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May 31, 2016
Can Mainframe support Mobile Apps?
Prachi Saxena

As we all know that Mainframe technology is already a 50 + year Legacy giant now and if one studies its trajectory through the ages, it is a crystal clear statement that this technology has conquered and still deepening its strong footprints in this advanced technology space. The following facts would clearly tell us why Mainframe held its dominance in the past and would continue the stint in the future,

  1. Enormous volume handling capability: Every second 1.1 million high-volume customer transactions occur on Mainframes worldwide. A single z/VM can accommodate more than 60 virtual machines per CPU which are mutually exclusive. Also, up to 100,000 of batch jobs can be run in a day within the same OS and at a single point in time, the mainframe can host 10,000 – 30,000 users, depending on a mix of workload. No other technology till date can match these specs.
  2. Speed beyond compare: IBM’s most recent microprocessors run at 2 GHz, while today’s commodity processors run between 2 and 3.4 GHz. A fully loaded zEnterprise cabinet contains six quad-core processors and up to 786 GB of memory with four levels of cache. Most importantly, a majority of the data since time infinity is stored on Mainframes and therefore it is safe to say that IBM’s system Z “owns” the data demanded by the users. Data processing is always real-time. Therefore, there is absolutely no lag in processing.
  3. Incomparable Efficiency: The system has a scale up architecture and usually runs at (or close to) 100% utilization as compared to 30-40% in case of distributed systems, which have a scale out architecture and operate at a lower efficiency to handle the peak loads. Mainframes also boast more advanced capabilities in application availability, resiliency and disaster recovery than even the most bleeding-edge x86 virtualization software.
  4. Securest server on earth: Viruses and worms that work through stack overflow conditions in distributed systems don’t work on the mainframe. Mainframe, as we know, has a very advanced cryptographic subsystem which is unmatched. It has an EAL 5+ rating, no other commercial computing platform in the industry has similar security standards.

With those superpowers combined, Mainframe becomes the most dominant and reliable server for most of the Business critical industries. Also the recent study confirms the above fact that almost 600 firms ranging from big to small are firmly reinforcing the usage of this Legacy giant. Since last five decades, business critical data of all the major industries like banking, airlines, government, insurance, etc., resides on the superpower Mainframe System.

Over the years, there has been a visible market shift where the businesses are expecting something extra from Mainframes. Based on a formal survey conducted by Vanson Bourne who sampled 520 mainframe clients:

– 62% of the existing clients want Mainframe not only as a backend server but also wanted it to be easily portable with latest and advanced technologies like Cloud, Mobile Apps, etc.

– 89% of the users want to retain Mainframes for the next five years and at least 30% of them for 10-20 years

Therefore, it is safe to say that in spite of the above superpowers still there exists a gap in the Mainframe market WRT the business demand which is currently untapped. Based on the below recent technology trend research, percentage of mobile users has been increasing drastically which in turn surpassing the desktop users. It is also very evident that the end user wants their data on the go, this indeed reflects the human dependency towards the mobility world. Starting from banking to ordering food online, Mobile Apps are ruling every sphere which becomes inevitable and therefore, it is safe to quote the current era as the Mobile App era.

Because of this fast Mobility world, there is a drastic change in customer behavior, data access and the most important is the data traffic. Also in this Mobile App era, there is an exponential growth in the data, say their bank account access via smartphone is nearly ten times compared to the access through desktop. Moreover, the data is easily available 24*7, the concept of “peak traffic hours” is fading hence the user is now becoming impatient. They want the information as fast as they can demand it, and this leads to a higher probability of a negative response amplification.

Taking the above driving points of Mobility and combining that with Mainframe superpowers, IBM is investing a lot to maintain its Mainframe supremacy and also making it more user-friendly to aid the integration with latest and most sophisticated technologies like Cloud, Mobile App, etc. Coming to the case in point, here we will explore some of the options which aid the above said integration,

  • JSON Compatibility: Java object notification, popularly referred to as JSON scripts are used to integrate front end java scripts with the backend mainframe database. Currently, this is supported by CICS and JSON-DB2 compatibility is expected soon.
  • NoSQL platforms: It often runs on the cloud and is the major platform where most of the mobile development and application delivery is happening these days. It would be soon supported on mainframe
  • The z13 OS: IBM in 2015 unveiled the z13 OS, the new age mainframe server designed specifically for mobile application development. It provides support for real-time fraud detection, real-time upselling and cross-selling, and other opportunities driven by predictive analytics.

Citi Bank has already declared that it would be leveraging the z13 OS for app development!

  • MobileFirst platform: But, the most significant step is the introduction of the MobileFirst platform, which is an end-to-end, mobile app development portfolio integrated with the zSeries toolset. It is a licensed software which aids the developer from strategizing the app through deployment. The package also includes real-time testing software and the data analytics tools.

It has five major packages which aid in end-to-end development and deployment of a mobile app on Mainframes:

  1. MobileFirst Strategy and Design Services.
  2. MobileFirst Platform
  3. MobileFirst Management
  4. MobileFirst Security and Analytics
  5. MobileFirst Development and Integration

Hence with above possible options, the developers gets an opportunity to strategize the Apps via consulting services, involve in real-time analytical insights to enhance the productivity, perform their day to day operations on highly coupled Z/Os free security services. Additionally, it helps in a seamless deployment of an App on various platforms with backward compatibility and integration with the older versions of the application.

You might argue on the cost effectiveness of this suite. In Feb 2015, IBM commissioned Forrester Consulting to conduct a Total Economic Impact™ (TEI) study and inspect the potential return on investment (ROI) enterprises may gather by leveraging the MobileFirst Platform.

The following figure is the 5-year estimate:

So, in a nutshell, the MobileFirst platform proves to be future competent platform by offering a faster time-to-value, reducing the integration efforts, lowering the application maintenance and upgrade cost plus providing enhanced security and analytics services.

The viability of the MobileFirst platform is evident by the fact that Apple Corporation which is generally the market leader in adaption of new technology, has already released a suite of enterprise applications designed end-to-end using the MobileFirst platform.

Therefore, to sum up, the acquisition cost might be higher, but the retention cost of the mainframe is much lower than the other technologies and plus it provides a lot of other benefits like higher scalability, greater reliability, quicker processing and robust security.

In today’s competitive world, end customer satisfaction is the most important deciding factor for any business existence and it is being driven by major factors like huge data handling capability, high speed data processing, 100% system reliability and most important secured environment. Taking all that into our account, I will strongly emphasize on the fact that there is no better technology than the Mainframe system to support this app development space.