Posted: 26 Feb. 2021 6 min.

Mainframe versus – or with – Cloud?

Topic: Cloud

“Mainframe or cloud? we asked. Most are taking a third path”.

This is how two of my American colleagues begin one of their recent blogs about the ongoing debate among IT professionals about whether mainframe is a dinosaur of the past or a modern application platform for growth. They continue: “In IT, you’re either a cloud person or a mainframe person. We should know. For years, one of us has been the cloud guy – the person pulled into meetings to advocate for cloud strategies and technologies. The other has been the mainframe guy. But after years of seeing and actively participating in the same debates time after time, we realised that our own positions had become more nuanced in our everyday work. We realised that mainframes have a role to play in even the most aggressive cloud-driven strategies, and vice versa. In most scenarios, it’s not either/or, it’s and – a hybrid model.”

In Denmark, I see a similar scenario unfold. I, myself, identify as the “cloud guy”, but I also realise that the world is more complex than that. The reality is that the future of IT appears to be a much more integrated approach – one where on-premise, private and public cloud, and edge environments come together to maximise an organisation’s capabilities.

This is true in many sectors, not least in the financial sector where I do a lot of work. Financial institutions still rely heavily on mainframe technology to handle the vast amounts of data that need to be stored – while at the same time take advantage of new and emerging cloud capabilities to be more agile and responsive in their service to customers. I also see a thoughtful approach to cloud where focus is on finding the right answers for a business domain or business processes supported by modern solutions, which quite often are SaaS solutions or at least run on Cloud. This step-by-step approach has many benefits in my view compared to lift and shift, however this will be covered in a future blog.

So, what I see unfolding is a step-by-step approach like when going into the water at the beach, first “dipping the toe”, then the ankle, knee etc. You get the picture and this approach means organisations learn as they move into cloud and can adjust their approach along the way. This also means, and I hear this from many clients with mainframes, an expectation that the mainframe will continue to be critical to the organisation for many years to come and, by that, the co-existence of on-premise, mainframe and cloud will be the reality for many organisations for quite some time.

Let’s look at the numbers
To get a better understanding of the current perceptions about the mainframe’s place in the enterprise and subsequent plans for its role in future IT strategies, Deloitte recently surveyed 261 business and IT decision makers with authority or influence over mainframe strategy.

Interestingly, the survey found that most view their mainframe as a strategic component to hybrid cloud environments and plan to keep key workloads on mainframes given their high processing and transactional capabilities and unmatched security. 

Investment and interest in mainframes is also on the rise as leaders across industries understand and gain value from its enduring role in today’s technology landscape.

Transaction volume is stable or rising for more than eight in 10, and seven in 10 are moving or have moved distributed workloads to the mainframe to harness its processing power and reliability.

In addition to this, data protection and security are critical for companies, and mainframes remain one of the most secure and powerful platforms available. However, as the tech landscape becomes increasingly complex, companies need to ensure the data moving to and from the mainframe and at rest on it is airtight and secure. As a result, companies are focused on modernising the mainframe toolset (80%), identifying/preventing data breaches (78%), increasing security (73%), and expanding its footprint (70%) in order to meet increased transactional demand and further reduce the risk to data in-flight and at rest.

As a result, companies recognise that mainframes are an integral part of their technology landscape. In fact, 91% identified expanding mainframe footprints as a moderate/critical priority in the next 12 months. As workloads on other platforms continue to increase, mainframe workloads are also rising. In two years, respondents expect a 12% increase in applications and a 9% increase in data residing on the mainframe as organisations shift to a hybrid IT environment.

As the VP of security engineering and risk at a financial services organisation said: “Our transaction volume has increased quite a lot over the past five to 10 years. It’s the result of adding more users, adding in more processes that revolve around data, and implementing new solutions for various applications such as smart banking.”

Towards a hybrid future
Although IT modernisation for many companies has meant moving data and applications off the mainframe, our survey tells us that IT leaders are interested in a more hybrid future, and that most organisations are likely to have some combination of legacy on-premises infrastructure and some infrastructure in the cloud.

Mainframes seem to be a critical part of future hybrid cloud strategies and environments across industries:

  • Mainframes are the linchpin to hybrid cloud models. Investment and interest are on the rise as companies validate the mainframe’s enduring role in supporting and running modern workloads.
  • Security on the mainframe is unmatched. As companies invest in new platforms and apps, the reliability, transaction processing power and data protection mainframes offer against cyber risk is crucial. 
  • Talent gaps push companies to seek outside help. Leaders are seeking qualified candidates and external resources with the right mainframe skills to fill critical gaps.

The discussion is no longer about whether to deploy cloud. Instead, it’s about how to leverage the right mix of technology to access and maximise the capabilities of cloud – while protecting critical data and running workloads where they drive better business outcomes, faster value delivery, and sustainable ROI.

You need an architecture that lets you seamlessly move data and workloads from core, to private cloud, to public cloud, to the edge – and that can scale. Those that can harness these new and existing capabilities together are likely to have the upper hand, no matter what the business environment throws at us next.

More about the author

Klaus Koefoed Eriksen

Klaus Koefoed Eriksen


Experienced leader with 20+ years track record delivering significant results focused on creating lasting, tangible client impact within areas such as: Payments Agile Transformation Digital Transformation Application outsourcing and transformation including global delivery models Sales leadership incl. Nordic top-line responsibility for Financial Services Building high performing teams across countries Passionate about helping clients transform and embrace "the new" to compete successfully in the new digital landscape. Klaus is part of Deloitte EMEA and Global Payments Group and focuses among others on new payment methods, advising on new ways of working and helping client improve their agility to deliver business value faster and more frequently.