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Mainframe Still Plays Key Role In Modern Data Center

A survey released by IT management software vendor BMC Software shows that mainframe computers still play a central role in large data centers and that businesses are using them to run new applications as well as legacy software. The 2011 Annual Mainframe Research Results show that enterprises are doing more work on mainframes because of the platform's advantages in security, reliability and cost-effectiveness, compared with the distributed client-server computing architecture.

"The mainframe is still a great place to be. It’s still doing well," says Bill Miller, president of mainframe service management at BMC, which surveyed 1,347 IT professionals globally for the sixth annual survey. Sixty percent of respondents were from enterprises in government, finance and insurance that are big users of mainframes.

The mainframe was the dominant computing platform for enterprises until the 1990s and the rise of client-server computing.

But today, while software applications may be delivered by servers, the data being generated by them is stored and processed on mainframes, says Miller, adding that about 65% of the world’s data runs on mainframes. BMC is a vendor of IT service management and business service management software.

The 2011 survey showed that 63% of respondents said their use of mainframes will grow and that more workloads will be run on them, up from 57% in the 2010 survey, and that 32% plan to run only legacy software on their mainframes, down from 37% a year ago. Only 3% of respondents considered the mainframe "not viable in the general market."

The survey looked only at IBM mainframe users and reflects demand for the latest iteration of IBM’s zEnterprise System line of mainframes with the z196 processor, which began shipping just over a year ago. IBM enjoys the market share lead in the mainframe space, and the website Enterprise Systems reported Monday that IBM grew mainframe revenue even as the overall mainframe market shrank in the second quarter of 2011. Other mainframe vendors include Fujitsu, Groupe Bull, Hitachi and Unisys.

Mainframes also fit nicely into the current trend of cloud computing, particularly private clouds, says Miller: "Most of the critical apps in the financial industry, for example, are pretty much private cloud deals. It’s just that we never called them that over the years."

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