at this organization, continuing to process the critical business transactions that are the lifeblood of the business.
The same week, I visited with a business partner about another top 100 Fortune 500 company that has the same story. It too has spent hundreds of millions of dollars across several years attempting to migrate off the mainframe, but to no avail. Does this mean that organizations like these are “stuck” on the mainframe? And if, so, is that a bad thing? The mainframe is still the biggest, baddest server on the block, highly scalable, and very secure. It has the characteristics that enterprise risk managers value highly. So, what’s the problem with the mainframe? Why are IT managers and enterprise architects continuing to discuss what to do with it?
I believe that the push some enterprises make to get off of the mainframe has less to do with the mainframe. Instead, it has more to do with well-meaning but misguided efforts to integrate it with things off the host. Anyone with a mainframe is operating in a de facto hybrid IT environment. Hybrid computing is the reality for an enterprise now, and in a hybrid world, integration is key! Over the decades, in the rush to get the mainframe to participate in the hybrid computing ecosystem, some poor integration choices and decisions were made. Integration layers were implemented, often in the middle-tier, that took overall response times from running natively on the host in milliseconds, to running in seconds through layers of ill-conceived integration technology. Too often, the assumption was made that the mainframe itself was at fault, not the layers of kludgy integration technology.
The result of these sub-optimal integration choices were taking applications that ran at warp speed on the mainframe and causing them to run on impulse power through poorly engineered integrations. The inevitable outcome was to lead IT and Business Unit managers to conclude that the mainframe was the problem and therefore it must go. This conclusion, however, is erroneous. The real problem is with the proximity of the integration and orchestration layer to the mainframe applications. As a rule, the closer this layer resides to the mainframe application(s), the better and more reliably the resulting integration performs.