IDC says many-core systems in Asia-Pacific are still running on legacy systems. Enterprises have chosen to do so because of the scale of the transactions they want to process and the kind of security that they need. As such mainframes will continue to shine in these environments.
Praveen Kumar, general manager, Asia Pacific at ASG Technologies, says the strength of the mainframe comes from the fact that it can run 24 by seven without the need for additional intervention management capabilities, etc.
“The scalability of it on a single box is significantly more reliable than a lot of other modern equipment. And that's why financial institutions tend to be more comfortable in terms of not touching it because it is working and working well,” he continued.
That said, modernisation is underway even with legacy systems.
A 2021 Coleman Parkes Research survey of 400 business and IT professionals at enterprises predicts that in the next one to two years, 87% of enterprises are planning a legacy system modernization program.
Flexibility and financial upside are motivating the modernization of some mainframe-based systems. Among respondents, 55% say legacy modernization helped accelerate digital transformation, while 60% say modernizing just one legacy system could cut IT costs by one-third.
But what does it take to modernise legacy mainframe systems? And how do enterprises address the technical and experience skills gap that exists today?
Under the hood
Do users care what powers their app? If Apple users are ever a benchmark, the answer is no. What users want is experience.
Kumar concurred adding the back end is something that the user never experiences because the back end is the core in the engine, which is running right in the backend.
“So as long as the mainframe applications can provide good interfaces, integration experiences, for front end applications, irrespective of what platform it's built, and also provide the security that that's needed in these environments. I don't think the end-user cares as to what you are building the application on as long as they can access it seamlessly on any device using any front end,” he elaborated.
Skills – the million-dollar mainframe challenges
According to Kumar, one of the biggest challenges for enterprises is the talent gap. Because mainframe systems are not growing there is less incentive for the new generation of software engineers coming out of colleges to learn to code for mainframes.
A look at Stack Overflow’s developer survey clearly shows very little interest in COBOL or Assembler – arguably the two most popular programming languages of the mainframe. The current generation of software engineers favours Java, Python and HTML because there is demand for these, mainly to develop front end applications.
This goes against the prevailing understanding that the databases that power backend mission-critical systems that, in turn, feed front end applications, sit on mainframe servers.
There may be some good news coming out of this shortage and the acceptance that mainframe technology is not going away. Kumar says academic institutions around the world are willing to invest in part of their engineering degree around the mainframe.
However, he opines that the pace at which academia can churn out new software engineers adept in the language and technology may not keep pace with the population of skilled professionals who are retiring.
Advice to enterprises
Holding the bag, as it were, are businesses that continue to rely on mainframe technologies to support business-critical systems and applications.
This creates opportunities for organisations like ASG Technologies and Rocket to build interfaces that will allow engineers with little to no mainframe skills to keep backend applications running – irrespective of the underlying technology.
Click on the Podchat player and hear Kumar discuss mainframe modernisation and how to bridge the generational gaps for young IT professionals in Asia.
- How active in the enterprise is the mainframe today?
- Does the mainframe of 2021 need to be modernised? If yes, in what ways?
- Given all the awareness around cloud computing, do users care what technology powers their applications?
- What is the state of talent availability/scarcity as it relates to mainframe technology compliance? Do you see this taking a turn for the better/worst in the years to come?
- What should industry bodies, educational institutions, and private organisations/businesses do to spur interest in mainframe technology?
- What is your advice for enterprises to ensure that they have the kind of skills needed to keep systems and applications running across the different systems?