At first sight, the mainframe and cloud computing appear to come from two different ends of the IT spectrum. One is a platform born decades ago, too often maligned for being outdated, out of touch, and out of time. The other is tomorrow’s technology innovation. The latest gateway to cheaper, easy to deploy, low risk computing.

In reality, the mainframe is as relevant today as cloud computing.

Indeed, new developments in mainframe automation and other technologies increasingly support the use of mainframes for delivering cloud computing?and help resolve recession-era computing challenges around cost, power, energy use, and reliability. So is the mainframe the ultimate cloud platform?

Cloud as a concept is, in its most basic sense, virtualising resources within the data centre to gain scale of efficiency and optimisation. However, c-level executives are starting to ask simple, but insightful questions about why all these servers are needed and to what degree these servers are being utilised. When the answer is 15 or 20 percent utilisation, it begs for a centralised model.

Centralisation?isn’t that the domain of the mainframe?

Larger organisations are using their mainframe in a highly virtualised way. They’ve been doing it for 30 years. Indeed, today’s mainframe is effectively an on-demand engine. Within the modern mainframe environment, you have an infrastructure that turns on additional engines that are already housed in the box as needs grow. The platform effectively becomes an in-house utility, with the ability to expand capacity on demand and manage peaks in demand?without having to pay for it all year long.

Mainframe for cloud computing

Don’t just take my word for it. Independent research found that 79 percent of European IT organisations believe the mainframe is an essential component of their cloud computing strategy. Moreover, 74 percent believe that the mainframe will have a role in any cloud computing initiative. Reciprocal to the mainframe’s strategic role in the cloud, 70 percent of respondents agreed that cloud computing will sustain or extend the mainframe environment.

The mainframe can also be used to achieve a cloud strategy at dramatically lower costs. Well-managed mainframes have up to a 96 percent advantage in terms of energy usage and are the gold-standard in terms of reliability, scalability, and virtualisation. This is no ‘flash in the pan’, short-term opportunity either. Mainframes are here to stay.

The survey indicates that 82 percent of respondents reported that they intend to use the mainframe in the future either as much or more than today. Why is the mainframe considered such a valuable organisational asset? 55 percent of respondents cite its reliability, 52 percent stated it’s because of the mainframe’s position as an established technology, and 48 percent lauded the platform’s cost-effectiveness.

Grappling with a greying workforce 

Let’s not get carried away though. Walk into any mainframe shop and you’ll be confronted by two overwhelming concerns: the people who work with mainframes tend to be the same ones who worked on them 30 years ago, and the technology they use to manage the platform hasn’t been updated to the more intuitive interfaces.

Indeed, the study found that 44 percent of IT organisations are grappling with staffing issues created by the ‘greying’ workforce and difficulty in hiring new staff. Clearly, if the mainframe is to be the ultimate cloud platform, things have to change.

Mainframe 2.0 solutions are penetrating the market in a way that hides the intricacies without losing control or dramatically changing the way mainframes are utilised. As such, the mainframe will become an increasingly important platform for cloud computing.