Mainframe as a service: Big iron without big headaches
- By Tony Encinias
- Jul 21, 2015
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 cloud service.
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.
Continuity. 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 second site.
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.
Tony Encinias is ViON’s VP of Public Sector Strategy and the former CIO of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.