Making the Most of Your Mainframe, Part 1 of 2

How intelligent software can help enterprise IT organizations meet service levels and protect the core business while using fewer assets.

by Bill Miller

Despite decreased budgets, service-level demands continue to rise. As a result, IT organizations require a management strategy that saves money while preparing the business for future growth.

Conversations with our mainframe customers -- and recent research -- tell us that enterprise IT organizations have generally stalled investments in operations and infrastructure improvements (with the exception of efficiency projects) and new application development. They have also experienced spending cuts in consulting and professional services, and education.

Although IT budgets are tight, reducing available resources, IT must continue to support the business so it can meet increasing customer demands. A powerful approach to meeting this challenge is to focus on cost optimization and efficiency projects. Many organizations are taking advantage of the lull in new application spending to focus on just this kind of effort, as well as ensuring that their existing operations are as rock solid as can be.

For example, disaster recovery processes are a critical element of any well run IT operation, being essential to protect the core business However in periods of rapid growth, this is an area that often is neglected. Despite the economic downturn, most of the customers we contacted don’t anticipate changes in their organizations’ spending for disaster recovery planning and testing. In fact, we find that disaster recovery projects are in the top three list of priorities for action. Companies must fund IT disaster recovery so the business can continue when an outage does occur. Businesses must meet compliance and regulatory requirements, which in many cases are even more stringent now.

Intelligent Software to the Rescue

How will you meet service levels and protect the core business with fewer resources? Historically, when IT organizations cut back on staff, education, and training, they hired consultants to meet their needs. Although funding for outside consulting has been reduced significantly, you can address some of these challenges with software.

The right software can help you identify areas of inefficient processing and advise you about how things can work better. Some IT organizations are turning to automation to help fill in the gaps. Other organizations are looking to have more intelligence built into their currently installed software.

Software that includes built-in intelligence can guide your staff through the tasks that training or outside consultants might have provided in the past. For example, data management requires regular maintenance, but that maintenance doesn’t need to occur constantly. Many IT organizations rely on their experts to tell them when they need to perform the maintenance. If those experts aren’t available, the IT staff will likely err on the side of doing it more often than necessary, resulting in increased processor use as well as a greater potential for something to go wrong.

With intelligent software, you don’t have to follow a suggested maintenance schedule -- whether it’s needed or not. Instead, an alert tells you when you need to run a particular job. Automation can take over and execute the maintenance for you only when needed. Either way you’ll use fewer resources and decrease the likelihood of an outage because you’re running maintenance only when it’s truly required.

Other software can help you with problem resolution. That’s why it’s important to rely on software that automates actions as a result of an alert. The majority of key automation tasks can be completed quickly and simply by following rules and using a form-driven, “fill-in-the-blanks” approach. Most of the time, you won’t even need any programming. You’ll lower your operations costs, do more work with fewer resources, and get the work done much faster.

Another example of using intelligent software is leveraging an assessment tool that indicates how much storage you should allocate for a given situation. Most organizations tend to over-allocate, use more hardware than they need, over-prepare, and overspend. A capacity planning tool, however, will tell you exactly how much hardware you need and just when you should upgrade. Unneeded and excess capacity will be a thing of the past. A similar principle applies to mainframe storage, where software can recognize when excess storage is being requested and can limit storage allocations to the quantities really needed, freeing up excess storage.

Intelligent software improves batch management capabilities. For example, an IT organization in the retail industry achieved extensive benefits when it implemented IT workload automation software, resulting in a significant reduction in labor and greatly increased control. Automation and predictive event notification improved system reliability and availability. A centralized view of operations has simplified compliance reporting for Sarbanes-Oxley. The solution saved them more than 200 hours of labor per day, for a savings of $1.8 million in the first year alone.

Investing in intelligent software will fill in the gaps, handling many of the requirements that have gone unmet because cost constraints may have reduced staffing, added additional duties to existing staff, and prohibited the use of consultants.

Next week, we’ll discuss how the mainframe is helping a variety of IT organizations save money by applying the right technology to address key business challenges.

Bill Miller is president of the Mainframe Service Management (MSM) Business Unit, BMC Software. He joined BMC in 2002 from BindView Development Corporation, where he served as senior vice president and chief operating officer, after spending 21 years at IBM Corporation in several roles. He received a Bachelor of Science degree in engineering from West Point and a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Dallas. You can reach the author at