IT Management

CIOs are always interested in insights on how centralized and distributed servers will likely evolve over the coming years. Some pundits predict the imminent death of the mainframe, but growing indicators from Gartner research, surveys and client feedback point to continued investment in, and resiliency of, the IBM mainframe platform.


Throughout the past 15 years, specific events have occurred that triggered stories of the pending death of the mainframe, yet it still survives. In the mid- 1980s, the movement to distributed client/server platforms and the associated high hardware costs of the mainframe ECL (emitter-coupled logic) technology led many to believe the mainframe was on borrowed time. The movement to CMOS (complementary metal-oxide semiconductor) technology, however painful and slow in development, enabled the hardware costs to improve dramatically. This, combined with the availability, reliability, security, scalability and manageability of the mainframe platform and the large investment in legacy applications, allowed it to continue to play a major role in large enterprises.

The growth of the Internet and e-business became another event that led naysayers to predict the demise of the “stodgy, slow moving” mainframe platform, but the IBM mainframe adapted and provides gateways to the vast amounts of corporate data stored on the platform. IBM even developed direct support of the Web with the WebSphere product on the mainframe.

The Y2K problem again triggered stories of enterprises moving away from legacy workloads and onto other platforms. However, the time to fix the Y2K problems in mainframe applications was faster than movement to new applications on other platforms, and new investment in the mainframe continued. The exit of Amdahl and Hitachi Data Systems from the mainframe processor market again triggered rumors of the end being in sight, but IBM continued selling systems and even showed a revenue increase for the mainframe in 2001.


All of the above events have taken their toll on the IBM mainframe platform, and it will not return to the days of large revenue growth and large net increases in MIPS shipped, as was the case in the 1980s (0.9 probability). That said, growing signs indicate that it will find a place that will allow it to continue to be a profitable business for IBM for at least the next 10 years —and probably longer (0.7 probability). The IBM mainframe continues to be a high-margin business that any reasonable business leader would stick with even if revenue and market share were declining, but IBM has in fact stimulated growth to increase the profits those systems can deliver.


Gartner believes that IBM’s goal is to get to at least a level of 70 percent new MIPS growth contributed to by new application areas, and legacy growth contributing 30 percent MIPS growth. At that level, IBM believes that it will become a very sustainable and profitable platform (hardware, software, services). IBM estimates the new MIPS growth caused by new applications to be more than 60 percent and growing, as it continues to evolve the platform.

A survey at the most recent Gartner Data Center Conference indicated that many enterprises do not see the growth of new workloads to be as high as IBM reports. That is probably because the number of MIPS for new applications can be greatly influenced by the way chosen to count them, and IBM wants to show as much growth coming from new workloads as it can.

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