IBM: Cloud or mainframe? The answer is both

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Article written by Catherine Lian, Managing Director and Technology Leader, IBM Malaysia

To respond to the ongoing pressures of global economic challenges, businesses worldwide have turbo-charged their digital transformations, leveraging a mix of traditional data centers, mainframe computing, edge computing, and cloud-based solutions. Everywhere you look, companies face an acute need for speed to market, flexibility, nimbleness and ongoing innovation.

These priorities are why companies are looking to take advantage of cloud computing. But it is not straightforward; it’s not just the hop to public cloud. Organizations have issues with security and data gravity of complex systems that are expensive to migrate. Strategically, they have concerns about optionality, lock-in, and discovering that their cloud providers have just become their competitors. These realities explain why so few organizations have made a wholesale move to cloud.

Each company’s unique needs in its business transformation journey require a diverse mix of applications and environments, including traditional data centers, edge computing and Software as a service (SaaS).

What is the role of the mainframe in today’s IT infrastructure? According to a recent IBM study, the vast majority (a whopping 71%) of IT executives surveyed from major corporations say critical mainframe-based applications not only have a place in their IT platforms today but are central to their business strategy. And in three years, the percentage of organizations leveraging mainframe assets in a hybrid cloud environment is expected to increase by more than two-fold. 

Cloud or mainframe? The answer is both

Catherine Lian, Managing Director and Technology Leader, IBM Malaysia

A hybrid cloud approach that includes and integrates mainframe computing can drive up to five times the value of a public cloud platform alone – and the primary sources of value are in five categories: increased business acceleration, developer productivity, infrastructure efficiency, risk and compliance management, and long-term flexibility. 

Digital transformation is not an “either-or” process. At IBM, we guide our clients on the application modernization journey with these key recommendations:

First, adopt an iterative approach. Many enterprises are experiencing first-hand the complexity of their IT estates. Continuing to add to the existing vertical cloud silos is undercutting their flexibility by making processes related to development, operations, and security even more fragmented than before – and cloud fragmentation makes it virtually impossible to achieve the standardization and scale that cloud promises to deliver. 

Therefore, part of your plan to integrate new and existing environments must factor in your industry and workload attributes to co-create a business case and road map designed to meet your strategic goals. Adopt an incremental and adaptive approach to modernization compared to a big bang. Leverage techniques such as coexistence architecture to gradually make the transition to integrated hybrid architecture.

Then, assess your portfolio and build your roadmap. To understand your desired future state, first, assess your current state. Examine the capabilities that define the role of the mainframe in your enterprise today and how those capabilities tie into the greater hybrid cloud technology ecosystem. In addition, take stock of your existing talent and resources and determine any potential gaps. The partnership and role that IBM Systems plays are fundamental because solutions such as the new IBM z16 perform many critical functions underpinning a truly open and secure hybrid cloud environment.

These functions include accessing troves of unstructured on-premises data across a hybrid cloud platform, scaling and automating data-driven insights with AI, and being agile enough to process critical apps and data in real time – all while assessing security risks. Storing data across multiple clouds and moving it between partners and third parties can leave companies more vulnerable to security issues such as data breaches. It is crucial to assess infrastructure solutions that protect data even when it leaves your platform.

Finally, leverage multiple modernization strategies and enable easy access to existing mainframe applications and data using APIs. This means providing a common developer experience by integrating open-source tools and a streamlined process for agility, developing cloud-native applications on the mainframe and containerizing those applications.

IT executives expect significant usage increases in both mainframe (35%) and cloud-based applications (44%) over the next two years. Consider how you can extract more value from your mainframe and cloud investments. Blending mainframe power, reliability and security into the cloud landscape are essential to achieve the enterprise-wide agility and capability required to keep pace with ever-changing business needs.

In Malaysia, the first mainframe, the IBM System/360, was introduced in 1964. The mainframe has been and will continue to be a mission-critical power application of many organizations, which was the industry consensus.

To date, most large enterprise banks and government agencies in Malaysia use the IBM mainframe as an infrastructure cornerstone in their journeys to hybrid cloud.

The views in the article are those of the author and may not reflect the views of this publication.