Connecting, not colliding – COBOL

With cloud and mainframe markets both buoyant, IT teams are assessing where is best for their core business systems. Taking the role of forecaster, Derek Britton sees the outlook as mixed.  

The more things change, the more they stay the same

If you have been away for a decade, the news is that cloud is here and here to stay. To the rest of us it is hard to remember that just a decade ago, the cloud was a mere $283m market in the US[i]. This year the global cloud market weighs in at an eye-watering $266Bn[ii].

Gartner[iii] recently put it this way, “For the past 10 years, cloud computing changed the expectations and capabilities of the IT department, but now it is a necessary catalyst for innovation across the company”

Across entire industries, the cloud is a mainstream and sensible enterprise IT ‘server’ option, alongside all the great and the good of Linux, Windows and the Mainframe. Improving Cloud revenues reported by the likes of AWS, Microsoft, Google and – interestingly – IBM, all point to more workload moving into the cloud, supported by a range of services.

Speaking of IBM… In this ever-changing world, it is perhaps also incredible to acknowledge the continued footprint and fraternity of the IBM mainframe. z15 heralded another leap forward in mainframe capability, and the systems business, specifically the mainframe revenues, grew 68% YoY in Q4 of 2019[iv] with the advent of the new IBM z15 bringing new capabilities to market and clients showing strong adoption of the platform).

To continue our meteorological analogy, we can see IBM as our weather vane – both cloud and mainframe revenues are on the up, and that is significant.

Worlds connecting, not colliding

Mainframe and cloud are not parallel universes. In a typical large-scale hybrid IT infrastructure that is the default reality of many corporations, cloud and mainframe rub shoulders, albeit virtually, as a growing duopoly of infrastructure choices. In a recent Cloud industry report[v], while Cloud adoption is largely universal, only around 23% of organizations surveyed plan to be cloud-only in 2020, suggesting a hybrid default elsewhere.

The BMC annual mainframe customer survey 2019[vi] seems to underscore this – 59% of Executives recognize the mainframe as a platform for growth (up from 51% in 2018), while simultaneously 45% of Executives say that implementing cloud technologies is a priority.

What this appears to suggest is that in many of the world’s largest organizations, Cloud is a de-facto standard, but which exists alongside, rather than instead of, another more established one – the mainframe.

A mixed outlook 

As it tackles its drive towards a modern, digital business, each organization has its own strategy and rationale for infrastructure decision, but the mainframe’s reputation for robust, five-nine levels of reliability, security, processing power, and speed, well it is the stuff of legend. Typical mainframe workload includes trusted, often long-standing, business-critical applications serving high-volume processing activities, millions of transactions with must-not-fail availability requirements. Meanwhile, Cloud offers more in the way perhaps of flexibility as a flexible “as-you-go” model providing application availability with a scalable and flexible service model, with typically lower initial costs.

Those use cases are typical in many large organizations, who are more frequently adopting a mixed – or hybrid – model of architecture as a result.

Moving applications in a mixed environment, e.g. from mainframe to cloud, is not a new idea, of course, but the requirement is becoming more commonplace. Even the most die-hard mainframe organizations also have a cloud strategy. What is important is to protect the inherent value and IT investment in mainframe systems, by replicating or moving them – as part of a fit for purpose exercise – to the cloud.

Open for Digital Business

While each use case is unique, the common DNA of what drives a new cloud workload is a need for flexibility. Responding to change, rapidly, is driving IT innovation. IT is investigating smart ways to deliver business-critical systems – core applications that already add value, already support the business – into new channels to support, quickly, going into new territory, splitting data centers, reaching new clients, sometimes where the traditional platform may not be appropriate for the model. This is where Cloud offers a fresh angle and can supplement the incumbent mainframe world with a different, dynamic set of options.

In each case, what is important in terms of technology to support this model is that there is no prescription of where things need to be, only that when things need to move, the important aspects of the system, namely the application code and the data, remain intact, secure, and the results are the same. This need is borne out by the recent Micro Focus COBOL market survey, which reported[vii] that 42% of clients are looking to the cloud as a viable COBOL app deployment platform. (COBOL, after all, does not care where it runs – it has portability built-in).

Planning and Partnering for Change

A holistic, scale-out solution that offers flexible application deployment across a dual- or multi-server model, is not only possible but is becoming the new de-facto requirement. Mainframe reliance is a constant, wider Cloud adoption is inevitable. Organizations are demanding a vendor partner that supports a secure, performant and robust hybrid model, rather than prescribing a single platform as the answer. Great to see IBM, Micro Focus and others embrace that reality with smart technology with flexibility built-in.

[i] /



[iv] Source: IBM




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