Mainframes Will Continue, But Their Roles May Change
To many in this PC/client-server age of computing, the idea of using a mainframe computer in business seems like using a sledgehammer to swat a fly–it might work, but why deal with all that cumbersome hardware?
Yet insurers, who were among the pioneers in mainframe use in the 1970s, continue to use these “iron giants” for many of their most critical operations. And, according to the experts we asked, carriers are likely to keep on using their mainframe workhorses, although the uses they put them to may change as we move into the future.
While we may think of mainframe computers as old clunkers, the technology has actually been growing and improving over time, especially in the insurance industry, says Bill Tedrick, vice president, customer services and industry sales for Cincinnati-based IVANS.
“Mainframes have gotten a new breath of life, with carriers plugging a lot of boxes and software tools” into these computers, Tedrick notes. In addition, mainframe maker IBM and Microsoft have provided software platforms for the mainframe environment that have “given more options to carriers,” he says.
“In terms of power, scalability and raw computing muscle, the mainframes still have more thats easier to use and access,” Tedrick states. “As long as headway continues to be made” in software development for mainframes, “the mainframe may become the big management tool that sits behind a lot of these components.”
When it comes to products outliving their usefulness, Tedrick maintains that “obsolescence is a state of mind,” and that as long as mainframes meet needs of companies, they will live on.
“Companies have invested a lot in lines of [mainframe] code they have written,” Tedrick adds. “Its hard to say, Gee, Im going to throw this out and move to a new technology, just for the sake of doing it.”
Chuck Johnston, program director, insurance information strategies for the Stamford, Conn.-based Meta Group, agrees that “the mainframe is a great machine. Its had lots of uses in the insurance industry in the past and it is stillof value.”
But while the mainframe was once the hub of a companys data center, Johnston says, “the days when you will have everything on the mainframe are over.”
He points out, however, that systems management applications on the mainframe are more “mature” than what is available in the client-server environment. Such an environment, he notes, “doesnt have the robustness of being able to manage a three-platform system in a data center.
“At this point, for mission critical, high availability applications, a mainframe is still the best place to implement them,” Johnston states. “You also have an awful lot of legacy code running on mainframes and theres no good reason to change that unless theres some risk.”
Most companies, he opines, would not spend the money to make changes where there was no such risk.
Johnston notes, however, that small to medium-sized companies are “thinking about moving away from mainframes.” Such companies, he says, “are doing less and less on the mainframe,” because the application vendors are moving toward [building software for] client-server systems.