How to Understand Gartner’s Disastrous Advice on Mainframes

Executive Summary

  • Gartner’s advice on mainframes has been horrible for decades.
  • What Gartner has told its clients about mainframes and how it led their mismanagement.

Introduction

In performing research for the book The Public Cloud Revolution: How Open Source is Displacing Proprietary IT Mega Vendors, we found Gartner’s advice on mainframes, which we felt required commentary.

The Future Role of the Mainframe

As it makes little sense to outsource the mainframe and the fact that cloud computing does not appear primed to be able to compete with the mainframe for core mainframe workloads, as servers decline within customers, there is a high probability that the mainframe becomes more prominent within customers. As IT departments shrink in server management as their overhead for maintaining servers declines, one can foresee a more rapid move to eliminate all non-essential on-premises servers.

There is considerable evidence that companies will need to re-invest into the mainframe as everything from skills to an understanding of mainframes is increasingly a problem as companies have shifted their emphasis away (to a degree) from mainframes. Success in this area is less about upgrading the hardware than it is about upgrading the surrounding environment (labor, orientation, integration to the cloud).

Newly Flexible Mainframes

And along with this is a story of workload consolidation which is how mainframes have been made more flexible to run anything from SAP to Linux to running both UNIX applications, Big Data, Mobile, iSeries (AS/400) applications and CISC as well as DB2 workloads. These flexible capabilities of the mainframe is where we see it picking up workloads from client-server, which will become increasingly viewed as non-strategic. That is cloud will take away a large amount of on-premises workloads, and mainframe increasingly has the ability to take other workloads away from on-premises servers.

In fact, the biggest limitation to this occurring is not the technology of mainframes, but the understanding of this enhanced multi-workload capability. For years IT analysts like Gartner, who quite clearly know close to nothing about mainframes have been giving bad advice to companies about how to manage mainframes.

The following quotations attest to this.

“You see, for years, many IT organizations have followed the bad advice from Gartner to implement BiModal IT – to divide IT into two groups: the “cool kids” group running new technologies, and the legacy group running the mainframe. The last part effectively puts the mainframe and all of the people associated with it into a silo, where no new development, no hiring, and no new purchases are “needed.” The natural result is that staff attritions are not replaced; in fact any downsizing is disproportionally targeted at the unpopular silo, which in turn causes a predictable “shortage” of mainframe expertise.”

This presumes that mainframes are going away.

But why?

Was Gartner unaware what mainframes do? Why does Gartner apply the term “legacy” to mainframes? Let us review the term legacy to see how well it fits.

What is Legacy?

Legacy means the company is disinvesting in the item, but the mainframe may not fit into Gartner’s Magic Quadrant, but its workloads are growing, not shrinking. Gartner’s advice has led to the underinvestment in a critical platform as explained in the following quotation.

We began evaluating Gartner in applications an found they lacked expertise there. Then we found that Gartner knew nothing about databases, as we covered in the article Can Anyone Make Sense of the ODMS Magic Quadrant?, but this did not stop them from trying to analyze and project what would happen with SAP HANA as we cover in the article How Gartner Got HANA So Wrong, and they also don’t understand mainframes or the mainframe market. We are still looking for some area of technology where customers should listen to Gartner. And we have yet to find one.

Being Directed to the Most Expensive Vendors

Gartner is an excellent firm to listen to if one wants to be guided to the most expensive solutions and one can be sure that the term “open source” will never pass through the lips of a Gartner analyst as….well they know where their bread is buttered. Their model of taking 1/3 or their income from vendors (and that this money is concentrated in the largest vendors) guarantees this outcome in their “research.”

Gartner oftentimes appears to run more of a fashion magazine than a technology analyst firm being more interested in promoting hot new trends than covering the fundamental aspects of technology. A major part of what Gartner does is make buyers feel inadequate by overhyping various trends which are often simply illusions as we cover in the article Gartner and the Devil Wears Prada

Gartner coined the phrase “hype cycle.” However, what Gartner leaves out is they are probably the most important entity in legitimizing hype cycles. Every experimental item that comes along be it AI or Big Data or ERP (in the 1980s and 1990s) Gartner is there hyping the cycle. We cover this in the article How Gartner Promotes Hype Cycles. 

How to Undermine Mainframed Investments

Gartner’s advice has led to a truly unwarranted restriction of resources for mainframe systems.

“And most IT leaders have exacerbated the situation by aggressively cutting mainframe costs, rather than investing in mainframe application development. The result: mainframe environments are insufficiently responsive to the business—not because of any inherent property of the mainframe itself, but rather because of how it has been managed. Simply put, companies cannot accept the mainframe status quo at a time when mainframe applications, data, and processing power are more valuable to the business than ever. The mainframe cannot continue in its current siloed state. But IT must ensure its ongoing viability because its applications are indispensable and cannot be re-platformed. The one logical conclusion: IT must ultimately bring the mainframe into its mainstream cross-platform DevOps work processes.”

Mainframe customers have been well and truly benefiting from the low maintenance of mainframes, but while they have been chasing the new shiny objects in the on-premises client-server realm (and also cloud realm), their mainframe investments have been lagging. This is explained by Chris O’Malley in the following quotation.

“Mainframe applications have been running so long and have been modified so often that they are usually not very well documented any more—and may not even be well understood by IT. Fluency in legacy languages such as COBOL, PL/I and Assembler tends to be pretty scarce.”

Replacing Systems…..Because They Are Not Well Maintained

And the more this is the case, the more arguments are made to replace underinvested in mainframe systems with more “modern designs.” However, all systems require maintenance, and replacing a system because it is not properly maintained is not an answer to anything and will directly lead to higher TCO and potentially lower capabilities. It is a natural course that the longer systems are in use the worse they tend to be documented. The less the original people who designed and implemented the system are around to explain the origins of the systems. This is not a problem specific to mainframes, but to IT generally.

Replacing systems with new systems, because they were not documented properly and the necessary maintenance was not performed is a sad state of affairs. However, we see this lack of documentation in our own customers. Many IT workers are rewarded for not documenting by being considered more critical while those good actors that do document are punished by being more easily let go. And of course, that does little to incentivize doing documentation. It is also the rare company that employs professional technical writers who are not only far more skilled at writing but who help take the load off of IT resources to help them perform documentation. This may be a newsflash to organizations, but your best technical resources are normally not going to be your best resources for creating documentation.

Yes, it is true.

All of this is to say many of these issues with documentation and system maintenance are dysfunctionalities of implementing companies. Buying new systems will not cure that fundamental dysfunctionality.

Killer Workloads for Mainframes

Chris O’Malley’s view is that mobile is the “killer workload” that will push a revival in interest in mainframe, as mobile transactions continue to increase rapidly, and the mainframe is the best hardware for mobile. In 2004 there was roughly one transaction per day per mobile user, in 2014 there were approximately 37 transactions per day per mobile user. As phones become increasingly used for payments, this will only drive mobile transactions higher. That is a good fit for the mainframe that routinely manages 70,000 transactions per second. A second killer workload is encryption. The needs for encryption keep increasing with the constant needs for security, no other hardware can perform encryption like mainframes.

Conclusion

We began evaluating Gartner in applications an found they lacked expertise there. Then we found that Gartner knew nothing about databases, as we covered in the article Can Anyone Make Sense of the ODMS Magic Quadrant?, and they also don’t understand mainframes or the mainframe market. We are still looking for some area of technology where customers should listen to Gartner. Gartner is an excellent firm to listen to if one wants to be guided to the most expensive solutions and one can be sure that the term “open source” will never pass through the lips of a Gartner analyst as….well they know where their bread is buttered. Their model of taking 1/3 or their income from vendors (and that this money is concentrated in the largest vendors) guarantees this outcome in their “research.”

The Problem: Thinking that Gartner is Focused on What is True

Gartner is hired by companies who fundamentally don’t understand how Gartner functions. Gartner has virtually no first-hand experience in the technologies that they evaluate and get most of their information from speaking with executives at buyers or executives at vendors and consulting firms. Gartner is also not a research entity, they compare very poorly to real research entities once you dig into the details as we did in the article How Gartner’s Research Compares to Real Research Entities. Gartner serves to direct IT spending to the most expensive solutions as these are the companies that can afford to pay Gartner the most money. Gartner has enormously aggressive internal sales goals that place accuracy far below revenue growth in importance.

Being Part of the Solution: Fact-Checking Gartner

Gartner is quite expensive, and using them without independent verification ends up in a lot of money being wasted, both in terms of fees to Gartner and also in money spent on Gartner recommendations. We offer Gartner support services that make sure companies get a better value from Gartner, and keep companies from relying on advice where Gartner cannot substantiate the advice or where the advice is clearly in response to vendor pressure. This includes both covering how Gartner works, as well as reading and fact-checking the information they provide. Our clients don’t even let Gartner know that we are evaluating the information provided to them.

Financial Disclosure

Financial Bias Disclosure

Neither this article nor any other article on the Brightwork website is paid for by a software vendor, including Oracle, SAP or their competitors. As part of our commitment to publishing independent, unbiased research; no paid media placements, commissions or incentives of any nature are allowed.

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References

Gartner Book

Gartner and the Magic Quadrant: A Guide for Buyers, Vendors, and Investors

Gartner is the most influential IT analyst firm in the world. Their approval can make or break a vendor in an application category, or at the very least control their growth. Gartner has been behind most of the major IT trends for decades. However, many people read Gartner reports without understanding how Gartner works, how it comes to its information, its orientation, or even the details of the methods it uses for its analytical products. All of this and more is explained in this book.

Table of Contents

  • Chapter 1: Introduction
  • Chapter 2: An Overview of Gartner
  • Chapter 3: How Gartner Makes Money
  • Chapter 4: Comparing Gartner to the RAND Corporation, and Academic Research
  • Chapter 5: The Magic Quadrant
  • Chapter 6: Other Analytical Products Offered by Gartner
  • Chapter 7: Gartner’s Future and Cloud Computing
  • Chapter 8: Adjusting the Magic Quadrant
  • Chapter 9: Is Gartner Worth the Investment?
  • Chapter 10: Conclusion
  • Appendix a: How to Use Independent Consultants for Software Selection
  • Appendix b: What Does the History of Media Tell Us About This Topic
  • Appendix c: Disclosure Statements and Code of Ethics