The mainframe has been declared \u201cdead,\u201d \u201cmorphed\u201d and \u201ctransformed\u201d so many times over the years sometimes it\u2019s sometimes hard to believe IBM\u2019s Big Iron still has an identity in the enterprise world.\nBut clearly it does and in a major way, too.\u00a0\n\nTake recent news as an example: According to IBM, 75% of the top 20 global banks are running its newest z15 mainframe, and the IBM Systems Group reported a 68% gain in Q2 IBM Z mainframe revenue year-over-year.\nAt the heart of its current vitality is Linux\u2014primarily in the form of Big Iron-based Red Hat OpenShift\u2014and a variety of software such as IBM Cloud Paks and open source applications. The Linux-mainframe marriage is celebrating 20 years this month, and the incongruous mashup\u2014certainly at the beginning anyway\u2014has been a boon for the mainframe that, by most accounts, still has plenty of good years ahead of it.\n\u201cFor the first five or so years we really were just experimenting with what we could do with Linux and the mainframe, but then the server-consolidation movement hit, and we knew we had something big,\u201d said Ross Mauri, the general manager for IBM Z.\n\u201cWhat really got us going was the big Wall Street financial companies who all had these Sun Solaris servers with big databases, and many decided to consolidate on the Z mainframe running Linux, and we were off and running,\u201d he said.\n\nAnother contributing factor in 2000 was Big Blue\u2019s $1B investment in all things Linux, which was a huge move toward getting the operating system and open-source software in general into the mainstream business market.\nSince that time there have been numerous milestones in the mainframe\u2019s Linux journey, including the introduction of a standalone box, the LinuxONE, five years ago, which is now at the heart of some of the world\u2019s largest implementations.\nRed Hat to the rescue\nThe next chapter in the mainframe story began last year when IBM bought Linux powerhouse Red Hat for $34B, tying the massive transactional capacity, security and reliability of the mainframe with Red Hat Open Shift and Red Hat Enterprise Linux.\nIBM has also released Red Hat Ansible Certified Content for IBM Z and launched a new cloud-native development offering, Wazi Workspaces, which lets developers apply industry-standard tools from IBM Z to multi-cloud platforms optimized for OpenShift.\nCombine those moves with all of the open-source mainframe software work going on in the Linux Foundation\u2019s Open Mainframe Project and customers now have a ton of development options for private or public cloud-based workloads.\n\u201cClients no longer have to develop and work with proprietary tools, and the zOS is being brought completely into the modern application development world,\u201d Mauri said.\nGartner recently wrote of that trend: \u201cNow developers, testers, and infrastructure and operations staff have the capability to utilize the same tools which exist in the distributed world. Rocket Software, CA Technologies, and IBM are supporting the Open Mainframe Project Zowe, which is making adapting of open-source tools much easier.\u201d\nIBM calls Zowe a framework that lets development and operations teams securely, manage, control, script, and develop on the mainframe like any other cloud platform.\n\u201cFrom application development software, to complex DevOps orchestration engines, these traditional platforms are enjoying a resurgence of relevance in the data center that is making them accessible to all developers and testers. This change significantly reduces the issue of limited and old-fashioned development tools that previously contributed to the impetus to leave traditional platforms,\u201d Gartner stated.\nGoing forward Mauri said he expects a number of key technologies will continue to make the mainframe a key cloud and compute player.\nConfidential Computing\nOne of those keys is an overarching security model called Confidential Computing which IBM broadly describes as a way to protect data, applications and processes at scale. It has rolled out a number products that adhere to Confidential Computing principles. For example, IBM\u2019s Secure Execution for Linux software lets customers isolate and protect \u00a0large numbers of workloads from internal and external threats across a hybrid-cloud environment. Other packages let customers bolt-down containerized Kubernetes workloads or Red Hat OpenShift clusters, IBM says.\nThere is also a Linux Foundation project, the Confidential Computing Consortium, made up of \u00a0Alibaba, Arm, Baidu, IBM\/Red Hat, Intel, Google Cloud and Microsoft that is pushing the concept industry wide.\n\u201cThe organization aims to address data in use, enabling encrypted data to be processed in memory without exposing it to the rest of the system, reducing exposure to sensitive data and providing greater control and transparency for users,\u201d the Consortium says on its website. \u00a0\u201cThis is among the very first industry-wide initiatives to address data in use, as current security approaches largely focus on data at rest or data in transit. The focus of the Confidential Computing Consortium is especially important as companies move more of their workloads to span multiple environments, from on premises to public cloud and to the edge.\u201d\nMauri says IBM is on its fourth generation of Confidential Computing technology, which will keep it out in front of other industry cloud players and give the company a strong security weapon for the foreseeable future.\n\u201cThe vulnerability landscape is constantly changing, and organizations can be attacked across their IT systems. Add to that concerns around data privacy and regulations and you\u2019ve got a full plate,\u201d said Terri Cobb, lead alliance partner at Deloitte Consulting. Deloitte recently conducted a survey of business and IT decision makers with Forrester Consulting and found 80% of respondents are focused on modernizing mainframe toolsets in an effort to identify and prevent data breaches, and 73% are increasing their security footprint.\n\u201cData protection and security are so critical, and mainframes remain one of the most secure and powerful platforms available when the right controls are in place,\u201d Cobb said.\nPay per use\nAnother direction IBM and the mainframe is moving is toward a more cloud-agile, consumption-based licensing model that lets customers pay only for what they consume, Mauri said. The company rolled out its Tailored Fit Pricing model in 2019 and has upwards of 80 customers onboard so far, Mauri said. It offers two consumption-based pricing models that can help customers cope with ever-changing workload and hence software costs.\nMauri said IBM expects to make hardware more consumption based in the future.\nPredicting demand for IT services can be a major challenge, and in the era of hybrid and multicloud, everything is connected and workload patterns constantly change, Mauri wrote in a\u00a0blog\u00a0about the new pricing and services in 2019. \u201cIn this environment, managing demand for IT services can be a major challenge. As more customers shift to an enterprise IT model that incorporates on-premises, private cloud and public we\u2019ve developed a simple cloud pricing model to drive the transformation forward.\u201d\nML\/AI opportunities\nOthers say technologies such as machine learning and artificial intelligence will also drive future mainframe development.\n\u201cData insights help drive actionable and profitable results\u2014-but the pool of data is growing at astronomical rates. That\u2019s where AI can make a difference, especially when it\u2019s on a mainframe. Consider the amount of data that resides on a mainframe for an organization in the banking, manufacturing, healthcare, or insurance sectors. You\u2019d never be able to make sense of it all without AI,\u201d said Deloitte\u2019s Cobb. As an example, Cobb said core banking operations can do more than simply execute large volumes of transactions.\n\u201cBanks need deep insights about customer needs, preferences, and intentions to compete effectively, along with speed and agility in sharing and acting on those insights. That\u2019s easier said than done when data is constantly changing. Now if you can analyze data directly on the mainframe, you can get near real-time insights and action. That makes the mainframe an important participant in the AI\/ML revolution,\u201d Cobb said.\nThe mainframe environment isn\u2019t without challenges going forward.\nFor example, there is a growing market for moving mainframe applications off of the Big Iron and onto cloud services. Large cloud players such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft are also involved in modernizing mainframe applications. For example,\u00a0Google Cloud in February bought mainframe cloud-migration service firm Cornerstone Technology with an eye toward helping Big Iron customers move workloads to the private and public cloud. An ecosystem of mainframe modernization service providers such as\u00a0Astadia, Asysco, GTSoftware, LZLabs, \u00a0Micro Focus has also grown up.\nCOBOL coders needed\nAnother challenge is finding and developing the right people to cultivate the mainframe environment.\n\u201cIt was predicted mainframes would eventually cease to exist so colleges stopped offering courses focused on COBOL and other critical mainframe skills. As Baby Boomers retire, mainframe talent concerns are becoming a reality,\u201d Cobb said. \u00a0\nDeloitte\u2019s survey found that 71% of respondents said their teams are understaffed, and 93% said its \u201cmoderately\u201d to \u201cextremely challenging\u201d to acquire the right mainframe resources and skills, Cobb said.\n\u201cMany large companies are addressing this issue by hiring and developing college recruits, developing a mentoring program, creating an internship, or turning to third parties for support. Mainframes aren\u2019t going anywhere\u2014the talent pool needs to match the demand,\u201d Cobb said.\nWhile there are challenges in the future, Cobb said the consultancy\u2019s survey showed customers are looking to increase their investment in the mainframe with 91% of respondents identified as expanding their mainframe footprints as a moderate or critical priority in the next 12 months.