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Why Do Mainframes Still Matter?

Now that we’ve entered the era of self-driving vehicles and asset sharing (think Uber and Lyft), you might wonder why – or if — trains still exist. Turns out, the old Iron Horse still plays a critical role in our transportation system, carrying between 16% and 18% of our freight. Why? Because trains are nine times more powerful and efficient than trucks, able to carry significantly larger loads in a single haul. Add to that the simplicity of maintaining a single locomotive engine, and you have quite a few reasons to use rail to transport freight.

The same applies to the mainframe in the mobile-first, cloud computing era of information technology. Big Iron is still the most efficient, reliable, and secure way to store large volumes of data and process tremendous numbers of transactions all the while simplifying maintenance.

Mainframes aren’t hip or sexy, but they are still critical to many enterprises that handle businesses with large-scale transaction. As consumers rely more and more on their smart phones to conduct transactions, banks and hospitals rely on mainframes to process these transactions. Not just because they’re secure, but because the modern mainframe combines fast data access with scalable, sub-second transactional capability. Most of us don’t think “mainframe” when we think “mobile banking,” but maybe we should.

What’s a mainframe?

From a hardware perspective, today’s mainframes are powerful but not necessarily as large as their old nickname Big Iron implies. Because they continue to be designed for redundancy and resiliency — mainframes almost never go down — they’ve maintained their legendary reliability. As a result, they still shine anywhere computing power, large I/O requirements, and massive transaction processing are required. So, like trains, mainframes aren’t going away.

Consider the data center, full of small, inexpensive computers networked together. Each computer hosts multiple virtual machines that handle resource allocation, and the entire collections is managed and reported on to create a tightly integrated system that looks and functions a lot like a mainframe.

Of course, in the data center, each device must be configured, integrated and managed to ensure the appropriate level of security and performance. System administration costs often exceed the hardware purchase price.

Are mainframes on anyone’s technology roadmap?

Today, most organizations understand the need to provide familiar interfaces and mobile options to both customers and employees, so mobile and cloud computing are part of their technology roadmap. Industries that require processing power, security, and reliability typically have mainframes on their technology roadmap as well, often in a hybrid cloud model.

Payment processing, trading, and reservation systems all place unusually high demands on IT infrastructure 24x7x365. Industries that rely on these activities process billions of transactions per second, support thousands of concurrent users, and provide millisecond response times. General purpose hardware and operating systems are typically unable to support such demands, so mainframes are a must for many businesses within the travel, finance, banking, and healthcare verticals.

Including mainframes on your technology roadmap doesn’t necessarily mean replacing existing mainframe hardware, but it does typically include modernizing it through a variety of software tools.

How do you monitor and maintain a diverse environment that includes mainframes?

Of course, the more complex and diverse your operating environment, the more difficult it becomes to maintain, let alone use to gain insights into your business.

Sightline, Enterprise Data Manager (EDM) combines data from countless devices, sensors, servers, and mainframes to create a “single pane” view into the state of your digital health. EDM provides real-time anomaly detection, forecasting, capacity planning, and root cause analysis, enabling you to monitor and control your IT environment. Its highly interactive, visual tools are used to achieve results in minutes, accelerating discovery and investigation within any environment.

EDM, through a variety of Power Agents is compatible with Unisys ClearPath OS 2200, Clearpath MCP and Stratus VOS systems. Power Agents reside on the host infrastructure, collect and report performance data from all key components of the system, enable IT teams to monitor the entire system in real time to proactively predict performance issues and prevent unplanned downtime and data loss.

While you might not recognize our name, Sightline Systems has been helping clients maintain their IT infrastructure for over 20 years. We serve blue chip customers in industries as diverse as energy, finance, and telecom as well as manufacturing, retail, and travel.

If you’re struggling to monitor a diverse and growing network of systems, do yourself a favor: let Sightline Systems do the hard work for you.