“…mainframe is still the digital workhorse for banking and telecommunications networks — and why mainframes are selling briskly in the emerging economies of Asia and Africa.” ~ Steve Lohr in 8/28/2012 New York Times
Mainframes are not small purchases. Customers who purchase mainframes, and the vendors that sell them, say that the value (and premium) comes from reliability, stack integration, and other benefits. Switching to an alternate architecture can also be more expensive than staying on Big Iron – sometimes called “vendor lock.” However, maybe in some situations they’re the least expensive option. The notion is hardly consensus, but it’s worth investigating the possible avenues where mainframes can be cheaper than commodity.
Steve Lohr noted above in the New York Times that mainframe are “selling briskly” in Asia and Africa. The “vendor lock” explanation doesn’t hold up in these cases because emerging markets are probably building out and not switching equipment. The reliability, stack integration, and other possible benefits mentioned before might be the sole decision point. However, it might be the case that delivering a solution in a place where there is little technical expertise is simply cheaper. Linux & .Net data centers work because there are lots of people in the labor market that are familiar with the hardware, OS, and applications. That may not be true in emerging markets.
A similar pattern is sometimes seen in the converged solution (appliance) market. It can be cheaper to drop-in a ready built solution than finding people who can build it for cheap, and have it work! In the enterprise, even a small chance that there is a mistake can draw out projects, lead to more purchases, and hurt a business’ competitive advantage. It is possible that the cheapest solution then, is something that comes with a premium.
Gartner research, i.e. not my theoretical musings in this blog, has great advice on this topic for customers. I’d suggest Mainframe Application Liability: Don’t Get Left Behind by Kristin R. Moyer, Juergen Weiss, Dale Vecchio and, more generally, the work of Nik Simpson on Unix servers.
Chris Gaun on Twitter: http://twitter.com/chris_gaun
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