No one knows how the power of the mainframe will be used in the future. But with 90% of Fortune 500 companies still using it to power their mission critical operations, and it being responsible for nearly all credit card transactions, one thing is for certain: The mainframe has a long life ahead of it.
But the mainframe has never just kept doing what it has done in the past. The platform has evolved and been given new responsibilities and more complicated challenges. And it has risen to the occasion to solve ever more difficult problems. The level of innovation on the platform has been immense over the past five decades, and the innovations will keep evolving to meet the new challenges modern enterprises face.
The features that made it successful in the past are what will make it an essential part of the digital landscape for years to come. Some of the features that served it well in the past and will be essential in the future are the following.
Virtualization first let more parts of the business take advantage of the mainframe resources. However, as cloud computing becomes an increasingly important force in the modern enterprise, mainframes are using the virtualization architecture they pioneered back in the 1970s to provide near limitless scalability for businesses as they ramp up their computing needs.
Having so many virtual processes running together on the same piece of hardware requires airtight data security. Users on one part of the mainframe shouldn’t be able to see or manipulate data running on another part of the hardware unless they have been deliberately granted access to do so. Programs like ASPG’s mainframe encryption software, MegaCryption, lock down data and keep it safe, no matter if it’s stored on-site or in the cloud.
Up-time and accessibility
Because of the nature of data processed on the mainframe, uptime is critical. Stock markets wouldn’t be able to function properly if there wasn’t a reliable system to record all the trades. Airlines wouldn’t be able to keep their planes in the air if the booking systems had intermittent outages. The mainframe’s famous up-time also makes it an incredibly accessible machine. Self-service password reset software like ReACT makes it easier to manage large numbers of user identities without the Help Desk having to respond manually to every request for a new password, and tools to leverage IBM’s RACF facility make it easy to control who has access to which resources.
IBM, the biggest mainframe manufacturer in the world, understands the central importance of the mainframe to business computing, and has taken steps in recent years to focus its attention. First, in 2004 IBM sold its consumer PC business to Lenovo. More recently, in January of 2014 it sold its x86 server division. By divesting itself of the lower margin (and somewhat commoditized) hardware, IBM put itself in the position to focus on the mainframe platform and the enterprise computing services that go along with it. This move also let it focus exclusively on its own hardware, instead of relying so heavily on Intel’s to fabricate the chips. As long as the mainframe maintains its flexibility in adapting to new tasks, it will continue to be immune to commoditization.
The mainframe isn’t going anywhere — and all of the features mentioned above make it a solid investment for businesses looking to the future. But it’s also a solid investment in the here and now, and when coupled with appropriate mainframe security software provides constant protection against data breaches that are costly, sadly too common, and otherwise unnecessary. So no matter to what uses mainframes are put in the future, one thing will always remain true: With mainframes, the future is now.