A bill has recently passed the U.S. House of Representatives (Modernizing Government Technology or MGT) that calls for updating out of date IT systems and technologies. Should the bill pass through the Senate, it is certain that many installed mainframe systems could be targeted for replacement because of the perceived notion that "old" systems should be replaced with new systems. But that is not necessarily true, according to a recent article that appeared in GCN (Government Computer News) titled, "As the MGT Act Rolls Forward, It's Time to Debunk Mainframe Myths." Written by Compuware's Director of Federal, State and Local Government Solutions, Claire Bailey, the article lists five common myths about the mainframe and systematically shoots huge holes through all of them. The five myths are:
Myth #1: The Mainframe is Legacy
In IT circles, “legacy” is often a pejorative term, referring to technologies that may have paved the way for subsequent standards and platforms but are now obsolete and inefficient. Mainframes are often unfairly lumped in this category. In reality, mainframes remain highly relevant across industries, including government—with approximately 225 state and local governments continuing to use them. We’ve seen many organizations try to move off the mainframe, only to quickly backpedal once they discover the “open-heart surgery” their applications and infrastructure must undergo, as well as the cost to maintain and/or secure alternative systems—all with little to no added benefit.
The explosion in mobility is one major reason for the mainframe’s longevity. Most any mobile application that ends in a transaction—paying a parking ticket, using Uber or renewing a license online, for example—ultimately touches a mainframe on the back-end. In fact, the term “mobile transaction” is a bit misleading because while the transaction may be instigated on a mobile device, more often than not a mainframe is actually processing it.
IBM’s modern z13 mainframe offers 300 percent more memory and 100 percent more bandwidth than more traditional servers, making it the most powerful computing system on earth. Smartphones may feel light in our pockets, but brawny back-end engines are still needed to support the massive computing loads generated by mobile.
Myth #2: The Mainframe Represents a Huge Security Risk
Mainframes run a variety of programming languages, including older languages such as COBOL and Fortran. Many erroneously believe these older languages are incapable of supporting the newest security protocols, making the mainframe a major security risk. This is simply not true. COBOL and Fortran continue to be updated, and other aspects of the modern mainframe’s superior security are based in its insular design and function.
All of the hardware and software needed to complete mainframe transactions resides on a single machine, unlike a distributed environment where network traffic can be intercepted by an attacker. In addition, mainframes’ front-end processors often handle the task of interfacing with the rest of the world, freeing up the system to do nothing but what it was expressly designed for: executing transactions. These front-end processors also handle many security aspects, effectively isolating the mainframe from attacks.
The highly publicized data breach of the Office of Personnel Management is often blamed on the mainframe. While mainframe files were accessed, the breach was the result of hackers gaining a foothold in the surrounding distributed infrastructure and accessing mainframe credentials that resided there. Contrary to popular belief, the breach was not the result of the mainframe itself not being secure.
Myth #3: Mainframes Cost Too Much to Maintain