How to Survive on a Frozen Mainframe Budget & Grow It - InformationWeek
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Steven Menges, Product Management, Syncsort
Steven Menges, Product Management, Syncsort

How to Survive on a Frozen Mainframe Budget & Grow It

Mainframe resources are being taxed by increasing demand, leaving staff to call for budget increases while finding efficiencies.

Transactions on the mainframe have increased exponentially with developments like digital payment platforms and mobile apps, adding upward of 30% more transactions per customer to the queue in just the past few years. But many organizations are freezing mainframe budgets, not considering the spike in transactions and increasingly demanding service level agreements (SLAs). Why?

For the most part, additional mainframe transactions aren’t driving more revenue; the same end users are just using different -- and more -- available resources and service channels. For example, globally there is a higher number of banking transactions, but people aren’t necessarily keeping more money in banks. With brick and mortar locations, ATMs and mobile apps, consumers are just doing more frequent transactions, using more computing power.

Mainframe professionals, as experienced and capable as they often are, are getting squeezed to meet rising demand without additional resources and costs to the organization. Add to that the talent shortage – with many professionals retiring in the next few years – and the situation is becoming untenable for many organizations.

The answer is mainframe modernization. Although the mainframe is a “legacy” system, its operation doesn’t have to rely on outdated practices and existing toolsets. Mainframe modernization optimizes legacy systems for the highest level of efficiency, and makes a tangible difference in operational costs.

Streamlining & optimizing the tech at hand

An initial area to assess involves the cost-benefits from offloading more mainframe processing to those specialty engines you bought years ago, and doing data analytics off-platform. Many mainframe professionals are doing this or plan to soon. These techniques reduce the workload on the mainframe CPU (therefore saving on monthly license charges or MLCs).

Another strategy is vetting applications in play on the mainframe and removing redundant software not regularly used. If you’ve been part of a merger, for example, you likely have duplicative tools. Who really needs two sets of DB2, network management or basic mainframe “sort” tools? Why pay for a database application tuning tool that has a high CPU overhead cost that you can’t run all the time to maximize your tuning-based savings?

Steve Menges, Syncsort
Steve Menges, Syncsort

Future-proofing with automation & machine learning

The mainframe is made up of infinite of operations, like trouble-shooting and resource optimization. Historically, most of these tasks are completed by humans. With mainframes connected to other infrastructure outside the “glass house,” troubleshooting fire drills often have entire departments scrambling to find the root cause of an issue.

Emerging technologies, such as environment sensors and automated monitoring automatically schedule jobs and move workloads according to system resources, controlling and improving the mainframe’s power and resource consumption, at scale. Machine learning and algorithms spot trends and predict when/where a disruptive event might occur, such as a security breach. Although there’s a cost associated, there’s great ROI and cost-savings in these tools, which decrease resources used and free mainframe/IT workers up for more complex tasks, letting them analyze operations and trends, not just read and react.

But mainframe modernization isn’t just about optimizing tools and workloads. Experts, themselves, are a key element and retiring at a rapid pace without similarly experienced replacements to fill the gaps. In addition to an efficiency play, these technologies can be a future-proofing strategy. Having machines learn can help the next generation succeed without 30 years of “green screen” knowledge in their heads.

Campaigning to increase the mainframe budget

This is the biggest periodic issue for mainframers. Budgets are being frozen when they should be growing. Transactions are up and higher service levels for digital customer interactions are becoming harder to meet with no additional funding.

Every way to address these issues requires at least some new upfront cost. Trying to “get blood from a stone” was how one mainframe leader described his attempts at a small, much needed mainframe budget increase.

But mainframe professionals have a compelling campaign for a higher budget. One place they can look is in other budget lines where the mainframe plays an important role. If there’s a compliance, security or customer experience element, shouldn’t that budget line contain some of the costs? Maybe DevOps or even workforce development can shoulder some of the costs to reduce risk or prevent losing an expert with 30+ years’ experience.

This is what mainframe modernization is about. Until organizations agree to expand mainframe budgets (or recategorize some of their spending), mainframe professionals can still navigate challenges, increase productivity and decrease costs by modernizing and optimizing.

Steven Menges is a B2B innovator and marketing and products executive with 20 years’ progressive experience. He owns the product management and marketing functions for mainframe solutions at Syncsort. A frequent industry author and speaker, he is an adjunct professor and Capstone/Thesis advisor at the NYU Master’s in Management and Systems and Master’s in Integrated Marketing programs, and is also the co-developer of the Business-to-Business Marketing Maturity Model.

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