Although it is considered very old technology, mainframe environments
are still widely used to manage large-scale batch and transaction
processing jobs. Without mainframes, most state governments could not
operate their departments of health and human services, tax departments
or departments of motor vehicles, or run the numerous other baseline
governance activities on which taxpayers depend.
Not only are the mainframe environments old, but the technicians who
know how to manage these environments are aging as well. It is
estimated that 35 to 40 percent of the workforce trained on mainframes
could retire tomorrow.
Most CIOs would probably elect to replace their mainframes with more
advanced cloud computing and storage solutions. However, as desirable
as that may be, budget constraints won’t allow it. Today, governments
have enough funds to run their mainframes, but they often don’t have the
funds (or the appetite for new taxes) to replace them. That leaves
CIOs with just two real choices:
- Manage the existing mainframe environments with staff available
today, which will be an increasingly risky and onerous task, given the
dwindling talent and the high-stakes impact of a mainframe failure.
- Consider mainframe as a service (MaaS), sometimes called
mainframe cloud, which provides compute and storage capabilities as a
Keep in mind that mainframes are not going away. Government
institutions will be dependent on them for years to come, even with the
advances in cloud computing. But the mainframe talent constraints,
combined with cost of replacing mainframes outright, argue for
outsourcing mainframe infrastructure and support to able third parties
that can absolve agencies of these common and very real concerns.
When mainframe computing is purchased as a service, it is provided
through a vendor relationship just like many others. The mainframe
vendor provides all the IT infrastructure and support, and the agencies
pay for the consumption of the service and for any of their own coding
to run their batch processes.
The key benefit of MaaS is that the provider pays for the maintenance
and upgrades to IT infrastructure, which can mean dramatic cost- and
risk-avoidance for the government CIO. The MaaS consumer pays only for
the compute, storage and batch time consumed in normal operations. This
MaaS mode frees government workers to focus on their business functions
rather than on the IT infrastructure. Best of all, with MaaS, CIOs can
ditch the nerve-jangling task of maintaining aging computer equipment.
A deeper examination of MaaS reveals a longer list of benefits,
beyond the issues of capital expense costs of replacement and mainframe
maintenance. Here are a few more:
Scale. MaaS allows users to scale up or down according to their changing requirements.
MaaS offers assurances of business continuity, because the vendors can
offer redundancy that agencies might find cost-prohibitive if they
maintain their own mainframes in one location. This means markedly
reduced downtime in the event of a mainframe failure, and assurances of
full recovery in the event of disaster because data is mirrored at a
Ease of migration. The MaaS vendor is also running
mainframes, the same IBM zSeries mainframes that governments are
running, so migration is smooth.
Predictable costs. Top-tier MaaS vendors will offer
an SLA that gives very accurate predictions of the cost of
transportation, installation, de-installation, configuring, initial
training, requested level of managed service and preventive maintenance.
Users of MaaS simply move to a consumption model for the mainframe
services and pay for their services out of operating expenses, rather
than out of capital expenses.
Support. Top-tier MaaS vendors offer 24/7/365 support, something agencies might not even be able to afford or access.
No deactivation charges. Top-tier MaaS providers
will have no minimum charges and no penalty for deactivation of
services, which offers great operational flexibility to CIOs or others
managing the mainframe environment.
Would it be to the government’s advantage to replace the mainframes
in a long-term cost scenario? It probably would, all things being
equal. But things are not equal, and budget constraints often force
government to settle for an interim solution that gets the job done.
Think of it this way: When you purchase MaaS, you get the equivalent
of a BMW 7-Series car with someone else doing the maintenance – because
you are leasing it, not buying it outright. If you had to stick to the
car you could actually afford, you’d be behind the wheel of a Ford
Focus. So, MaaS allows you to get top performance without having to pay
outright for top-tier IT infrastructure.
The rising popularity of MaaS is easy to understand once all its
benefits are taken into account. Adopting MaaS is just a matter of a new
mindset in terms of how mainframe services are consumed, but clearly,
MaaS is becoming a top option for mainframe operators looking for
prudent solutions to today’s pressing personnel and budget constraints.
By Tony Encinias is ViON’s VP of Public Sector Strategy and the former CIO of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.