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The Modern Mainframe Prepares Government for Tomorrow’s Challenges
Jun 28,2022

Government leaders don’t have to choose between cloud and mainframe. Modernizing federal IT systems requires the best of both technologies.


One thing that federal government agencies have in common with financial institutions, airlines, hospital systems, and hotel chains is that they serve millions of customers.


Recent Biden Administration Executive Orders highlight the imperative for agencies to meet customer expectations for better digital experiences, safeguard sensitive information through zero trust security measures and encrypting sensitive data, and be more resilient in the face of climate change. The Legacy IT Reduction Act of 2022 (S.3897), currently under consideration by the Senate, seeks to create momentum toward modernizing federal IT systems to achieve these outcomes. These policy mandates set new expectations for federal government agencies emerging from the pandemic. Rising to the challenge will require agencies overhaul business processes, modernize key applications, and better understand and manage their data as part of a hybrid cloud approach.


Today’s modern mainframe currently makes it possible for both the government and private sector to process the millions of transactions needed to serve their customers and accomplish other mission activities. The technology has been built to accelerate improvements in security, customer service, business resiliency, and make it easier to leverage the benefits of artificial intelligence (AI). Mainframes are playing and will continue to play a key role as part of today’s modern digital experience. In fact, two thirds of Fortune 100 companies, 45 of the world’s top 50 banks, 8 of the top 10 insurers, 7 of the top 10 global retailers, and 8 out of the top 10 telcos use IBM zSystems for mission critical workloads. The mainframe is pervasive in the private sector because it offers the best mix of security, performance, reliability, and resiliency.


We are proud that IBM zSystems are also used across government to process veterans’ benefits, social security payments, tax returns, federal employee paychecks, trade revenue, and many other digital transactions.


Many large federal agencies have the same IBM zSystems as those in the private sector. However, federal agencies procure and upgrade them differently largely using capital dollars. As a result, modernization may lag while leaders await new capital dollars in their budgets. In the private sector, mainframe computing power can be purchased via consumption-based, as a service models. These infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) models give users flexibility to pay for the capacity they need when they need it. Under these models, a technology provider can rapidly deploy modernizations to the user while the user can focus on operations.


To realize similar modernization benefits as their private sector peers, IBM recommends the following for federal agencies:


Cloud or mainframe is a false choice – agencies that serve millions of customers will need and can have both as part of a hybrid cloud environment. Agency leaders should demand the best of both cloud and mainframe. IBM urges future updates of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) Cloud Smart policy to emphasize hybrid cloud as the preferred modernization strategy.


Use pervasive encryption as a powerful tool against cyber threats. All federal agencies must encrypt sensitive data both at rest and in transit under the May 2021 Cybersecurity Executive Order. Pervasive encryption is one of the best and most affordable ways to protect data. The modern mainframe includes this level of 21st century security at the semiconductor chip level.


Make business resiliency a central tenet of modernization. Agencies must ensure the seamless delivery of benefits and services to the businesses, community organizations, and families that rely on them and other government entities that they support. Every time a federal agency’s website is frozen or sensitive information is compromised, public trust is eroded, and national security may be put at risk.


Embrace automation. Agencies can leverage the modern mainframe platform with open architecture software to implement automation and AI that can help reduce claims backlogs, fight fraud, and extract value from data more quickly. When applied to areas like cyber security, AI and automation can also help address current skills shortages.


Develop consumption-based acquisition models. We urge the General Services Administration (GSA) to develop, and Congress to encourage and support, a consumption-based acquisition model that gives federal agencies the option to distribute the cost of high-performance mainframes across multiple years and agency users.


IBM is confident that a hybrid cloud model is the best platform for meeting federal mandates for modernizing government IT systems. Based on our partnerships in both the private and public sectors, we also know that the modern mainframe is a valuable component of a hybrid cloud model and can help accelerate that modernization.




-Terry Halvorsen, General Manager, U.S. Federal Market









-Frank Cristinzio, Government Affairs Executive







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