When I talk to millennials coming into management and programming it appears that their knowledge of the mainframe is very limited or non-existent. Since many universities have stopped teaching mainframe classes, the recent college graduates don’t even have a basic understanding of the mainframe computing model, much less its advantages and why it endures through all the attempts to replace it. Since there is no need to reinvent the wheel, we all need to help the millennials understand why the mainframe will always be around with the following four important points.
1. Mainframes are the most reliable, stable, and available systems. The reason most of the world works is because of mainframe computer’s reliability, stability and availability which provides electricity grids, bank ATM networks, credit card transactions, and other services that countries, civilization, and society depend on. The mainframe systems are engineered with the most state-of-the-art hardware and software advances. Since mainframe computers are almost always running at 100% utilization, the platform demands the fastest storage, memory capacities, and CPU chip technology to get processing done efficiently and effectively. Some mainframe computer systems have been operating constantly 24/7/365 for decades.
2. The best system to serve them all. Since hardware and software upgrades are constant, the mainframe processing architecture is built to be redundant so operations can continue while upgrades occur. This provides the ability to support an ever-increasing number of operating systems, virtual environments, and user bases with an optimum number of software components and support personnel. Also, since the mainframe capacity can be scaled up horizontally almost limitlessly by adding additional machines the processing power can securely segment and service side by side any and all types of test, QA, production, old, new, batch and interactive state of the art applications from a centralized platform. By servicing mainframe, UNIX, and other operating systems in virtual environments the mainframe can serve data and processing power for any requirements.
3. Mainframe has the most advanced technology available. The mainframe has been around for over fifty years and continues to be at the forefront of hardware and software technology advances. Many of the hardware and software technologies that are available in any big or small computing systems were developed first in the mainframe environment.
From virtual environments, memory management, and multi-tier architectures to cloud-time sharing computing model types, most computer technologies were first developed, leveraged, and continue to be used in mainframe facilities around the world. The most powerful CPU chip speeds, the number of parallel CPU chips, and multi-threading architectures are currently available on the mainframe. The different storage types from tape to flash memory can be architected to the extreme within the broad capacity of the mainframe. Additionally, all these hardware and software technology capabilities are backed up through comprehensive administration capabilities. The mainframe provides flexibility to customize the hardware and software environment and performance settings to optimize processing CPU and I/O capacity requirements while balancing and maximizing utilization.
4. Mainframes provide the lowest cost of ownership. First the efficient mainframe power and cooling requirements are much cheaper than equivalent distributed UNIX or Windows platforms. Personnel costs are as much as 60% budget for any computing environment. The number of personnel required to administer, configure, and maintain non-mainframe computing environments is much greater compared to the cost efficient mainframe environments.
Even with open-source solutions, software license and maintenance costs for the distributed environment are usually extremely more expensive for the multitude of test, QA, and production environments than in a mainframe environment. Since the mainframe has been around for decades, it has chargeback methodologies in place to track every aspect, a process that has negative connotations, but actually provides better cost allocation across the corporate structure. Since the distributed systems don’t have chargeback it sometimes makes it difficult to add up all the same factors. When all the distributed environments factors are monitored and documented, they are much more expensive, have troubled availability records, and are tremendously underutilized computing environments.
As the millennials join the technology workforce, they may naïvely say that they want to replace the mainframe. It’s our responsibility to educate another generation so they can learn that the reliability, availability, security, and, foremost, the costs of the mainframe continue to make it the best computing platform available. Possible applications on the mainframe are only limited by your imagination, because today it provides all types of analytics, mobile, social, web based, or transactional computing abilities which make the world go around.
[Also read Dave Beulke's follow-up to this blog: Three More Reasons Why Millennials Benefit From Engaging With the Mainframe]