Mainframe + Cloud – x86 = Two-Platform IT

Screen Shot 2015-12-09 at 10.49.08For years, mainframe professionals have endured pervasive unfounded rhetoric about how theirs was a “legacy” platform, doomed to irrelevance—and, ultimately, demise. At Compuware, however, just the opposite is true. It is the insanely complex and costly x86 commodity server infrastructure hairball that we have consigned to the scrap heap in favor of a two-platform IT strategy based exclusively on mainframe and the cloud.

Ending the madness

Our reasons for banishing x86 servers from our datacenter are obvious to anyone who has ever worked in corporate IT. A computing environment built from lots of separate pieces of hardware acquired from multiple vendors over multiple years inevitably becomes an opex nightmare. Some component somewhere is always failing or getting overloaded. OS patching and re-configuration is an endless task. And the threat vulnerabilities are so vast that it is for all intents and purposes impossible to defend or keep in full compliance.

Worse yet, economies of scale are negligible. Every time you add applications, services, capabilities, users, or capacity, you add cost. And that cost invariably includes more staff—because complexity eats labor for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

IDC, Rubin Worldwide, and others have published plenty of data demonstrating just how horrifically inefficient commodity distributed infrastructure is to operate. But two recent developments in the x86 market are particularly damning. One is that a single company now rakes in $6 billion annually just to do to x86 compute capacity what we’ve been able to with mainframe compute capacity for decades: virtualize it. Even more outrageous, that single company’s revenue is greater than that of all independent mainframe software companies combined. That’s a stunning indictment of x86 opex.

The other damning piece of evidence is that the leading x86 server vendors are now hawking something they call “convergence”—which is essentially a desperate attempt to market x86 servers in a package that looks and acts like a tiny, poorly architected mainframe.

In other words, the x86 world has basically surrendered and agreed that the mainframe way of doing things is better. The only question is why anyone would go with an inferior imitation when you can have the real thing?

The Cloud as Complement

This is not to say that there is no place in our organization for x86 machines. There is. That place is the cloud. If a SaaS provider has invested in a purpose-built, highly homogeneous x86 environment in order to deliver a SaaS solution—and if that SaaS provider’s business model makes it profitable for them to manage that x86 environment for us—so be it.

We are happy to rent workloads that don’t provide us with any competitive advantage from such a partner. There is no reason for us to invent, deploy, and manage our own systems for payroll or sales automation. So we consume them as services from the cloud.

On the other hand, there is digital intellectual property that differentiates us. This includes our product source code and confidential information about our company and our customers. It also includes proprietary Linux applications that are integral to our customer engagement and to our innovation agenda.

This digital intellectual property belongs on the mainframe. The mainframe is highly reliable, highly scalable, and highly secure. It delivers unmatched performance. And when we add new applications or new analytic capabilities to our mainframe environment, we add little or no incremental costs. We don’t have to hire more people. We don’t have to consume more power or add rack space. So we can grow and change our business efficiently, economically, and without untenable complexity.

Essentially, we are creating our own internal mainframe cloud—making greater use of the mainframe’s power and efficiency through virtualization.

Is Two-Platform IT for You?

The advantages of the mainframe and the shortcomings of x86 chaos are probably not news to regular visitors to this site. What probably is news is that a company like ours has fully opted out of on-prem x86 infrastructure and gone all-in with the mainframe as our platform-of-choice for strategic workloads—while embracing the cloud for on-demand access to commodity services.

But we believe our two-platform strategy makes sense. It reduces costs, optimizes our agility, and keeps our IT operations reliable and secure.

If you’d like to hear more about how and why we’re doing two-platform IT, check out our YouTube video. And let us know if you’re thinking about moving to two-platform IT too. We’d be glad to share our lessons learned thus far with you.

Editors Note: Thanks to Chris O’Malley the CEO of Compuware for these insightful words. Chris is a great supporter of the mainframe and his passion for the platform is helping to drive the #mainframedebate…


5 thoughts on “Mainframe + Cloud – x86 = Two-Platform IT

  1. It’s been fascinating to watch the growth of cloud juggernauts like Amazon. Amazon held their big annual conference reinvent announcing a slew of new services

    The largest commpanies like Capital One and GE were onstage talking about leveraging cloud and only keeping those compute functions in house that were the “secret sauce” to their success. If you keep anything it makes sense to keep the highly secure, available, scalable mainframe where you retain your value when you do technology refresh.

    Best Regards,

    Sam Knutson
    Personal Email
    Twitter @samknutson

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The biggest hurdle is that distributed dev/ops teams must be cured of their cultural prejudices against the mainframe. Really analyzing the racks and racks of commodity servers and the complexity around support and maintenance is an eye opening experience!

    Interacting with the mainframe can be completely ordinary, there are plenty of ways to do mainframe development and expose mainframe services using tools that the distributed folks are already used to.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Compuware is not only a firm proponent of the Two Platform IT principal – with the two platforms being Mainframe and Cloud – but we are practicing what we preach.

    You would be amazed at how small our data center floor space is now compared to just a couple of years ago. Some of that is attributed to our divestiture of our non-Mainframe businesses, but the vast majority is due to our aggressive approach to Two Platform. And it’s still shrinking! We won’t stop until every in-house x86 server has been eliminated.

    We haven’t migrated anything from the Mainframe to the Cloud, all of our efficiencies have come from our basic plan of attack:
    • eliminate anything not critical to the business
    • reduce anything that is critical but not pertinent to our specific business – producing the best Mainframe software in the world
    • migrate from distributed servers to mainframe anything that is logical (such as anything related to the creation, production, distribution, and licensing of our products; file shares; etc)
    • migrate everything else from distributed servers to the cloud (HR, Finance, Sales processing, commodity software, etc)

    We have run the numbers a few times to compare our IT costs to our corporate revenue, and have consistently been coming in at or below the types of numbers that can be found in the analysis on Rubin Worldwide.

    If you would like to hear a more in depth discussion on the topic, please watch the YouTube video that was referenced in the blog above.

    Jim Bryan
    IT Director

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Competing in the digital economy requires a dense use of technology that must be reliable, scalable, secure, resource efficient, cost effective, fast, lean & agile. A CIO that hopes an internally managed incomprehensibly, complex distributed hairball will somehow play a strategic role in responding to these digital economy requirements is pumping a handcart to the land of lost ambition. The unmatched, combined strengths of the mainframe & consumed cloud XaaServices offer a simply elegant approach to answering this call of duty in an insatiably digital world.

    Watch as, “Two Platform IT,” becomes all the rage!

    Liked by 1 person

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