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The Mainframe’s Not Dead: Why Mainframe Modernization Should Be Part of Any Hybrid Cloud Strategy

Is the mainframe still necessary? Well, let’s put it this way: If all the world’s mainframes shut down, we’d be facing a zombie apocalypse.

That’s a bit hyperbolic but the underlying point stands: Without mainframes, banks couldn’t process financial transactions at ATMs or online, retailers’ ecommerce platforms would go dark, and healthcare systems would be unable to access patient records or other vital information.

Mainframes are still a vital part of the modern enterprise. If they no longer existed, businesses would lose access to years of records and entire computing systems would crash.

But businesses today often overlook this core technology infrastructure—rather than prioritizing much-needed mainframe modernization, enterprises are fixated on moving to the cloud as fast as possible. This hurried approach ends up complicating cloud migration plans and creates issues for legacy systems and cloud platforms alike.

Enterprises need mainframes that go hand-in-hand with their cloud strategy and evolve with their business needs. It’s no exaggeration to say the mainframe is just as important to most organizations’ IT infrastructure as the cloud itself—and losing sight of that fact can sink even the strongest of cloud plans.

Cloud or Mainframe? Hybrid Cloud Enables Both

As cloud migration accelerates, business leaders may feel torn between prioritizing the cloud or the mainframe. But it’s a false dichotomy. Nine out of 10 enterprises rely on the hybrid cloud—integrating legacy systems and applications with a mix of public, private, and managed cloud services—according to Deloitte.

While the cloud opens the door to heightened innovation and scale, mainframes are still optimal for mission-critical data and intensive workloads. In fact, mainframes handle almost 70% of the world’s IT production workloads and are used by seven out of 10 of the world’s Fortune 500 companies.

Because they can process massive quantities of data—and do so in a highly secure environment—mainframes are the ideal setting for core business operations and customer interactions, including inventory control, financial management, and 90% of all credit card transactions.

Their reliability and security also make mainframes the go-to choice to deploy emerging technology enterprise-wide, such as artificial intelligence or blockchain. So, the mainframe is not just a vital component of an organization’s IT infrastructure, it’s also a crucial driver of innovation and business value.

Seventy-one percent of business leaders say mainframe-based applications are central to their business strategy, according to IBM. And the switch to remote and hybrid work models has only increased organizations’ reliance on the mainframe to meet heightened demand for flexible, agile digital infrastructure. In fact, expanding the mainframe is a priority for 91% of companies, with applications and data workloads expected to increase alongside other platforms.

Despite mainframes’ broad benefits, businesses have repeatedly neglected upgrades and maintenance. Haunted by past failures or delayed project deadlines, the average organization’s mainframe is nearly 2 decades old; some are approaching 3 decades. Outdated systems lack the flexibility and agility necessary to keep up with fast-moving enterprise technology, which can complicate cloud migration and result in failed transformation efforts.

And the stakes are costly: Enterprises spend an average of $5.5 million on failed digital transformation projects in a single year. Meanwhile, organizations that adopted connected mainframe technology can achieve up to 300% return on investment over the course of 5 years, according to IDC.

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