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Frank Petersmark, X by 2
Frank Petersmark, X by 2
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Why the Mainframe is Like Godzilla

Both are viewed as representing a moment in time that has passed, and while respected for what they did, relevance has waned.

The summer movie season is nearly upon us, and included in the many potential blockbusters is a remake of that perennially angry but always loveable creature from the deep, Godzilla. Hearing about that remake got me thinking about another classic Godzilla movie, so here's a quiz. What do the IBM System/360 mainframe and the classic Japanese science-fiction film Mothra vs. Godzilla have in common?

The answer: they both celebrated their fiftieth anniversary in 2014! The production of the IBM System/360 was announced by IBM on April 7, 1964, and the film made its debut in Japan on April 27, 1964 before opening in America later that summer.

So what else do these two rather disparate things have in common? More than you might think. First, both are viewed as classics of their respective genres, the introduction of which would lead to a series of follow-on models and movies. Second, both are viewed as representing a moment in time that has passed, and while respected for what they did in that moment, their relevance has waned. And third, both have something to teach us about the pace of technology advancement, both in computing and in science-fiction filmmaking, which come to think of it, might be the same thing now.

Frank Petersmark
Frank Petersmark, X by 2

Most importantly though, the movie serves as a fitting metaphor for the most recent discussions about the mainframe's demise as a result of the Cloud and demise of the service mentality that goes along with the mainframe. You could say Mothra is like the cloud and Godzilla is like the mainframe.

[Previously from Petersmark: The Surprising New IT Bottleneck]

So let's start with the obvious. Both Mothra (a giant bug) and Godzilla (a giant reptile) want to wreak havoc. At a macro level, both mainframe and cloud computing seek to accomplish the same thing – provide computing resources (CPU, memory, storage, software) that can be shared by many users for the purposes of accomplishing computing tasks. Of course at a more micro level they happen to do this in very different ways, but all things being equal, the results can be very much the same.

In today's technology landscape, the Cloud has emerged as a viable threat (and alternative) to the mainframe and as the next sure sign that the mainframe's days are numbered. In the 1964 movie, Mothra emerges as a viable threat to Godzilla (and Tokyo) and a sure sign that Godzilla was on the way out as the top atomically charged prehistoric critter. In both cases, news of their respective demises proved premature.

However, fun metaphors aside, there's another more fundamental lesson here, and that is that in insurance IT it's not where you do it, it's what you do. Whether it's the Cloud, the mainframe, a mobile app, or even a customized portal, let's stop focusing on the platform, and start focusing more on the customer and the value delivered.

The IBM System/360 was a means to an end, and every other computing advancement since then was and is in the same category. The technology is not the end game; it's what savvy IT and business people figure out to do with the technology that makes the difference. That might seem simplistic, but it's a message that gets lost at times in technology hype cycles, so a reminder every now and again about what's really important seems appropriate.

The context for new technology should always be its potential benefit to the organization's strategic and operational goals. If there isn't that potential benefit, that should be a red flag that the new technology might be falling into the technology-for-technology's-sake danger zone.

Last I looked, nine out of the top 10 largest insurers still run their core systems on mainframes, and mainframes still handle nearly all of the transactions in 96 of the world's 100 largest banks. I'd also be willing to bet that nearly all of these same companies have some sort of Cloud presence, proving that the emergence of one technology does not necessarily mean the demise of another.

We like to think of technology as a zero-sum game, but when put into the context of contributing to the top and bottom lines of organizations, that's just not the case. If such were the case, then automobiles would have eliminated trains, and planes would have eliminated automobiles. All those technologies are still with us, and likely will be for many years to come.

In fact, the best-of-all-possible-technology worlds for companies that need rock-solid reliability and unlimited scalability might be cloud computing on mainframes. That's an interesting way to couple a proven technology with an emerging connectivity model that serves today's mobile workforces and consumers.

And that's the point. The most successful CIOs and IT leaders will find interesting ways to combine, leverage, and otherwise take advantage of the best of all technology worlds – old and new – to add value to their organizations.

I wonder what combining Mothra and Godzilla would have looked like.

About the author: Frank Petersmark is the CIO Advocate at X by 2, a technology consulting company in Farmington Hills, Mich., specializing in software and data architecture and transformation projects for the insurance industry. As CIO Advocate, he travels the country meeting CIOs and other senior IT and business executives at insurers, learning about their goals and frustrations, sharing lessons learned, and offering strategic counsel. Formerly Chief Information Officer and Vice President of information technology at Amerisure Mutual Insurance Company, Frank has more 30 years' experience as an information technology professional and executive.

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StevenDickens3
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StevenDickens3,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/4/2014 | 10:10:11 PM
re: Why the Mainframe is Like Godzilla
Henry, please contact me via Twitter @StevenDickens3 so we can further the discussion as we have mapped the TCO for private Vs public cloud as well as x86 Vs z architecture...
StevenDickens3
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StevenDickens3,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/4/2014 | 10:00:56 PM
re: Why the Mainframe is Like Godzilla
Other things that celebrate 50-years in 2014 are the Corvette and the Porsche 911, now whilst both are still cars their evolution has been dramatic from a performance and handling perspective but also on a comfort and technology angle. The same applies to the mainframe of today vs the S/360 of 1964. take for example the EC12 it has the fastest commercially available processor, so not exactly 1964 technology. Moving from the raw compute hardware to cloud. OpenStack is the new buzz word in the cloud space, well OpenStack runs on the mainframe. Another example is OpenSource based operating systems such as RHEL and SLES that are seen by many as leading edge crowd sourced operating systems. Again these both run on the mainframe... So I would prefer that this conversation be framed in an evolutionary context rather than historical fixed point in time context...
Ravi Koka
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Ravi Koka,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/2/2014 | 4:55:40 PM
re: Why the Mainframe is Like Godzilla
Good analogy Frank. I have researched the issue of continuous change in business and technology and how companies can best deal with it. Every time a new technology is introduced there is talk of the old one's dying but today they all co-exist and have actually increased complexity in IT. Please see my posts on the subject
http://www.insurancetech.com/m...
Ravi Koka
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Ravi Koka,
User Rank: Author
6/2/2014 | 4:55:40 PM
re: Why the Mainframe is Like Godzilla
Good analogy Frank. I have researched the issue of continuous change in business and technology and how companies can best deal with it. Every time a new technology is introduced there is talk of the old one's dying but today they all co-exist and have actually increased complexity in IT. Please see my posts on the subject
http://www.insurancetech.com/m...
hsteinhauer
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hsteinhauer,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/1/2014 | 3:15:22 PM
re: Why the Mainframe is Like Godzilla
Dear Frank,

I also have been in this industry and worked with the system 360 through all the different generations of computers up through the current numbers.

It is amazing how the AIX platform is also very much like the mainframe in many ways.

R.A.S has always been a key part of the IBM marketing and been something that has taken a back seat to many who look at the computing platforms of today. It was explained by many that to the end user, they see computing resources just like the light bulb. Always there when they turn a switch.

The private cloud is one area that is exploding and has the potential to keep the money spent on IS / IT in house rather than using the public cloud and sending money to another supplier. One area that the public cloud is reaping profits on are the spun up systems that people have forgotten about. They remain idle, but are still on the books as active. Thus even though they do not use any power, they are using disk resources for their OS and data foot print.

These are some of the details that are getting pushed under the rug so to speak. They will show up on the bottom line though as expense. With the use of Public cloud, this is a current year write off, but as a private cloud, we normally have bought the capacity over the expected life of the equipment. (or a bean counter has said it has be written off over 5 years or 7 years when the real life is only 3 years).

Find the true Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and the public :: private cloud always comes back to private cloud being a better choice. Managing your costs is critical to larger companies. Those that are a startup see the beauty of being able to add more capacity with little notice and letting others worry about the details. That works for awhile until there is a critical mass of computing.

It would be interesting to see studies on what size that critical mass is and the variables that should be brought into that discussion.

Are there others that would like to work together to flesh this discussion out more? Feel free to contact me via LinkedIn.

Henry
vkantor600
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vkantor600,
User Rank: Apprentice
5/31/2014 | 10:30:15 PM
re: Why the Mainframe is Like Godzilla
Dear Mr. Petersmark, thank you for this interesting post. I would be glad to learn more about your views on that subject, and in particular with regard to UNISYS mainframes, which, I believe, is still in use by quite a few companies in insurance business.
My interest is a bit selfish, I must admit. My company, Spectrum Systems, Inc. has developed and has been using successfully in financial area a unique UNISYS legacy applications modernization platform (ALTOS, please see www.spectrsys.com). I would like to talk to you, I believe we may have interests in common.

Best regards,
Vit Kantor,
Managing Partner,
Spectrum Systems, Inc.
vit.kantor@spectrsys.com
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