Mainframe computers first appeared half a century ago, and the “big irons” still store and process a significant amount of all Internet data. However, mainframes are showing their age and having trouble keeping up with the demands of a digital era. Besides being costly to operate, they also can’t easily move to the cloud, meaning mainframes can’t tap into the cloud’s elasticity and scale out architecture to meet demand as needed.
Additionally, companies are having trouble even finding people to manage mainframes because of the “Mainframe Brain Drain” — with many current mainframe managers retiring and few universities teaching mainframe programming skills anymore.
Given all these issues, it’s not surprising many IT leaders plan to migrate from mainframes to new computer platforms over the next few years to reduce costs, improve performance and adopt more modern user interfaces. Some forward-thinking companies are taking this moment as an opportunity to rethink their IT infrastructure and adopt a new approach better suited to the Big Data age.
Beyond Relational Databases
Traditionally, companies would migrate their mainframes to relational databases, which were the only alternative.
As these new data types grow in importance, some companies are leapfrogging from mainframes to a newer technology — NoSQL — which is specifically designed for the Big Data age. NoSQL is a schema-agnostic data model that ingests data in whatever current form it is in. With this approach, companies can pull together many different types of data quickly, allowing them to rapidly introduce new products and services as well as improve business processes.
For example, one distributor used NoSQL to add items from different product catalogues to its website in one single hour — compared to the two weeks this process used to take with a relational database. Another company used NoSQL to merge multiple databases into one powerful online search tool, giving customers new options on how products could be delivered.
One of the largest counties in the US turned to NoSQL to make it easier for county employees, land developers, and residents to access real-time information about zoning changes, county land ordinances, and property history. There were volumes of data in disparate Mainframe and Relational databases and file systems and in different formats that couldn’t be effectively searched. With their new system in place, they were able to dramatically increase the productivity of county employees, lower costs, and create new applications never before possible.
From an IT standpoint, NoSQL also eliminates many routine maintenance chores that now bog IT departments down. So ironically, the “Mainframe Brain Drain,” which is a big reason behind the need to move away from mainframes, also allows companies to adopt a new approach that frees “the brains” of their tech workers to do higher-level work.
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