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Magazine Reader Survey Reveals Top Concerns Among Mainframe Users

The results of the 2017 IBM Systems Magazine Reader Survey.

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From understanding security to managing costs to finding talent, the 147 readers who responded to a recent IBM Systems Magazine, Mainframe edition, reader survey cited a variety of business challenges that were top of mind. When given the opportunity to explain their top business challenge in an open-ended question, they also pointed to holding down costs, and convincing management and clients that the mainframe is superior and thriving.

Several concerns around security were top of mind, which isn’t surprising given that 54 percent of respondents currently deploy security solutions and another 8 percent say they plan to do so within the next 12 months. In their security-related answers to the business challenge question, they specifically wanted to better understand how to maximize their level of mainframe security.

They are also struggling to convince upper management of the risks behind a security breach—after all, mainframe’s high level of security is one of the key features for the platform. If higher-ups can’t grasp what can happen on less-secure platforms, they won’t understand why the mainframe is so important when it comes to security defenses.

“Security: making executives and management understand the risks and impact of a security breach.”

IBM’s Nick Sardino, program director, IBM Z* Offering Management, offered some advice for those looking to convince management of the value of the platform’s security. “Security is architected into the entire platform from the microprocessor and firmware, the hypervisors and OSs, and all the way into the applications and middleware,” he says. The IBM Z platform also delivers security at an 81 percent lower cost and is 8x more resistant to security threats than competitive platforms, according to Sardino.

While the IBM Z high level of security is reassuring, it’s important for clients to also employ security best practices. This means implementing pervasive encryption, multifactor authentication and conducting regular audits of security controls including identity governance. “Even with the rich security features of IBM Z, organizations should apply the same security practices to their mainframe as they do to the rest of their environment,” Sardino says.

Cost and Skills

While readers fully understand the value of the mainframe, convincing others—especially management—is a whole new ballgame; they need some selling points, and they need more information.

Paul Gandolfo, principal performance analyst, Ericsson, elaborates on his struggle with reducing mainframe costs. “Over the last five to 10 years, our company has focused on reducing mainframe costs. But now, it’s a combination of reducing costs and/or trying to get off the mainframe,” he says. “I love the platform, but for these migration attempts to stop, I think IBM really needs to focus on reducing mainframe costs. This could be as simple as IBM allowing people to run more workloads on IBM z Integrated Information Processor and IBM zEnterprise* Application Assist Processor, or clarifying mobile workload pricing.”

Mainframe costs might seem higher than other platforms, but that’s not really the case when you drill down into specifics, according to Sardino. “If organizations take a true and honest approach to evaluating their IT platform costs, especially when putting the total cost in the context of a business metric—for example cost per transaction—they will likely find that the IBM Z platform delivers value at a much lower cost,” Sardino explains. “This means not focusing on acquisition costs of hardware and software, but looking holistically at all operational costs.”

IBM has a team of experts to help organizations analyze costs for specific workloads and environments, and build a business case as to why existing workloads should remain on IBM Z and why new workloads should be deployed on the platform as well.

Gandolfo also elaborated on the challenges of finding mainframe talent, which is another common business issue for readers. “All the executives are going for offshoring, regardless of how many talented people at a reasonable cost are available,” Gandolfo says. “There are plenty of people who are very skilled, but folks don’t want to employ them.”

At least 6 percent of readers surveyed plan to invest in education and training within the next 12 months. Other applications and services on the horizon for respondents include cloud, 16 percent, and artificial intelligence/cognitive, 7 percent.

Current State and Future Plans

Of the respondents 23 percent own one mainframe running z/OS*; 22 percent own two or three boxes and 17 percent own 10 or more. On the Linux* front, 8 percent don’t run it on mainframe at all, but the remainder has at least one mainframe with Linux installed.

Forty-five percent of respondents report that the mainframe hardware and software budget is static. For 20 percent of companies, the budget is growing. The applications that run on IBM Z are viewed as very strategic by almost 51 percent of respondents’ organizations (see Figure 1).


Other top applications and services currently in use include backup/recovery, 62 percent; networking communications, 56 percent; and security, 54 percent.

“Getting management to understand the value of mainframe and the core applications and data which still live there.”

Not surprisingly, 87 percent of respondents’ companies deploy Db2*. Microsoft SQL, 66 percent; Oracle, 63 percent; and Microsoft Access, 39 percent; rounded out the list of the most popular databases in use by readers. Another 30 percent use IMS*. Open-source databases in use include MongoDB, 10 percent; MariaDB, 3 percent; and EnterpriseDB, 4 percent.

Annually, almost 32 percent of respondents’ organizations spend 30 to 60 percent of their IT budgets on mainframe applications and maintenance. Another 17 percent spend between 15 and 30 percent of their annual budgets on IBM Z development. Nine percent spend greater than 60 percent (see Figure 2).


COBOL is the most popular programming language in use with 78 percent of mainframe companies. Java* followed closely with 77 percent. Others include Assembler, 69 percent; REXX, 73 percent; and C++, 57 percent (see Figure 3).


To support mainframe applications disparity exists between those who have more than 100 developers—38 percent—and those with only one to five developers—10 percent. Another 7 percent outsource development entirely.

Forty-four percent of those surveyed are experimenting with public cloud or have it live in production. Private clouds are more prevalent with 35 percent live in production and another 27 percent experimenting with it. Hybrid cloud is surprisingly the least used in production by only 15 percent of readers and a slightly higher number experimenting with it, 27 percent.

What Do Readers Value Most?

The reader perspective is incredibly important, and with this data, IBM Systems Magazine, Mainframe edition, can create content that readers will want to pick up. “Our overall value lies in our diverse, integrated content,” said Doug Rock, publisher of MSP TechMedia, the company that produces IBM Systems Magazine. “Strong content, how and when you want it. That’s the value we strive to deliver.”

Digitization has proven itself to be valuable. The majority of readers—69 percent—prefer a digital version of IBM Systems Magazine, Mainframe edition, delivered via email, citing convenience and environmental friendliness as main drivers. One active reader, Andy Eickstadt, elaborated on the value of digitization. “I like the electronic version because I can save the PDF and put it out on our server so other people can access it,” he notes. “It keeps you current. It keeps you on top of things, especially when you read it from cover to cover.”

“Reducing mainframe costs—clients say it’s too expensive.”
—Paul Gandolfo

The website is another valuable asset for readers, and over 63 percent of survey respondents report having visited it. However, a few specific areas of the website are most visited by readers: 59 percent of readers visit the magazine archives; 48 percent go to specific topic areas, such as security, systems or management; and 41 percent are seeking product news.

Technical information, articles on new IBM technologies and technology trends stood out as the most valuable types of information within the magazine, although readers also value several other types of content. When asked about their degree of interest in reading specific types of information in the magazine, more than half of respondents reported strong interest in technical information and articles on new IBM technologies. General technology trend content was deemed valuable by 38 percent of readers.

In terms of content delivery, readers found value in webinars, blogs, forums and videos. Webinars were deemed valuable by 86 percent of respondents, video was valued by 64 percent and blogs were deemed valuable by 64 percent.

Readers find value in a variety of IBM Systems Magazine, Mainframe edition, content. For example, when readers turn to the twice-monthly Mainframe EXTRA e-newsletter for technical content, they’re looking for specific information. Tips and techniques are desired by 93 percent of readers and other technical information is valued by another 88 percent. Still others, 43 percent, want information regarding education, skills and training.

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