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IBM recently announced the release of version 2.5 of its z/OS mainframe operating system. The latest version of z/OS is, according to IBM, “designed to accelerate client adoption of hybrid cloud and AI and drive application modernization projects.”

The new version of z/OS comes along with an IBM study that found mainframes and mainframe-based applications to be a central part of modern business strategies for 71% of executives responding to the study. In addition, IBM predicts that mainframe use in hybrid cloud environments will grow by a factor of two in the next three years.

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“Executives from some of the largest and most successful businesses assert that mainframe and cloud are not either-or propositions. They are seamlessly intertwined in delivering cutting-edge enterprise-wide agility and capability,” IBM said.

z/OS 2.5 is doing its best to welcome the future of mainframe computing, which it predicts will be a key component of AI-driven hybrid cloud environments. To that end, new AI capabilities “are tightly integrated with z/OS workloads, designed to give clients business insights for more informed decision making.”

In addition to AI capabilities, IBM added additional security features designed to fight ransomware and SolarWinds-types of attacks. These features include expanding pervasive encryption to cover additional data types and anomaly mitigation capabilities for real-time knowledge of atypical network behavior.

z/OS 2.5 will also have new Java/COBOL interoperability features, ease of use for z/OS container extensions and Linux integration and new cloud storage integration capabilities.

The future of mainframes

Mainframes seem almost anathema to the doctrine of modern computing, where everything is sent off-site, hosted in the cloud and made into a managed service that takes hardware concerns out of the heads of IT staff.

IBM definitely disagrees, as does Forrester research. In a report from 2019, Forrester described mainframes as seemingly old-fashioned, but not going away.

“Despite reports of its inevitable demise, mainframe use is growing. Some of this is due to entrenchment, but it’s also due to mainframe’s inherent strength as a platform, particularly with high transactional workloads and security,” the Forrester report said.

Data from Forrester also found that 62% of organizations were using mainframes in 2020 (up from 53% in 2018); 53% plan to increase their mainframe workload in the next two years, while only 11% said they plan to decrease.

“We can say that [mainframes are the] most secured and a reliable source for storing the client sensitive data. They can run unique software (sometimes) and support unique use cases,” Forrester said.

The mainframe and cloud markets have both been growing over the past several years, IBM said. Interestingly enough, that trend coincides with another figure from IBM’s report: The percent of leaders who want to completely re-architect their infrastructure as part of digital transformation is dropping, while the share of those who want to leverage existing mainframes is rising. It’s not a small shift, either: Today, 57% say they want to re-architect; looking three years out, only 41% say the same. Only 21% said they were currently modernizing existing mainframes, while 46% say they plan to in the next three years.

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“IT leaders and organizations are finding that cloud solutions are not a replacement for mainframe operations. Rather, the two can coexist as part of a holistic transformation strategy that includes modernized mainframe applications and integrated systems supported by a hybrid cloud architecture,” IBM said.