Mainframes: A technological best bet

Mainframes: A technological best bet
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Just as sound an investment as it was 50 years ago, the mainframe is future-proof, efficient and ideal for mobile


I’ve seen a number of great technologies come and go. Some are fun for a while, as they are the first to market, such as game systems, entertainment devices and lifestyle products. But without staying ahead of the competition, they soon become irrelevant. Others simply don’t solve a big enough problem to warrant spending money to become an early adopter, such as Google Glass, Amazon’s Fire mobile phone or HD DVD.

How do you know when the time is right to invest in new technology? For personal technology, if you’re like me, you’ll forever be an early adopter and likely always be first in line for the next iPhone or Android device—even if the existing one works perfectly fine. But if you’re committing thousands and thousands of dollars of your company’s limited IT resources, how do you know what you’re buying today will be still be the best technology five years from now—or even next year?

I’ve long been an advocate of the mainframe. Pundits (and competitors) have predicted its demise for decades, but this powerhouse technology is as critical and as sure of an investment today as when the first models were introduced more than 50 years ago. The mainframe of today has several characteristics that make this investment a sound one for years to come.

Designed for mobile: So many industries—retailers, financial institutions, telecommunications services, airlines, insurance companies, to name a few—have embraced mobile applications. IBM recently teamed with Apple to ensure its back-end hardware is optimized to run new business apps developed for mobile devices. Mainframes introduced within the last year have processors that contain 300 percent more memory than found on most servers and 100 percent more bandwidth for speedier mobile transactions.

Designed for efficiency: Mainframes have the power of one. Mainframes can replace clusters of services comprised of multiple devices, eliminating space and reducing cooling and power requirements. Naturally, having fewer systems means fewer people required to monitor and maintain everything. And, as part of its core design, mainframes are extremely efficient, having extremely high resource utilization rates that often exceed 95 percent. It’s hard to imagine how much more productive business would be if everything ran at that level of utilization!     

Designed for the future: From a hardware perspective, high-end servers have been designed for years to allow for components to be “hot swappable.” That means servers bought today can be upgraded on the fly without requiring downtime of critical systems. Likewise, mainframe software and the proliferation of applications make the mainframe assuredly expandable and upgradeable. Today’s mainframe system software has the capability to power cloud, business analytics, enterprise security, mobile applications and other critical workloads. In addition, hundreds of well-known software companies regularly develop new and upgraded mainframe applications to further exploit the needs of business without having to upgrade hardware.

Most technologies typically fail because they don’t reach the scale of adoption or adjust to changing times that keep them critically useful. While my Atari system collects dust in the basement, my life would not be the same without the mainframe. Whether we know it or not, we all use the mainframe every day. From mobile payments to ATM transactions to checking in for a flight, the mainframe is ubiquitous.

Mainframes still have a business-critical role in commerce. Yes, you always can wait for the next innovation, but you will miss out on the productivity gains, scalability and efficiency that will surely serve you for years and years.

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