Is the usage of mainframe decreasing now a days?


It depends on which part of your question you are emphasizing: importance or usage rates.

Mainframes are still very important. They are still heavily relied upon by the financial industry and for many of the critical operations required by large enterprises. IBM has about 90% of that market. Most vendors have cut back on mainframe software development but IBM has been increasing their R&D in mainframe hardware and has a very fast-growing mainframe software development business.

In terms of overall usage rates, many of the traditional roles of mainframes can now be achieved by networked server farms and even desktop systems. For example:

  • Massively redundant operations -- systems that have to run for years continuously -- can now be achieved with individually networked computers or servers with redundant switching.
  • Virtualization: A single mainframe system could run multiple operating system and multiple applications so serve the needs of an entire company using remote terminals. Today, desktop systems are more typically installed and customized specifically for each users' task.
  • Multi-user operations: In pre-web days, if large groups of users needed access to a central database (and centralized applications) mainframe systems where the only option to support such large utilization rates and massive throughput. Today, the Internet (and intranets) connect users and data through distributed systems (on-site and off-site) which can be sized according to the specific transaction levels needed.
  • Scalability - Huge up-front hardware cost (and massive software licensing cost) of mainframes give you vertical scalability (big hardware) to handle huge demand (current and future). Distributed, smaller servers give you horizontal scalability whos costs can be spread out as capacity needs increase.

So, some will say that steadily reducing prices and the economies of large database scale will feed a continuing demand for the largest systems. Other will argue that investing in mainframe technologies is not cost-effective.

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    Nicely put. And smart people can come to the opposite decision after careful thought. Also, there has been some hardware capability convergence between mainframes and the rack-mounted PC hardware and software intended for use in clusters---hot swappable power supplies and the like---so the lines are a little blurry in places. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Nov 22 '09 at 16:21
  • Yes, certainly. I started writing about systems convergence and the evolving definition of "mainframe" but the post was getting too long and started to veer away from the original question. – Robert Cartaino Nov 22 '09 at 16:28

In banks, the answer is a resounding no. There is too much legacy code and too many business rules which are either poorly documented, or written so long ago that the option of moving off mainframe would be too costly.

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Here in Sweden, the Swedish Social Insurance Agency recently switched from their old mainframes (Bull) to a UNIX based system.

The biggest reason for this being that the employees who know something about their old system has either retired or has delayed their retirement for several years to keep the systems running.

I suspect similar migrations will occur in bank systems, since they will soon (or already do) suffer from the same problem.

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  • Licensing, hardware, and operation costs for the mainframes are also astronomical. People need to get past the 'sunk cost fallacy' and start moving subsystems off at the least. Sadly, a culture remains around mainframes, the 'nobody ever got fire for buying IBM' crowd. – Nerdfest Nov 22 '09 at 15:13
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    @Nerdfest, those costs are only astronomical to those who don't desire the support. Businesses are willing to pay because IBM will, in a CRITSIT, fly engineers to you anywhere on the planet to fix your problem. And the costs have been coming down for a long time. Yes, you can't get a mainframe for the cost of a Linux server but, once you get your Linux cluster up to the reliability of a mainframe, you've spent as much money as you would have with IBM. – user12022 Dec 4 '09 at 4:38

Cloud computing could bring back the mainframe? Rhetorical but one that is asked in lots of places. You could provision a bundle of large VMs in there.

Honestly if I ran a gigantic IT department, I would whole-heartedly consider IBM iron, likely on lease. With the virtualization and smaller staff (though more expensive) it could make a LOT of sense.

Would I commission COBOL apps on it? No. But surely DB2, Java, XML, and other Linux apps.

As an anecdote, I am just now responding to an RFP for very new Java apps on System Z.

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Yes. The people who still use them are consolidating them, and the brave new world of Linux on the mainframe is mostly myth.

I've never heard so much of a rumor of somebody migrating applications or developing new applications on Mainframes in many years. I am aware of many projects where "impossible to replace" COBOL is in fact being replaced, mostly to J2EE applications.

The places still using mainframes, especially non-IBM mainframes, are dysfunctional orgs like government agencies and banks. As the people who know stuff about mainframes continue to retire and die, the nonsense arguments that you actually need crappy legacy code from 1975 will no longer be made, and someone will finally put a bullet in the mainframe.

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    It's pretty lame to vote down an answer because you disagree with it. Go find an example of any organization that's making big investments in mainframe technology, other than IBM. Guess what? You won't. Every time a bank merges, a mainframe customer disappears. – duffbeer703 Nov 23 '09 at 0:16
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    I've been hearing of the mainframe's death since the 80s. – Jé Queue Dec 1 '09 at 21:22
  • And it has been dying since the 80s. How many mainframe vendors were around then? How many now? How many new customers are deploying mainframes for the first time? I'm not knocking the platform -- technologies have a lifecycle, they are born, grow, plateau and eventually die. 20 years from now people will be laughing about the quaint old days when the greybeards were worried about PC refresh cycles and file servers. – duffbeer703 Dec 2 '09 at 13:11
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    I had to vote this down, sorry, @duff. Ther are too many factual inaccuracies. (1) zLinux is very much not a myth, we have a great many customers clamouring for improvement to our products to handle it. (2) I can't comment whether you've never heard a rumor that much new development is taking place but I can assure you it's happening. (3) You can have a go at governments but there's nothing dysfunctional about the banks (in terms of IT). They're damn good at doing what they do (massively insane levels of accurate transaction processing). (4) see next comment ... – user12022 Dec 4 '09 at 4:31
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    (4) How you can consider something to be dying for 30 years is beyond me. I suppose technically I've been dying since 1965 :-) (5) IBM is very much spending bucketloads of money training the next generation of "dinosaurs", they are aware far more than anyone else what all those 55-year-old developers mean to their future. (6) The mainframe will never disappear, no matter how much glitzy sexy stuff you put between it and the customer. – user12022 Dec 4 '09 at 4:34

Fake Steve Jobs (aka Dan Lyons) has a very interesting take on why Mainframes are still hanging around here: http://www.fakesteve.net/2009/10/why-ibm-is-in-trouble-with-antitrust.html

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