Worldwide smartphone sales grew by 47% year-on-year to reach 147 million units during the final quarter of 2011, according to the latest figures from Gartner. In conjunction with this evident surge, IDC predicts that global downloads of mobile apps will reach 76.9 billion by 2014.

With the explosion of both smartphones and apps, a new opportunity has been created for businesses (with enterprise applications) to increase the company’s market reach. But, as with all opportunities, drawbacks and challenges are never far behind. The challenge for businesses will be to create apps that are relevant, cheap to create and host, and do not hinder the performance of existing business operations.

Services like ‘online banking and shopping’ have become the norm for many consumer and business users. The proliferation of smartphones has led users to adopt an ‘anytime, anywhere’ approach and there is an expectation for mobile apps to be accessed 24/7. Many traditional companies have embraced the mobile app explosion and successfully implemented these mobile apps into their existing infrastructure.

High street retailers such as H&M and River Island have created mobile apps that allow access to all or some the online functions that customers are accustomed to. While these apps are created using the latest technology, they are more often than not accessing data housed in mainframes.

With these new mobile apps relying on mainframes – that already cost thousands of pounds to maintain – an important question is how can cost be managed without hindering the performance and reliability of these systems?

The introduction and proliferation of mobile apps mean that another access point needs to be created on the back-end IT system, usually a mainframe. Consequently, this could negatively impact core system performance levels and require additional capacity to put up with the new load.

Increasing capacity in this instance would mean adding a significant number of MIPS at a cost of approximately £2,500 per MIPS. The business case then becomes limited as the amount of MIPS required, potentially outweighs the original proposed business benefit.

A genuine alternative is to take some of the existing mainframe workload and move it to a lower-cost platform – this could be to the cloud (Amazon Cloud EC2 or Windows Azure), Linux, UNIX or Windows Server platforms. Moving selected applications off the mainframe can ease many strains the system faces without losing the significant benefits that the mainframe continues to offer.

For the applications being moved, the major benefit includes the reduction of operating costs to support those applications. For the remaining mainframe environment, the benefits may include fewer capacity bottlenecks, improved performance and time-to-delivery.

As an important first step, a level of assessment of the IT estate is required to investigate appropriate decision-criteria behind re-hosting some applications. Considerations need to include the implications on customer demand, operating cost, staffing levels, application “health”, dependencies on other systems, and ease of transition to the new platform. Only then can an appropriate judgement be made on the right candidates.

Optimising workload across a variety of IT servers can mean vital savings in MIPS usage and operating costs. For example, a major mainframe re-hosting project saw a large healthcare organisation save a staggering 77% of their entire IT budget. Elsewhere a major IT services provider took a 150 MIPS set of applications to Windows and saved half their IT operating expenditure for that line of business. A sliding scale exists where the size of the application being re-hosted, in terms of MIPS or cost, will directly typically relate to the size of potential savings.

The mobile applications world is thriving and enterprises cannot ignore the importance and opportunities that this platform presents. While the development mobile apps are relatively simple, the potential burden on the IT infrastructure could be considerable.

In order to mitigate this risk and future-proof systems, IT decision makers need to consider the benefits that optimising mainframe application workload could bring. By alleviating pressures on mainframe capacity, business will have the ability to stay one step ahead, while retaining critical mainframe-based intellectual property in a more cost-effective manner.