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Can Mainframe-as-a-Service Alleviate Personnel, Budget Woes? (Industry Perspective)

MaaS is one option for mainframe operators who seek prudent solutions to pressing personnel and budget constraints.

by Tony Encinias / July 21, 2015

Although it is considered very old technology, mainframe environments are still widely used to manage large-scale batch and transaction processing jobs on mainframe computers. Without mainframes, most state governments could not operate their health and human services, tax, motor vehicle and other departments, much less numerous other baseline governance activities on which taxpayers depend. 

Not only are current mainframe environments old, but the technicians who know how to manage these environments are aging. Today, for mainframes used in government — where they are the dominant computing platform by far — it is estimated that 35 to 40 percent of the workforce could retire tomorrow. (Believe it or not, some employees are so dedicated to their work that they actually lose money by staying on the government's payroll instead of retiring; their pensions are greater than their salaries.) 

If you were to poll every state CIO in the country, the vast majority would elect to replace their mainframes with more advanced cloud computing and storage solutions. As desirable as that may be, however, budget constraints won’t allow it. Today, governments have enough funds to run their mainframes, but they often don’t have the funds (or the appetite for new taxes) to replace them. That leaves CIOs with two real choices:

  1. Manage the existing mainframe environments with staff available today, which will be an increasingly onerous task, fraught with risk, given the dwindling talent and the high-stakes impact of a mainframe failure; or
  2. Purchase mainframe as a service (MaaS), much like you can purchase compute and storage cloud services today.

Mainframes Are Not Going Away

Keep in mind that mainframes are not going away. Even with the advances of cloud computing opening up new vistas and technical capabilities for CIOs, government institutions will be dependent on the mainframe for years to come.

The mainframe talent constraints, however, combined with the lack of funds to replace mainframes outright, argue for outsourcing mainframe infrastructure and support for that infrastructure, enabling third parties to absolve mainframe operators of these common and very real concerns. 

When mainframe computing is purchased as a service, it is provided through a vendor relationship just like many others. The mainframe vendor provides all the IT infrastructure and support, and the consumer of the service (e.g., state governments) pay for the consumption of the service and for any of their own coding to run their batch processes. What’s best is that the consumer of MaaS (sometimes called mainframe cloud) does not have to pay for the maintenance and upgrades to IT infrastructure; that’s solely the obligation of the MaaS vendor, and it can mean dramatic cost-avoidance and risk-avoidance for the CIO and the states.

The MaaS consumer pays for just the compute, storage and batch time consumed in normal operations. This MaaS mode frees government workers to focus not on IT infrastructure, which we all know can be an all-consuming distraction, but on their business functions. (For governments that have downsized staff or made their staff do more with less in the recent economic downturn, staff will have time to excel at their core tasks and not be fragmented, multitasking with a force-fit combination of tasks such as IT technician and business manager.) Best of all, with MaaS, CIOs will not spend time engaging in the nerve-jangling task of maintaining aging computer equipment.

Other Advantages of Mainframe as a Service

A deeper examination of MaaS reveals a longer list of benefits, beyond the issues of capital expense costs of replacement and mainframe maintenance. Here are a few more:

Scale. MaaS allows users to scale with need. This means that users can scale up, but it also means they can scale down too. The mainframe services you consume are no more or less than you need at that moment. 

No deactivation charges. Top-tier MaaS providers will have no minimum charges and no penalty for deactivation of services, which offers great operational flexibility to CIOs or others managing the mainframe environment. 

Continuity. MaaS offers assurances of business continuity due to the redundancy offered by MaaS vendors, a redundancy you might find cost-prohibitive if you maintain your own mainframes in one location. This means zero or reduced downtime in the event of a mainframe failure, and assurances of full recovery in the event of disaster because your data is mirrored at a second site.

Support. Top-tier MaaS vendors offer 24/7/365 support in multiple time zones, something you might not be able to afford or access in a typical government setting.

Wouldn’t It Be Cheaper Just to Replace Mainframes?

Would it be to the government’s advantage to replace the mainframes in a long-term cost scenario? Yes, it probably would, all things being equal. But things are not equal, and practical budget constraints often force government to not engage in the most cost-effective long-term solution when a near-term interim solution gets the job done for now.

Think of it this way: When you purchase MaaS, you get the equivalent of a BMW 7-Series car (with someone else doing the maintenance) because you are leasing it, not buying it outright. If you had to stick to the car you could actually afford, you’d be behind the wheel of a Ford Focus instead. So MaaS allows you to get top performance without having to pay outright for top-tier IT infrastructure.

Switching Risks

Is there any risk in switching from on-premises mainframe to MaaS? No. 

The MaaS vendor is also running mainframes, the same IBM zSeries mainframes that governments are running. As for costs, the top-tier MaaS vendors will offer you a service level agreement that gives very accurate predictions of the cost of transportation, installation, de-installation, configuring, initial training, requested level of managed service and preventive maintenance. Users of MaaS simply move to a consumption model for the mainframe services, and pay for their services out of operating expenses rather than capital expenses. 

The rising popularity of MaaS is easy to understand once all its benefits are taken into account. Adopting MaaS is just a matter of a new mindset in terms of how mainframe services are consumed, but clearly MaaS is rising to the top of the list of options for mainframe operators who are looking for prudent solutions to today’s pressing personnel and budget constraints. 

The former CIO of Pennsylvania, Tony Encinias serves as the vice president of public-sector strategy for IT enterprise solutions provider ViON.

 

 


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