Survey Says: Mainframe Revival Has Legs

New workloads account for almost one-third of MIPS growth, and mainframers are as optimistic as ever about the future of Big Iron.

The mainframe has never been more essential. That’s the not-so-surprising upshot of BMC Software Corp.’s sixth annual Worldwide Mainframe Survey, which -- like previous years -- suggests Big Iron is doing just fine, thank you.

Big mainframe shops are big MIPS consumers. MIPS capacity continues to expand: more than two-thirds of respondents (67 percent) said their transaction volumes for existing applications are growing; almost as many (65 percent) cited business growth as an important engine for MIPS expansion. Almost one-third (31 percent) said new workloads are driving MIPS growth.

Respondents listed the mainframe’s security strengths (cited by 75 percent of respondents), availability advantage (73 percent), superiority as a centralized data server (70 percent), and transaction processing (TP) performance (according to 62 percent of respondents) as big reasons for its viability and growth.

Among shops that are expanding their MIPS footprints, interest in Big Iron security is at an all-time high, with 70 percent of respondents crediting the mainframe’s security strengths as a major reason for its success in their organizations. This was up five percentage points from last year’s previous high (70 percent) and up 13 percent from 2008.

On the other hand, respondents who credited the mainframe’s TP performance as a big reason for its growth dropped slightly from last year (when it was at an all-time high of 65 percent) and matched BMC’s tally from 2008.

All in all, it’s a good time to be working with mainframes.

If anything, survey respondents were as enthusiastic about Big Iron and its prospects as they’ve ever been, with almost two-thirds (63 percent) of respondents predicting that the mainframe will continue to grow and attract new workloads. That not only up from last year’s tally (in which just 57 percent felt that way), but it’s the second-highest mark ever recorded, trailing only 2008’s result, when 65 percent of respondents predicted big things for Big Iron.

Historically, the highest tides of mainframe optimism in BMC’s tally have coincided with the release of fresh revisions of IBM’s Big Iron CMOS.

Big Blue introduced its System z10 in early 2008, when BMC recorded 65 percent of respondents expressing optimism about the mainframe’s growth prospects. Although zEnterprise officially debuted in July of last year, its impact wasn’t felt in BMC’s 2010 tally, which was then in production. BMC’s 2011 survey -- in which 63 percent of respondents expressed optimism about Big Iron’s ability to attract new workloads -- is the first to record zEnterprise’s impact.

This year, Big Blue unveiled a new cost-conscious mainframe offering, the zEnterprise 196, that BMC says could also have boosted the regard respondents have for mainframes.

On the other hand, almost one-third (32 percent) of respondents are pessimistic about the mainframe’s prospects, endorsing the view that the mainframe market isn’t viable and that shops “should consider exit strategies in the next five years.”

Although this figure is down from its all-time high (42 percent) in 2007, it’s hovered consistently in the 33-percent range throughout the history of BMC’s survey.

The BMC survey is based on feedback from almost 1,400 respondents, two-thirds of whom are based in North America, more than half (52 percent) posting at least $1 billion in annual revenues.