The platform wars are over

And data won

The platform wars are over
Credit: Thinkstock

We’ve all heard the expression, “Everyone else was playing checkers, but that guy was playing chess.” And “that guy” is usually the person who came out ahead because he (or she) was able to see past the immediate short-term problems and make plans that would win in the long run.

In many ways, this is a microcosm of the battle over what hardware computing platform to use. And while everyone scurried around to figure out what platform won, a clear victor emerged: data.

That’s right: data is the big winner.

Of course, you are probably wondering why I think the so-called “platform wars” are over. My answer is simple: they’re not over, but they’re not as important as they once were. That's because while the rest of us were busy debating the merits of mainframes, IBM i, UNIX and Windows, data managed to work its way free of any one platform. In fact, any piece of data created on any system can be accessed and used by just about any machine in the world. It’s sort of like driving. Anyone can pull into any service station and fill up their tank regardless of whether they’re driving a Porsche, Chevy or Honda.

Why did this happen? How did the tech industry spend billions of dollars trying to position one platform as the best possible option only to have data follow the maxim that “information wants to be free”?

The answer is that organizations that invested in particular platforms didn’t want to change the foundations of their technology infrastructures because it’s crazy-expensive and disruptive (and not in the good sense of the word) to migrate massive amounts of code. There’s too much risk involved, and even if the transfer is done perfectly—which it never is—the end result starts at zero percent better than the previous incarnation. It’s the equivalent of demolishing your house with a wrecking ball every time you want to redecorate.

Of course, this didn’t happen by magic. Forward-thinking organizations in industries from financial services to logistics to consumer products demanded that their data work on any device regardless of where it originated. As an example, most major banks run on mainframes but also want to offer secure mobile access to their customers. Instead of jumping off of big iron, they simply found a way to support mobile on mainframes—a technology that long predates even the idea of the smartphone.

Again, this topic is not exclusive to the mainframe, but because I’m a mainframe guy who spends most of my time immersed in the world of big iron, here are some specifics on how this all works.

It's an API Economy

It all comes back to the new catchy term, “API Economy.” This simply means that both applications and data are made known and are available through well-defined APIs.  And I don’t mean APIs that require specific mainframe knowledge—I mean application developer-desired APIs such as JSON, SQL and web services (RESTful, SOAP, etc.). 

The bottom line is that mainframes can handle all of the functions that today’s complex global organizations need. That’s why almost every bank in the world continues to rely on big iron to manage their valuable data while delivering it through modern mechanisms such as mobile and the cloud. Because it’s really not about the platform at all—it’s about the data.

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