While mainframes have been all but written off, their utility can’t be denied—even today. Predicting the future of mainframes can be tricky, especially since the tech world is a landscape that almost always feels ripe for change. However, it would also be a mistake to leave mainframes in the past as “yesterday’s tech.” In short, the future of mainframes will be full of changes in the next few years and a big chunk of that will be mainframe modernization, but there will be a future for them.
For years, many tech professionals have been predicting the demise of the mainframe, but the fact that it’s still here—alive and kicking—proves that these are merely conjecture. Looking at recent data, it seems safe to say that mainframes are here to stay at least for the next decade. According to recent research, 50% of businesses in the USA and Europe have plans of expanding their mainframe systems, driven by the rising interest in blockchain and artificial intelligence.
The cloud might be the go-to solution for most businesses and organizations, but some enterprises choose to take the hybrid approach instead of reducing their mainframe capabilities. This hybrid approach allows companies to keep business-critical applications on-premises via mainframes and migrate other applications to the cloud.
If you still believe that there is impending doom for the mainframe, take a look at the reasons enumerated below. These will show that the mainframe is here to stay today and for the foreseeable future.
The Mainframe Can Handle Heavy IT Workloads
Processing power is one aspect in which the mainframe remains unmatched, and it’s also one of the mainframe’s strengths that has seen continuous improvement through the years. Even today, many companies rely on mainframe systems to keep their business running, including 71% of Fortune 500 companies. The banking and ecommerce industries, specifically, demand greater processing power than other industries—especially today, with the rising number of consumers turning to contactless payments in lieu of cash transactions. Mainframes also handle 87% of credit card transactions around the world, making it a vital system for business.
Two of today’s rising technologies also rely on mainframes due to the intensive processing power required to run them—machine learning and blockchain. The value of mainframes is most evident when it comes to cost efficiency. According to mainframe big player IBM, mainframe systems only account for 6% of IT costs around the globe despite handling 68% of production IT workloads.
Mainframe Security, Privacy, and Compliance Are Improving
The application of mainframe systems into blockchain applications is one of the most promising and popular uses of the mainframe today. Aside from its processing power, the mainframe has an edge over other systems when it comes to security. IBM states that its mainframes can encrypt data 18 times faster than x86 platforms at just 5% of the cost. Security is a vital factor in the blockchain model because it depends on a system where transaction records are carried in a chain of data blocks. These data blocks, once assembled, cannot be modified. Mainframes are powerful enough to protect these data blocks through 100% end-to-end encryption without any degradation in performance.
Looking at mainframes from a hardware architecture perspective and based on cryptographic features, independent evaluators give high marks to mainframes when it comes to security. Add to this how significantly different mainframes are from other types of computing platforms and this decreases the chances of mainframe systems being hacked or vital data being breached. More protection can be gained by encrypting this data—and the processing power of mainframes allows for encryption at a scale that can’t be handled by commodity servers, which are also more vulnerable targets to a security breach.
Mainframes No Longer Require Specialist Treatment
It used to be that mainframes needed to be housed in specialty data centers manned by technicians or IT professionals that specialize in mainframe systems. Modern mainframes, however, can be as small as refrigerators and can support mainstream operating systems like Microsoft Windows.
Mainframe systems are kind of a mix of the old and new since most enterprises who still use mainframes depend on COBOL, the programming language designed specifically for mainframes. You’d be hard pressed to find an institution that provides COBOL courses or training. COBOL skills are still in demand today, though, so companies are willing to pay extra for programmers with COBOL expertise. Mainframes are also gradually adapting to new use cases and modern technologies by tapping into the AI ecosystem and using open source languages that include Apache SparkML, Python, and Scala.
Although the mainframe has been here for years, the continuing modernization is gradually making it easier to integrate with newer systems with little to no disruption to the business. The applications reliant on mainframe systems are now moving away from their comfort zones and establishing connections with AI and analytics, which are both at the forefront of technology today.