The mainframe has long been a stable, reliable consistent platform for high-value, critical transactions such as Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), online order-taking and financial transaction processing. Mainframes today continue to touch most transactions worldwide. According to Independent Assessment, an industry authority on mainframe computing, 72 percent of the world’s financial transactions are processed on mainframes.

In recent years, and as a result of the “self-service” explosion on the Web, we’ve seen the mainframe’s role evolve. Today’s mainframes support customer-facing applications and play a more pivotal role in the overall performance—speed and reliability—of the user experience. Subtle mainframe optimizations can exert an enormously positive, measurable impact, and given how demanding today’s users are, organizations are remiss if they don’t include the mainframe as part of their Application Performance Management (APM) efforts.

This article explores the changing role of the mainframe and why it’s critical that organizations include the mainframe in their APM strategy. We’ll also discuss how trends such as the rise in mobility and software modularization are impacting mainframes, and how a new generation of APM helps isolate and fix mainframe performance bottlenecks—before they impact your users.

The Mainframe’s Role in the Application Delivery Chain

It used to be that mainframe applications didn’t interact directly with customers. Consider the banking industry. Banking customers used to walk into a bank branch to request their account balance, which a teller would then convey to them using a mainframe-based application to access customer data and process the transaction.

Today, users check their accounts directly and conduct basic transactions via the Web, and increasingly the mobile Web. To complete such transactions, mainframe-based applications are still used to access customer data and process transactions, but they’re part of a much larger, more complex set of systems. Requests from millions of users hit the mainframe daily, which impacts mainframe resources and demands exceptionally high levels of mainframe speed and availability.

This is all thanks to the “Google Effect.” Today’s users have extremely high-performance demands; they expect all the Websites and applications they interact with to be as fast and reliable as Google. Evidence of the Google Effect can be seen in the retail industry. An Aberdeen Group report, “When Seconds Count,” found that every added second in response time above 2 seconds resulted in a seven percent reduction in conversions. Conversely, for e-commerce-type applications, any improvement in response time increases revenue.

Years ago, Websites and Web applications were much simpler. Web pages were static and Web applications consisted of basic, multi-step processes, where all functionality was contained in a single page. Today’s composite Websites and Web applications are much more complex, pulling in services from multiple, external third-parties to enrich the user experience and provide advanced functionality.

Today, the Web pages and Web applications originating in the data center must traverse a long, complex path consisting of Web servers, content delivery networks, regional and local Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and numerous other network elements en route to users. Collectively, this concept is known as the application delivery chain and it comprises numerous variables both in and beyond an organization’s firewall. The user experience depends on all these elements working together. A bottleneck anywhere in the chain can degrade the user experience and put revenues at risk.

The key to gaining greater control over these elements, both internal and external to your data center, is continuous performance monitoring from the user perspective. A new generation of APM, this approach identifies early on when there’s a user performance problem. It then pinpoints, with razor precision, opportunities for optimization across the full application delivery chain with deep insight into how the Web and mobile applications are affecting the mainframe.

The Advent of Mobile

The self-service trend on the Web and mobile devices has renewed the emphasis on mainframes because they support applications that are increasingly customer-facing. The surge in mobile Web users has generated more traffic, and that traffic is random and unpredictable.

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