Investing in the Mainframe Rather than Migrating

by | Mar 26, 2019

Despite the tangible benefits for organizations of investing in and modernizing their mainframe platform, as can be expected, organizations do reassess the value of their mainframe platforms and consider using more distributed infrastructure. This is based on the findings of a study by IDC called “The Business Value of the Connected Mainframe for Digital Transformation.” However, this study, as well as multiple organizations’ internal analyses have demonstrated that remaining on and investing in their mainframe platform is more cost effective and delivers greater business value than migrating to more distributed architectures.

The study goes on to say that the granularity with which software licensing costs can be attributed to lines of business can itself lead to cost analyses of potential migrations. One organization explained: “The irony is that it’s exactly the ease with which the costs of running workloads on mainframes can be determined that leads to questions about its cost and value.” Nevertheless, interviewed organizations consistently reported struggling to find a business case for moving workloads off of the mainframe. In fact, the potential licensing savings from moving to a more distributed infrastructure platform were more than counteracted by cost and staff inefficiencies in building out a substantial distributed environment, without even taking into account factors such as the staff effort of migrating workloads and increased operational risk. The following challenges were noted in the IDC study:

  • Prolonged and expensive migrations: “The majority of potential big migrations we’ve looked at end up with the transition costs being very high without a great business case or an ROI.”
  • Significant investment in hardware: “To do the mainframe applications on distributed servers, we’d need another 5,000 servers in addition to what we have now.”
  • IT staff requirements: “We would probably need two times as many staff for managing a distributed environment. It’s a lof of effort, and it creates a lot more breakage because there’s a lot more moving parts.”

One IDC study participant that moved to distributed infrastructure described “buyers’ remorse for some of the application pieces,” especially because of the significant additional staff time costs involved with managing and patching a significantly larger distributed environment.

Organizations that made the cost-effective choice to remain on their mainframe platforms are realizing five-year cost of operations that are 47% lower on average, taking into account hardware, maintenance, licensing, power, facilities, IT staff management time, operational impact from system and application downtime, and staff time costs for migration (see Figure 4).


Figure 4

Five-Year Cost of Operations per Application




Notes: This figure compares the five-year average cost of operations for IDC study participants versus the average cost of operations for a more distributed environment analyses. See the Methodology for assumptions. Source: IDC, 2016

One participant in the IDC study stated: “At the end of the day, our mainframe platform is very highly capable, so it’s [about] looking at how we can leverage that capability and the manageability because we’re much more efficiently managing the amount of resources we have on the mainframe than we do on the distributed environment.”

To learn more about the benefits of mainframe integration, check out the full study by IDC The Business Value of the Connected Mainframe for Digital Transformation.

-Amanda Bierfeld Williams, Marketing Coordinator at GT Software