Debunking the recent WSJ Article

This post is to set the record straight on the recent Wall Street Journal article.

My comment to each factually incorrect statement will be in italics.

A backlog of legacy software applications (legacy code is not solely a mainframe issue, if you neglect JavaScript for 20-years you will have the same issues) has many state government agencies clinging to costly mainframe computers (according to numerous studies Mainframe computers are often times up to 50% cheaper than x86 equivalents*), despite growing pressure to shut them down, the National Association of State Technology Directors reports.

Among other issues, a key concern is the growing loss of state workers who know how to operate these often aging tech tools (if you neglect infrastructure from any vendor and let it become obsolete it becomes an issue, this is not soley a mainframe issue) — whether they are being drawn to the private sector or simply retiring, the national trade group said. (lack of investment is skills despite various IBM programs is an issue for the organisation, and can’t be placed at the feet of the mainframe platform)

“Difficulty retaining and hiring mainframe support staff, and increasing costs (again based on what study are costs increasing), are the primary drivers for states moving applications off mainframe platforms,” the group’s researchers said in a report analyzing the results of a survey of state information-technology officials nationwide.

The survey, conducted in conjunction with the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, included responses by IT officials in 38 states (mainframes are deployed in 48 states in the US), including California, Georgia, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York and Texas.

Among these states, officials reported an average of 21.6 agencies using mainframe computers managed by a central IT department, with 11% reporting more than 30.

The types of agencies using mainframe computers typically included departments of motor vehicles, social services, finance, accounting, Medicaid eligibility and taxes, the report said.

Mainframes, which are large-capacity computers typically used by big corporations to handle data processing and administrative tasks, first appeared more than 50 years ago (Windows is 30+ years old, even Linux is 25-years old, what is the point in this statement?). As such, they are often seen as a relic of the digital age. (The Porsche 911 was launched in the same year as the mainframe, does this car being 54-years old make it a relic? Of course not. The 911 has continually been refreshed as has the mainframe)

Yet many large private-sector firms continue to use mainframes for both internal and customer-facing applications, especially in the banking, insurance and health sectors. (44 of the top 50 banks in fact)

International Business Machines Corp. in July reported strong gains in its decades-old mainframe business, (again a decades old statement… sigh) which pushed second-quarter systems revenue 23% to $2.18 billion.

In an earnings call that month, James Kavanaugh, IBM’s chief financial officer, called mainframes the “most enduring platform that you’ve seen out there.”

The loss of skilled mainframe operators is not limited to the public sector. A study earlier this year by Forrester Research, conducted for Compuware Corp., found that enterprises that use mainframes have lost an average 23% of specialized mainframe staff over the last five years, while 63% of those positions remain unfilled. (one statistic from a largely positive report on the health of the mainframe – read the full report here)

Beyond a brain drain, managing these older (older based on what metric?  Again if you let any platform from any vendor age its on the organisation not the vendor) systems is becoming problematic as state IT hubs face tighter budgets seeking to “maximize efficiencies while doing more with less,” according to state funding trends, researchers said.  (the mainframe is ideally suited to consolidation projest and “doing more with less”, try consolidating Oracle and saving 50% in the process onto Linux on Z)

Mainframe computers are generally more costly to operate (numerous survey have found this statement to be un-true), compared to the cloud or other on-demand services, with per-user costs rising as more agencies seek newer, cheaper alternatives, the report said. (the mainframe is as much as 50% cheaper than the cloud according to IBM benchmarks)

The need to support legacy applications (again legacy application is not a mainframe issue solely, take legacy UNIX applications as an example)– cited by 95% of state IT officials — was a primary reason for retaining mainframe computing power.

On the upside, researchers found, most state IT officials do not expect agency demand for mainframe computing power to grow in the future. Many said they are already moving away from managing their own mainframes in-house, either by outsourcing all mainframe services to third-party managers or taking a hybrid approach with outside vendors.

Still, others said the use of mainframe computers is unlikely to be entirely phased out any time soon.

To cut costs, a handful of states are partnering together to share mainframe resources, wherever possible.

Some also are looking at adopting a mainframe-as-a-service by billing agencies based on consumption of mainframe resources.

These and other internal IT issues can have an impact on public services. A recent analysis of 400 state-government websites offering online services such as driver’s license applications, tax payments or business registrations, found that 99% failed at least one basic performance measure. (this could be a website issue, or any issue for any one of the applications that touch the user and have nothing to do with the mainframe)

The issues included slow page-load speeds (mainframes don’t typically run web servers), a lack of mobile tools and features or accessibility issues, among others, according to the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a technology and public-policy think tank.

Editors Note:  Haters gonna hate… sigh…

*For an example of what IDC has to say about the mainframe read this report.

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