Mainframes Aren’t Dead, And They’re Costing Us A Fortune

Mainframes Aren’t Dead, And They’re Costing Us A Fortune

You might think that we live in a mobile device era, but many of the services delivered to our phones are still drawing on mainframe computing power. And that legacy doesn’t come cheap: a survey of 590 mainframe users suggests that in companies that still use mainframes, 30 per cent of the total IT budget is dedicated to maintaining them.

Picture by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

The study, commissioned by enterprise software company Micro Focus and conducted by Vanson Bourne, covered nine countries, though just 35 of the users were from Australia (with another 15 from New Zealand). With that 30 per cent, Australia had the highest proportion of overall budget spend on mainframes. Given the small sample, we might want to treat individual country percentages with a grain of salt, but the overall trend is clear. (Update: That said, Micro Focus estimates that just 70 mainframes are running in Australia, so that’s a 50 per cent sample.)

One notable finding from the survey was that 18 per cent of organisations worldwide are aware that they are running redundant applications which are costing them money, but don’t have a means of identifying them. Mainframe licensing is typically paid using the MIPS (million instructions per second) metric, so running unneeded apps involves actual, not just theoretical, costs.

“CIOs realise that too much of their IT budget is being spent on legacy assets and associated licencing fees,” Micro Focus ANZ country manager Bruce Craig noted in the release announcing the survey results. “Mainframe applications that don’t fulfil a purpose eat up expensive processing power that could be better used for productive tasks that make a difference to the organisation’s bottom line.”

It’s perhaps not so surprising that mainframes are still around. With crucial systems having gone through major recoding prior to 2000 to avoid the millennium bug, the odds of their being replaced dropped substantially over that period. In workplace environments, deployment of bring-your-own-device policies often relies on the use of virtualisation and thin client solutions that echo traditional mainframe structures, with processing power centralised and separate to output. That doesn’t mean it’s a career path most budding IT workers will want to follow, but the option clearly isn’t going to disappear for a while.

Evolve is a weekly column at Lifehacker looking at trends and technologies IT workers need to know about to stay employed and improve their careers.


  • It’ll be interesting as the skillset dies out what will happen.

    Because you need the skillset to migrate off the platform in the first place.

    Enterprise IT will be in unchartered waters.

    • Mainframes arnt dead at all they just dont get the marketing like the midrange server space does pretty much every bank in the world uses one for their backend transactions etc. the main reason is that only a mainframe can give you 99.6% uptime, amongst other things.

      I am a recent gradutate of the university of ballarat and was a part of the IBM Earn as You Learn program (kinda like a work as you study type of system). The new focus of this course is to build up skillsets in various mainframe related roles to help boost the number of young people with mainframe skills in the work force. I am starting to get calls from various companys desprately seeking these roles already so the belief that mainframe is dead is one that never seems to die

  • i work for a company that is trying to get off 20 year old cobol vms systems for their accounting and security. With only 2 remaining staff actually knowing the system on the team. its kind of an uphill battle to get everything mapped out.

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