IT Management

The Website and mobile app of a leading airline were down for several hours recently, during which time passengers couldn’t check in for flights or book new tickets online. The airline apologized to customers for the inconvenience and said the problem was due to “overnight maintenance on its computers.”

While it’s unlikely an application performance problem was behind the outage, the incident nonetheless provides a backdrop to share some key findings from a recent Compuware-commissioned international CIO study. The study examined the impact of new technologies and trends in the mainframe application environment. Why is this relevant? The airline industry, like other industries that use a mainframe, should understand the impact new technologies such as mobility are having on mainframe performance and by extension, end users’—their customers’—experiences. 

When customers make reservations, check in for flights or query a flight status, the mainframe can facilitate that activity. However, when consumers use a mobile device or tablet to perform those functions—vs. checking in at an airport kiosk, for example—the request becomes much more complex. The request must travel from the mobile phone or browser through the cloud and middle-tier servers to reach the data center. 

In today’s world where self-service is the norm, consumers ply the mainframe with billions of transactions each day as they bank, pay bills, shop, make travel arrangements and more. Some 89 percent of those surveyed stated mainframe workloads are increasing and becoming more varied. Distributed applications, which help enable these transactions, are forcing the mainframe to work harder and faster. CIOs estimate that distributed applications have increased the mainframe workload by an average of 44 percent over the past five years. That trend maps to the vast proliferation of smartphones and apps in the past seven years. 

CIOs are feeling the pressure, too. Ninety-one percent said now that customer-facing applications are using the mainframe, performance expectations of the mainframe have increased, which isn’t surprising. Years ago, the mainframe was accessed by a relatively small number of internal end-users—bank tellers, insurance claims processors, etc.—who “interacted” with the mainframe as part of their jobs. They had little choice but to patiently wait until performance problems were fixed.

Today the mainframe is accessed by technologically savvy end users who demand fast, responsive services. Google found that by slowing down search results by only four-tenths of a second, over time, this dramatically reduced the number of site visitors. Consumers are fickle and will move to a competitor if they’re unhappy with a service. 

At the same time, 87 percent of CIOs agree that the integration of new technologies into the mainframe application environment, such as applications that make shopping and banking from a smartphone possible, is creating complexity and business risks that previously didn’t exist. They cited lost revenue (48 percent), loss of employee productivity (47 percent) and brand reputation damage (43 percent) as the top three performance risks to their business.

Despite these concerns, many companies have failed to update their approach to monitoring and managing the performance of their mainframe application environments. In fact, 89 percent of companies are still relying on aggregate data or averages to monitor performance of their IT and only one-fifth of companies are using next generation business transaction monitoring. When there’s a problem, the aggregation and averages tend to mask the true scale. This means the majority of IT organizations have no visibility into how distributed and mainframe applications interact, and distributed teams can’t track performance into the mainframe. Mainframe teams are blind to the impact of distributed code on mainframe transactions and workload. As a result, costs are escalating; staff are forced to solve problems in contentious “war-room” situations, issues take longer to resolve and companies have no visibility into their end-users’ experiences. In fact, 63 percent of those surveyed said they’re often unaware of performance problems until calls start coming into the help desk.

Companies must move from a reactive approach to a proactive approach, isolating and solving problems before they impact the user. This can only truly be accomplished with a next generation mainframe application performance management solution that provides 24/7, end-to-end visibility of the application delivery chain from the user’s click in a browser to the mainframe.