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Hybrid Cloud Is the Future of the Mainframe

In 1897, the New York Journal published a rumor that Mark Twain was dead. Hearing the news, Mark Twain is said to have replied, “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” I have had the occasion to use it many times when discussing mainframe over the past 30 years.

My first encounter with mainframe hype was in the 1990s with the advent of “client/server.” Companies made major investments in risky projects all for the purpose of following a trend. In 1993, Cheryl Watson, CEO and cofounder of Watson Walker—and a mainframe performance and measurement icon—handed me a white pin-back button with black letters that said, “The Mainframe is Dead,” followed by a big, red “NOT.” It is as true now as it was then. Discounting the many benefits of a scalable, resilient, secure…and yes, modern mainframe can lead to increased risk, higher costs and lost opportunity.

Figure 1. Cheryl Watson's button
Figure 1. Cheryl Watson’s button

But you do not have to take my word for it. In this article we will summarize the results from a large group of recent independent studies. The overwhelming conclusion we can make from the data is that companies are learning the value of hybrid cloud environments and mainframe will continue to remain a critical player in those environments for years to come. Moving to cloud is not always living up to expectations.

Our sample includes:

1. Kyndryl’s 2023 State of Mainframe Modernization Survey Report, September 12, 2023
2. An article from Deloitte Insight, “Connect and Extend: Mainframe Modernization Hits Its Stride,” December 6, 2022
3. The 2023 BMC Annual Mainframe Research, September 7, 2023
4. An International Data Corporation (IDC) white paper, “The Modern Mainframe-Automated, Protected, Connected,” September 20, 2023

Kyndryl’s 2023 State of the Mainframe Modernization Survey Report

Kyndryl is the world’s largest provider of IT Infrastructure services in the world, serving thousands of enterprise customers in more than 60 countries. It commissioned Coleman Parkes Research to survey 500 business and IT leaders. The respondents did not have to be Kyndryl clients, but they did have to have mainframe experience.

The survey shows that 99% of businesses are taking a hybrid approach to mainframe modernization. Nearly all respondents (95%) are planning to move at least some mainframe applications to cloud. On average, 37% of their application portfolio will eventually move to cloud. 90% of the organizations surveyed indicated that mainframes remain critical to their business operations especially in banking, healthcare, retail and government industries. Only 1% are planning to move all their workloads off the mainframe.

Jonathan Dietz, vice president, Kyndryl Core Enterprise & zCloud US Practice Leader, notes that “the survey revealed that the vast majority are taking a hybrid approach to mainframe modernization, combining the three approaches of modernize on, integrate with and move off, as each approach has its own advantages.” Businesses must determine which applications should stay on the mainframe, be integrated with the hyperscalers or private clouds, or would be better suited in the public cloud.

Furthermore, projects that modernize on the mainframe led to 9% increase in profitability, while both integrating with and moving off increased profitability by 11%. The survey concludes that choosing any of the three modernization paths leads to a strong return on investment.

Deloitte’s “Connect and Extend: Mainframe Modernization Hits Its Stride”

Deloitte is a leading global provider of audit assurance, consulting, financial advisory, risk advisory, tax and related services. It employs 330,000 people in 150 countries and is one of the Big Four accounting firms. In its “Connect and Extend” article of 2022, Deloitte explores the idea that “businesses have begun looking for ways to extend the functionality of the mainframe by linking them to emerging technologies.”

Deloitte makes many key points in this discussion. First, it notes that many companies move to cloud because it is trendy. David Linthicum, chief cloud strategy officer at Deloitte Consulting LLP laments, “People manage by what they read in magazines. They aren’t necessarily making decisions based on business requirements. They’re making emotional decisions based on where they think they should go.” These decisions can be far more expensive than alternatives.

Second, many mainframe applications are critical to the business, and it is either too risky or too expensive to move them to the cloud. Deloitte argues that the trick is to get the mainframe to communicate with applications in the cloud. Like the Kyndryl survey, Deloitte expects 90% of businesses intend to expand their mainframe footprint in the long-term.

2023 BMC Annual Mainframe Research

BMC provides a business services platform offering cloud and IT management solutions, employing over 6,000 employees serving 10,000 businesses. Its product offerings can be separated into three main categories: automated mainframe intelligence, application workflow orchestrations and SaaS solutions. This is BMC’s 18th year producing an annual mainframe report and it provides an interesting set of statistics:

  • 94% of respondents have a positive perception of the mainframe
  • From 2021 to 2023, investment in the mainframe has grown 9%
  • From 2019 to 2023 there has been a:
    • 12% greater adoption of DevOps
    • 16% increase in the number of databases
    • 14% increase in data volume
  • From 2017 to 2023 mainframes experienced a 17% increase in the ability to grow and attract new workloads

International Data Corporation (IDC) White Paper: ”The Modern Mainframe-Automated, Protected, Connected”

IDC is the premier global provider of market intelligence, advisory services and events for the information technology, telecommunications and consumer technology markets. Its white paper, “The Modern Mainframe: Automated, Protected, Connected,” predicts that by 2026, 95% of companies will develop hybrid cloud environments where applications will run on platforms “fit-for-purpose.”

These existing applications are critical for the business, and there is sometimes a natural instinct to want to move them off these hosts and run them on “modern” systems. But IDC points out that most of those “legacy” hosts “have all or most, of the capabilities that “modern” infrastructure provides.” It is costly to rewrite and move these systems. And, more importantly, IDC research “has seen little if any advantage for businesses” when costs and satisfaction are compared.

Where Do We Go From Here?

We now have compiled evidence from many major studies and respected sources that companies are embracing a hybrid cloud environment where mainframe is a critical player. We have seen the growth of COBOL from the Reuter’s estimate of 220 billion lines in 2017 to the Microfocus range of 775-800 billion in 2023:

COBOL Blues (
COBOL Market Shown to be Three Times Larger than Previously Estimated in New Independent Survey | Micro Focus

We have many other examples of work moving to the mainframe like IBM’s role in helping one of the world’s largest banks launch their MongoDB-as-a-Service on IBM LinuxOne (Linux on Z) for their most critical financial applications in 2022.  Or the move of 60,000 cores of X86 belonging to a major insurance company to 3000 cores on zSystems for a 75% reduction in cost.

New, modern technologies like the Telum integrated AI accelerator chip and quantum safe protect business assets like never before. As the system is scaled up from one chip to 32 chips, it performs more than 3.5 million inferences/sec with low latency of 1.2 msec. Telum provides the power for fraud detection applications to score 100% of transaction in real time, whereas before they may only score 75%-80%. IBM’s goal is to continue improving AI hardware compute efficiency by 2.5 times every year for a decade, achieving 1,000 times better performance by 2029.

Still think mainframe is not modern?

The Future of the Mainframe

But this migration requires skills. The challenge is to find a trusted advisor that maintains a focus on honing those skills.   This is true for organizations providing service, but also extends further.  In his LinkedIn article, “The Future of Mainframe Technology: Will it Survive,” Sugumar Mani, self-described “old school student from the mainframe world,” warns that the mainframe is “practically unknown among younger developers, largely due to cultural reasons and a lack of historical awareness.” If the mainframe is delivering all this value, then it is critical that we move past the hype and determine the best solutions for our clients. We should not deny the value of mainframe while solving for the right workload on the right platform. Our first stop on this journey is to ensure the availability of broad and deep mainframe skills. To quote Katy Bar-Shalom, CIO for Meuhedet, “The vision is not to move on from legacy systems—because they work. But with layers, web services and applications, we can enlarge and bring new data and insights.”

(29) The Future of Mainframe Technology: Will It Survive? | LinkedIn
Working Together: MongoDB’s Partner of the Year Awards | MongoDB
Health care modernization case study | Deloitte Insights

“I would not be looking in any obituaries for mainframe just yet.” —Katy Bar-Shalom