How to Understand Gartner’s Disastrous Advice on Mainframes
Last Updated on December 8, 2021 by Shaun Snapp
- Gartner’s advice on mainframes has been horrible for decades.
- What Gartner has told its clients about mainframes and how it led to their mismanagement.
Video Introduction: How to Understand Gartner’s Disastrous Advice on Mainframes
Text Introduction (Skip if You Watched the Video)
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. What was curious is how Gartner got everything wrong on mainframes. Gartner’s proposal on the decline of mainframes was a major factor in the rise of client server. In 2021, things seem to have come full circles back to a mainframe model through the use of web browsers and a decline of a thick client. Yet, we could find nothing published on Gartner’s complete inaccuracy in this area. You will learn how Gartner took money from client server software vendors so that Gartner would propose to IT buyers that mainframes were in decline and that companies needed to move to client server.
Our References for This Article
If you want to see our references for this article and other related Brightwork articles, see this link.
Lack of Financial Bias Notice: The vast majority of content available on the Internet about Gartner is marketing fiddle-faddle published by vendors who republish reports they paid Gartner to publish, or Magic Quadrants they paid Gartner to score well. The IT industry is petrified of Gartner and only publishes complementary information about them. The article below is very different.
- First, it is published by a research entity.
- Second, no one paid for this article to be written, and it is not pretending to inform you while being rigged to sell you software or consulting services as a vendor or consulting firm that shares their ranking in some Gartner report. Unlike nearly every other article you will find from Google on this topic, it has had no input from any company's marketing or sales department.
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 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. 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 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. The mainframe’s flexible capabilities are where we see it picking up workloads from client-server, which will become increasingly viewed as non-strategic. That is, the cloud will take away a large amount of on-premises workloads, and the 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 companies bad advice about managing 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.
Was Gartner unaware of 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 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 and 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. 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 of 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 is 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, often simply illusions, as we cover in 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. Gartner is there hyping the cycle of every experimental item that comes along, be it AI or Big Data or ERP (in the 1980s and 1990s). 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. Still, while they have been chasing the new shiny objects in the on-premises client-server realm (and cloud realm), their mainframe investments have lagged. Chris O’Malley explains this 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. It 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, explain the systems’ origins. 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 a rare company that employs professional technical writers who are far more skilled at writing and help take the load off of IT resources to perform documentation. This may be a newsflash to organizations, but your best technical resources are normally not 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 the mainframe as mobile transactions continue to increase rapidly. 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 an encryption. The encryption needs keep increasing with the constant need for security. No other hardware can perform encryption like mainframes.
How Many Vendors Have Used The False Framework Setup by Gartner
Many vendors have re-used the exact arguments presented by Gartner to in many cases mislead customers into thinking that mainframes are dated technology. A good example of this is found in the article How Accurate is AWS’s Advice on Migrating from Mainframes?
We began evaluating Gartner in applications and 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 of their income from vendors (and that this money is concentrated in the largest vendors) guarantees this outcome in their “research.”