It’s 2011 and mainframe usage is up, as are sales of new mainframes, namely zEnterprise class z196 hardware. Even the industry analysts who not so long ago predicted the rapid decline and death of the mainframe now foresee growth, followed by growth and more growth. The mainframe is also seen as the ideal core for efficient, secure, private clouds. Hundreds of new applications are being written for the mainframe each year, and more and more CIOs are looking to shift workloads to this cost-efficient platform, so growth and opportunity for us mainframers is assured, right? Of course not, but what is needed to ensure the mainframe resurgence continues long into the future?

Long-term success in IT has never been guaranteed, regardless of how good the technology or company. Even though the mainframe has persevered through decades when it was anything but the “next big thing,” it still makes sense to look at how it does vs. the “competition” with respect to the key criteria that IT decision-makers look at when they plan their organization’s IT future.  These decision-makers are, quite logically, looking at reliability, cost-effectiveness, security, resiliency, “greenness,” performance, virtualization capability, and ease-of-use/management of the various platforms as the key evaluation criteria when creating their long-term IT plans. When looked at objectively, the mainframe is the clear and obvious victor for the first seven of these categories.

“Winning” seven of eight criteria may be enough, but it shouldn’t have to be. With a strong focus on doing more with less in many IT organizations, it’s also important that all platforms become easier to manage. Technology being more complicated to use and manage than it needs to be won’t fly in 2011. The final frontier for a mainframe “clean sweep” in supporting IT goals is to reduce management complexity. Today’s mainframe experts can effectively manage their mainframes, but simplification can reduce the time and effort they spend on mundane tasks such as product installations and updates or manually culling and combining data from multiple sources to create regularly scheduled reports—clearly not the best use of an organizational guru’s time.  CIOs and CEOs want their best, brightest, most experienced people innovating and driving value for the organization; in many cases, they need it to stay competitive.

Beyond the obvious reasons, mainframe management and ease of use are also important because talent is important; attracting and keeping the most talented people is critical to the future of the mainframe industry. Innovation comes from talented, motivated people and the innovations themselves (think virtualization, five 9’s, highest performance combined with “greenest,” etc.), drive the future of IT.

As attractive as the prospect of working on the industry’s most powerful and admired systems may be, our beloved 3270 green screen and the prospect of having to manage the mainframe with it, isn’t so attractive; especially not to the next generation’s best and brightest. Simplified management with a point-and-click workspace is required now to complete the mainframe picture; consider it the “secret sauce” in a five-star gourmet meal. Add cross-platform management (distributed computing isn’t going anywhere either) and knowledge capture and management, and you can see how this begins to form an irresistible combination that people will want and demand for many years to come.

Now, if you take zEnterprise power and precision and combine it with simplified management, that’s an attractive, tasty package that would be hard for anyone to resist. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it.