Big Iron is (still) not dead

Mainframes have endured constant rumors of their demise for decades, but a survey finds their role is expanding.


BMC Software has released its 8th annual Worldwide Survey of Mainframe Users and found that not only is the mainframe not dying, despite years of such predictions, it's taking on Big Data and other 21st century workloads.

Now let's start with the disclaimer that BMC is a developer of low-cost mainframe solutions, so it's easy to be cynical since the company has a vested interest in the mainframe doing well. This was a sizable survey, with 1,184 respondents worldwide but tilts toward North America (60% of respondents) and EMEA (31% of respondents) and large firms (62% over $1 billion in revenue), which is right where you would expect to find mainframe users.

Among those surveyed, 93 percent see a mainframe as part of a long-term business strategy and half of the respondents believe the mainframe will continue to attract new workloads. Only 7 percent of all respondents have plans to eliminate the mainframe environment and none were large shops.

One interesting finding from the survey is that mainframes are seen as a way to control costs. Keeping IT costs down is a main concern of 85% of respondents, way up from 69% from 2012. The mainframe appears to be a cheaper; 46 percent of mainframe budgets are spent on software.

That's pretty good, considering in many IT budgets, about 80% of the total budget goes to keeping things running and only 20% is used for new projects, so in some regards, the mainframe is actually easier to maintain than row upon row of x86 racks.

Much of the dependence on mainframes is necessity. Sixty-four percent said they are sticking with the mainframe for data privacy due to audit and/or compliance regulations. And then there's good old reliability, the hallmark of a mainframe. A full 72% said availability is a top priority and why they are sticking with a mainframe.

(Back in the 1990s, a CA exec told me if a mainframe crashed three times in one year, it was deemed an unreliable computer. If Windows crashes three times in one day, it was a good day. That was back in the Windows 3.1 days but I still like the joke.)

Mainframes aren't just for CICS and database apps, though. Two-thirds of those surveyed said the mainframe will play a part in their cloud strategy and 70% said their mainframe plays a role in their Big Data strategy, with some using the mainframe to perform analytics, while others move the data off the mainframe for analytics.

The predictions of the mainframe's demise over the last 30 years have shown that the industry isn't very good at its own predictions or planned obsolescence. While they never will be sexy or a high-growth market, mainframes have a well-earned reputation for reliability when it's needed and found their niche that won't be replaced any time soon.

So you can imagine my view on the supposed demise of the PC.

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