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Why Mainframes Matter in the Age of Cloud Computing

Authors Photo Christopher Tozzi | February 28, 2023

Has cloud computing killed mainframes? You might think so. In fact, mainframes remain supremely important, even in the age of the cloud. Here’s why.

It’s easy enough to understand why one might think that mainframes are no longer relevant in the present age of “cloud-native” everything. Today, everyone and their mother is moving workloads to the cloud.

Public cloud computing platforms like AWS and Azure are generating record amounts of revenue, while private cloud frameworks, such as OpenStack, are more popular than ever.

You may think that, as a technology introduced more than a half-century ago, mainframes don’t have much to offer in a world dominated by much newer cloud computing technology.

Mainframes are the original cloud

But they do. The thing is, many of the qualities that make cloud computing so valuable to enterprises are also true of mainframes.

Think about it. Cloud computing has become popular because the cloud gives you:

  • On-demand access to compute and storage resources that can scale virtually without limit.
  • A more cost-efficient way to maintain infrastructure than relying on local commodity servers.
  • The flexibility to spin up different types of software environments. In the cloud, you can run any type of host operating system you want. You can use virtual servers, or you can use containers. You get a lot of flexibility.
  • A lower maintenance burden. When you move workloads to the cloud, you no longer have to maintain lots of individual on-premise servers.

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To a large extent, mainframes offer precisely the same benefits. Consider the following points:

  • A mainframe provides a single infrastructure that delivers massive compute and storage resources whenever your applications require them.
  • If you use a mainframe, it’s probably one that you already own. You don’t have to purchase new infrastructure. In addition, a mainframe can last for decades, whereas a commodity server lasts usually just a few years. For both reasons, mainframes offer cost-efficiency.
  • Mainframes give you plenty of software flexibility. You can use a mainframe operating system like z/OS, or you can use Linux. You can even run Docker containers on your mainframe.
  • When you run applications on a mainframe, you only have one machine to maintain. This is simpler than maintaining dozens of on-premise commodity servers.

Mainframes have long offered these benefits, but the cloud computing concept as we know it today has been around only for about a decade.

Essentially, then, mainframes were the original cloud. Going back decades, mainframes allowed companies to build cloud infrastructure avant la lettre (which is a fancy way of saying “before the term cloud infrastructure existed”).

Mainframes and cloud computing today

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not anti-cloud. You should move workloads to the cloud when the cloud is the best fit for a particular type of workload.

But if you have a mainframe environment set up, there’s a good chance that your mainframe can provide many of the same benefits as a cloud platform. In that case, you’ll save time, effort and money by continuing to use your mainframe to provide the same cloud-like benefits that it has been delivering for years.

In short, the cloud is not a replacement for your mainframe. It’s just a newer, flashier way of implementing the same types of functionality that mainframes offered starting decades ago.

Of course, using a mainframe effectively today does require integrating your mainframe environment into the rest of your infrastructure – whether it involves the cloud or not.

Read our white paper, Getting the Most Out of Your Mainframe, to see how to offload, accelerate, and lower cost of your mainframe to maximize its value.