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Five Things Detractors Don’t Know About Mainframes

By Destination Z posted Mon December 23, 2019 03:40 PM

A few weeks ago, I attended the IBM System z 2014 Spring ISV Technical Disclosure Meeting in beautiful Poughkeepsie, N.Y. I can say beautiful because while it wasn’t exactly spring yet, I became acquainted with the richness of color that “pops” when I was on assignment there a dozen years ago. I thoroughly enjoyed the IBMers (and my fellow independent software vendors) passionately collaborating and discussing how to deliver value to customers.

While listening to IBM’s strategy and direction, I found myself asking, “What do people who have never touched a mainframe know about it?” Or better yet, what is it that they don’t know about it. Maybe they’re scared of the mainframe. It’s possible—after all, we’ve probably all seen examples of people being afraid of things that they don’t understand.

So for people who say they don’t like mainframes, here is a short list of things that they probably didn’t know that Big Iron can do:

  • Cloud deployment. According to an internal IBM STG study, as a cloud platform the cost to support Red Hat or SUSE Linux images is cheaper than x86 architectures when there are more than about 200 images, and the cost is roughly half when the number of images is about 1500.
  • Java performance. Fifteen years ago, the JVM on the mainframe almost always lagged. That has changed significantly; on the latest generation hardware (EC12/BC12), Java performance exceeds that of tuned COBOL—which has been continuously tuned for decades on mainframe hardware. System z hardware is arguably the best performing hardware that Java has ever seen.
  • Configurability. Quite possibly the most configurable computing platform ever created, mainframe software, especially, the operating system, was the first “open source” project of its time. As such, it was made highly configurable, which is why it has been so resilient for 50 years.
  • I/O architecture. Whereas most computing platforms must add more memory in order to get acceptable I/O performance, disk usage on a mainframe can be more performant than the use of memory in many cases. This is a testament to the flexibility of its I/O architecture.
  • Integration. The mainframe offers the best pre-integration of hardware, operating system, and middleware software (databases, transaction monitors, web servers, etc.) than any other platform.
Of course, we all have our own biases, but most mainframe detractors remind me of 5 year olds encountering a plate of Brussels sprouts for the first time. They just know they don’t like the mainframe, even if they don’t exactly know why. Perhaps if they had a truer picture of the platform, their opinions would change. It’s up to all of us in the mainframe community to get the word out.

And meantime, feel free to try this awesome recipe for Brussels sprouts.

Bryan Smith focuses on IBM mainframe solutions at Rocket Software, a global software company that has developed mainframe tools and solutions for the world’s leading businesses for 24 years.