Maintaining mainframe performance in a mobile world

A recent report by Cisco predicted that the number of mobile-connected devices will exceed the world's population in 2012. Alongside this surge, IDC predicts that global downloads of mobile apps will reach 76.9 billion by 2014.

With this explosion of both mobile devices and apps, a new opportunity has been created for businesses with enterprise applications to increase the company’s market reach. However, as with all opportunities, drawbacks and challenges are never far behind. The challenge for businesses will be the creation of applications that are relevant, cheap to create and host, and do not hinder the performance of existing business operations.

Consumer and business users have become accustomed to accessing services like ‘online banking’ through their desktop or laptop computers but with the proliferation of mobile, users have adopted the ‘anytime, anywhere’ approach and now expect to be able to do the same through mobile apps, 24/7. Many traditional companies have embraced the mobile app explosion and successfully implemented these mobile apps into their existing infrastructure.

Grocery retailers such as Tesco and Sainsbury’s have created mobile apps that allow access to all or some the online functions that customers are accustomed to. While these apps are created using the latest technology, they are more often than not accessing data housed in mainframes.

With these newly-developed mobile apps relying on mainframes that already cost thousands of pounds to maintain, an important question is how can cost be managed without hindering the performance and reliability of these systems?

Adding mobile apps mean that another point of access needs to be created on the mainframe. As a result, this could negatively impact performance levels or require additional capacity to bear the new load. Increasing capacity in this instance would mean adding a significant number of MIPS at a cost of approximately £2,500 per MIPS. The business case then becomes limited as the amount of MIPS required, potentially outweighs the original projected business benefit.

A genuine alternative is to re-host some of the existing mainframe workload and move it to a lower-cost platform. Moving selected applications off the mainframe can alleviate many strains the system faces without losing the benefits that the mainframe continues to offer businesses. For the applications being moved, the major benefit includes the reduction of operating costs to support those applications. For the remaining mainframe environment, the benefits may include improved performance, fewer capacity bottlenecks and improved time-to-delivery.

Determining what applications to select as candidates for re-hosting is critical. A level of assessment of the IT estate is required to investigate appropriate decision-criteria such as customer demand, operating cost, staffing levels, application “health”, dependencies on other systems, and ease of transition to the new platform. Only then can an appropriate judgement be made on the right candidates.

Moving applications off the mainframe can mean saving MIPS usage and real operating costs. For example, a major IT services provider took a 150 MIPS set of applications to Windows and saved half their IT operating expenditure for that line of business. Elsewhere a major mainframe re-hosting project saw a large healthcare organization save a staggering 77% of their entire IT budget. A sliding scale exists where the size of the application being re-hosted, in terms of MIPS or cost, will directly correlate to the potential savings.

In mobile app development, it is important to re-use as much of what is already working as possible and only build new when there is no alternative. Rewriting a back-end IT system for the sake of a new mobile interface is not cost effective and overcomplicates an already complex IT task.

The mobile applications industry is booming and businesses cannot ignore the importance and opportunities that this platform presents. While the development of mobile apps is relatively straight forward - building on existing business applications, the potential burden on the IT infrastructure could be considerable.

In order to mitigate this risk and future-proof systems, IT managers need to consider the benefits that moving certain applications off the mainframe could bring. By removing pressures on mainframe capacity, business will have the ability to stay one step ahead while retaining critical mainframe-based intellectual property more cost-effectively.

Derek Britton is Solution Marketing Director at Micro Focus. Derek's main responsibility is product marketing across a portfolio of software products representing the Micro Focus 'Mainframe' and 'COBOL' lines of business.

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