3 mainframe trends to watch

Why they matter and how supporting big iron streamlines operations

By | 3 minute read | November 19, 2019

More than ever, industries such as banking, retail and healthcare rely on mainframe computing power to manage hundreds of applications processing large volumes of data to simultaneously serve hundreds of thousands of users. A recent report by Allied Market Research finds this trend is fueling the mainframe market, estimated to reach $2.9 billion by 2025. Yet operational growth comes with its own set of growing pains.

Three key mainframe computing trends will continue to play out in the year ahead:

  • Maintaining availability for critical workloads
  • Dealing with talent attrition and skills gaps
  • Managing complex environments

1. Availability for critical mainframe workloads

Why it matters

Mainframe computers form the foundation of modern businesses, but they are largely invisible to the general public. Your average person likely doesn’t realize just how much they depend on a mainframe to use apps on their mobile phones, fill prescriptions or perform countless other everyday tasks.

When it comes to mission-critical workloads, even a brief period of unplanned downtime can result in negative consequences for those clients, your employees, your brand reputation and the bottom line.

“Availability comes down to what a specific enterprise needs,” said IBM Technology Support Services Solution Assurance Manager Leslie Campbell. “They often require 100% uptime and prefer a planned outage of a few hours to achieve that.”

Optimized availability requires planned maintenance strategies. Good planning constitutes fixes applicable to the enterprise’s IT infrastructure and considers factors such as application and system interoperability, pervasive problem handling, and managing changes when problems happen. Proper planning not only helps improve availability by preventing problems during normal operations, it also helps minimize system downtime during a planned maintenance window.

How to manage it

When considering how to minimize the risks of unplanned downtime, look for a technical support provider who employs proactive planned maintenance to help reduce the possibility of an unexpected outage.

“Even if you’re back up and running after an outage, you may be vulnerable,” said IBM Z Technical Account Manager for IBM Technology Support Services Albert Zehowski. “It’s helpful if issues stay escalated for root cause analysis to prevent the problem from happening again.”

Also, look for a provider that has a track record managing specific industry requirements. For example, banking and finance put a premium on uptime and need planned maintenance strategies.

2. Talent attrition and skill gaps

Why it matters

Many systems resources that specialize in mainframes are retiring, and students are focusing on other technical areas such as mobile app development and website management. The Allied Market Research report cites a survey conducted by IBM Systems Magazine that found 85% of respondents confirmed the mainframe skills gap, and 18% of mainframe staff planned to retire within five years.

Many enterprises have started addressing their skills gaps, but the training roadmap is a minimum of two to three years.

How to manage it

Subsidize or otherwise offset the costs of workshops and training for staff. Also, work with HR to generate excitement around how mainframe technologies drive innovation and flexibility in the business by layering new technology on top of the established workhorse that is running the mission-critical applications. Position the work as integrated with new technology needs.

Along with internal training, look to providers for education resources and to get an idea of mainframe and industry best practices. Outsourcing to technical support vendors can help fill talent gaps with highly skilled technical experts who act as an extension to IT teams.

3. Complex environment changes

Why it matters

Larger environments are challenging to manage. For example, a large retailer can have multiple data centers, thousands of store locations, online shoppers and business operations — all reliant on the mainframe. Every system needs to stay current with the latest level of fixes because when you make a change to one system, you have to understand the interoperability implications.

An IDC study found remote access to updates and technical expertise and communication topped the lists of data center support needs.

How to manage it

By design, mainframes are used by large numbers of people, most of whom are using the applications that are hosted on the system. As a result, a variety of job roles from system administrators to programmers are needed to operate and support the mainframe to ensure the system software and applications are up to date and function effectively.

“Depending on the client’s needs, they can augment their IT teams with a pool of IT experts who can focus on IT maintenance, programming resources or both,” said Campbell.

An experienced vendor that offers agnostic hardware and software knowledge, resourcing and tools can help enterprises navigate complex environments and multiple location needs. Along with proactive support for high availability, look for those that offer remote support and migration planning.