For many years, mainframes have been typecast as the dinosaurs of the IT industry. However, today’s reality is a very long way from earlier perceptions. Indeed, the mainframe market is again showing clear signs of growth.
In the Federal Government market, IBM is reporting 20% compound growth in mainframe usage. Some of this growth is showing up in government hardware contracts monitored by Intermedium. Other growth is appearing as part of various infrastructure outsourcing agreements.
Mainframe growth is being driven by a number of converging issues:
- Mainframes have continued to be the technology of choice for driving high transaction systems in government. Centrelink, for example, is now the largest mainframe site in the southern hemisphere. Other major system redevelopment projects in ATO, Immigration and Customs, have continued to rely on mainframes for their core processing. More than a dozen Federal Government Agencies continue to use mainframes for at least some of their key production applications;
- The IT market is again swinging back toward central computing. While distributed servers have traditionally offered increased flexibility and local control, they have proven to be a costly option with inefficiencies in power, utilisation levels, and system administration. Distributed servers have become a significant contributor to the explosion data centre numbers across government;
- Mainframes are no longer the giant water-cooled boxes they were in past decades. They now have a compact footprint and provide significant improvements in power and heat management. They have been repositioned in the market to accommodate a broader range of options by adding integrated specialist processors. These are aimed at speeding up processing for Java, DB2, and Linux. Each virtual machine can schedule work on any of the specialist processors. This enables average utilisation levels to be driven beyond 80%, maximising return on investment and environmental savings;
- Mainframes have remained extremely resilient to hackers, who are looking to exploit technical flaws in the system. Overall system availability continues to be a significant selling point.
In their rebadged configuration as enterprise servers, mainframes are likely to remain an important consideration for meeting ongoing central computing needs. The battle lines are now drawn with other enterprise server suppliers, for a new round of competition in the central computing market.