Have mainframes had their day? Certainly, they represent old technology compared to today’s on-premise or cloud infrastructures. But, for many organizations that run large-scale mission-critical applications or process huge amounts of data, mainframes remain an important resource.

In Gartner’s concept of ‘two-speed IT’, legacy infrastructures like mainframe provide an essential stable environment for specific workloads. However, they lack the scalability and dynamic capability of cloud infrastructures.

Expansion requires capital investment and there’s another problem. Mainframe skills are getting increasingly scarce as the specialists who grew up with the technology reach retirement age. One estimate suggests that as many as 35-40 percent of current mainframe specialists could be leaving soon.

Which Direction for Mainframes?

Until recently, the choice for IT leaders with mainframes has been simple: move to cloud computing and storage resources, or continue to run mainframes with increasingly limited internal support resources. Both choices incur risk. Lose stability by moving to the cloud, or risk degraded performance as systems age and maintenance becomes more difficult.

This situation is even more challenging for organizations pursuing a digital transformation strategy. Mainframes on-premise simply don’t offer the agility that is essential to meet demands for faster service delivery and enhanced customer experience.

Mainframe as a Service

Now, Mainframe as a Service, also known as MaaS or MFaaS, offers an alternative. Like any outsourced solution, a service provider owns, operates, maintains and upgrades the infrastructure in the cloud.

Unsurprisingly, IBM with its historical roots in mainframe, is at the heart of this initiative with a service called Cloud Managed Service on z Systems. According to IBM, the service is not aimed at moving organizations away from mainframe technology, but helping them make better use of their resources.

IBM recognizes that a significant proportion of mainframe users have adopted the Linux operating system. The service is therefore also available in a Linux version. And, IBM commented that around 20 cloud providers have mainframe resources based on IBM z systems or Linux boxes.

Transforming Mainframe

Migrating mainframe resources to the cloud offers a number of important benefits. Service providers are likely to be using the latest generation of mainframe systems, so that customers can take advantage of technology advances without replacing or refreshing their own infrastructure and incurring capital costs.

Organizations can take advantage of a consumption-based model so that they only pay for the resources they require. They can scale those resources in line with demand or operational requirements without capital investment or delay in deploying new infrastructure.

That level of scalability and flexibility brings mainframe technology into a digital transformation strategy, while continuing to provide the stability that’s essential for mission-critical applications. And, cloud deployment also supports mobility strategies, giving remote and mobile users easier access to certain applications and services.

Cloud deployment also solves the support problem. Organizations no longer have to recruit or try to retain mainframe specialists. That’s the responsibility of the service provider and the cost is rolled up with resource consumption into a predictable service fee that sits in the OPEX budget.

Migrating to a MaaS/MFaaS solution promises important benefits for mainframe users and looks set to give a new lease of life to this important technology.

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