Cloud or Mainframe?

Surprise, surprise. IBM’s answer is both. 

To respond to the ongoing pressures of the global pandemic and more, IBM observed that businesses around the world have turbo-charged their digital transformations.  

At least some of these priorities are companies looking to take advantage of cloud computing.   Strategically, they also have concerns about optionality, or lock-in.  These realities explain why so few clients have made a wholesale move to cloud and many may never.

The unique needs each company faces in their business transformation journey require a diverse mix of applications and environments, including traditional data centers, edge computing and SaaS. It also raises the question of the role of the mainframe in today’s IT infrastructure?

According to a recent IBM study*, the vast majority (a whopping 71%) of IT executives surveyed from major corporations say critical mainframe-based applications not only have a place in their IT platforms today but are central to their business strategy. And in three years, the percentage of organizations leveraging mainframe assets in a hybrid cloud environment is expected to more than double. 

Why? Four of five executives say their organizations need to rapidly transform to keep up with competition, which includes modernizing mainframe-based apps and adopting a more open approach to cloud migration.

A hybrid cloud approach that includes and integrates mainframe computing can drive up to five times the value of a public cloud platform alone. The main sources of that value fall into five categories: 1) increased business acceleration, 2) developer productivity, 3) infrastructure efficiency, 4) risk and compliance management, and 5) long-term flexibility. 

With the billions businesses have invested in business-critical mainframe applications like financial management, customer data, and transaction processing over the years, this strategy holds true for both mainframe customers as well as those of IBM’s global consulting practice. Mainframe customers’ primary goal is to modernize their existing investments and minimize risk while delivering hybrid cloud innovation when they are ready to make that move.

IBM aims to guide its cloud migration clients on their application modernization journey with these recommendations:

Adopt an iterative approach. Many enterprises are experiencing firsthand the complexity of their IT environments. Adding to the vertical cloud silos undercut flexibility by making processes related to development, operations, and security even more fragmented than before, in effect making it nearly impossible to achieve the standardization and scale that cloud promises to deliver. 

Your plan to integrate new and existing environments must factor in your industry and workload attributes to co-create a business case and road map designed to meet your strategic goals. Adopt an incremental and adaptive approach to modernization as compared to a big bang approach. Leverage techniques such as coexistence architecture to gradually make the transition to the integrated hybrid architecture.

Then, assess your portfolio and build your roadmap. To understand your desired future state, assess your current state. Examine the capabilities that define the role of the mainframe in your enterprise today and how those capabilities tie into your hybrid cloud technology. BTW, the mainframe is an ideal partner for hosting clouds. Finally, take stock of your existing talent and resources and determine any changes. 

IBM, don’t be surprised, also suggests the new IBM z16 can perform many of the critical functions underpinning an open and secure hybrid cloud environment while closing some gaps. This includes accessing storage of unstructured on-premises data across a hybrid cloud platform, scaling and automating data-driven insights with AI, and being sufficiently agile to process critical apps and data in real-time;  all the while assessing security risks. 

Storing data across multiple clouds and moving it between partners and third parties can leave companies more vulnerable to security issues such as data breaches. Just remember to assess infrastructure solutions that support the ability to protect data, especially when it leaves your platform.

Then leverage multiple modernization strategies and enable easy access to existing mainframe applications and data by using APIs. This means providing a common developer experience by integrating open-source tools and a streamlined process for agility in addition to developing cloud native applications on the mainframe and containerizing those applications.

IT executives expect significant usage increases in both mainframe (35%) and cloud-based applications (44%) over the next two years. So consider how you can extract more value from both your mainframe and cloud investments. Blending mainframe power into the cloud landscape helps achieve the enterprise-wide agility and capability required to keep pace with changing business needs.

Alan Radding is DancingDinosaur, a veteran information technology analyst, writer, and ghostwriter. Follow DancingDinosaur on Twitter, @mainframeblog.

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