The Mainframe Market is Alive and Well — And in Need of MSPs
When you hear "mainframe," images of clunky, oversized computers from the 1960s may come to mind. In fact, however, the mainframe market remains alive and well today — and it's an opportunity for MSPs.
The mainframes of today, exemplified by servers like those in IBM's z Systems line, are very different from the large computers of bygone eras. Mainframes no longer take up entire rooms or have arcane interfaces. They look and feel mostly like any other server you'd find in a modern data center.
But there are important differences between mainframes and other types of servers. Mainframes usually run on different operating systems (although most modern mainframes can support Linux). Mainframe applications are written in programming languages, such as COBOL, that are not common on commodity servers. And mainframes tend to pack more computing and storage power into a single device.
Mainframes and MSPs
Out of these special characteristics of mainframes arise opportunities for MSPs. To use mainframes effectively requires mainframe-specific expertise. Admins who are experienced working with commodity servers aren't necessarily qualified to run mainframe systems.
This is likely why a BMC survey from several years ago found that most companies struggle to hire admins with mainframe experience. It's a safe bet that the problem has only grown worse since then.
What can MSPs do to help address this challenge? The answer is obvious enough. MSPs can deliver mainframe services to companies for whom mainframes are still essential, but whose IT staff can't support them effectively. In this sense, mainframes present an opportunity for MSPs to deliver managed IT services even to clients who otherwise are capable of running their own IT operations.
It's worth keeping in mind, too, that managed services for mainframes can involve more than just keeping mainframes running. One of the biggest challenges in the mainframe market today is integrating mainframe applications and data with the rest of the IT infrastructure. Moving information from mainframes to commodity servers, and vice versa, is complicated because the respective hardware and software environments are so different. Some vendors, such as Syncsort and Talend, offer tools to help solve challenges like these, but using those tools is no simple point-and-click affair. MSPs can therefore help companies to deploy mainframe integration solutions, or build new ones.
So, if you're in the MSP business, don't write off mainframes. They may not receive nearly as much love from the press as other, newer types of computers, but mainframes are still essential across a wide range of industries, from banking to commercial aviation. And customers need managed mainframe services now more than ever.