IT leaders across the globe are addressing changing market dynamics by seeking opportunities to connect their data to cloud and micro services without disrupting their existing data management infrastructure. The big question of the moment is: “Can you continue to use a mainframe platform and Database Management System (DBMS) as the system of record for all mission-critical business activities?”
The mainframe DBMS has delivered tremendous value for years, providing unprecedented reliability, uptime, and accessibility, and enabling reuse for existing applications, business logic, and data to be exposed and consumed through APIs. Yet the term “mainframe” is often falsely associated with the idea of “legacy” technology. Nothing could be farther from the truth! The mainframe DBMS is a mature, evolving, dynamic data store for the data of today and tomorrow.
Investments in mainframe modernization and the simplification of mainframe DBMS products are delivering new capabilities at an accelerated rate, and keeping the mainframe database at the heart of the modern mainframe software factory. DBMSs such as CA Datacom® and CA IDMS™ remain the systems of record for government, insurance, financial, and retail organizations, among others.
Successful strategies on mainframe database platforms bring modernized applications to the mainframe and achieve game-changing business outcomes. That being said, what does present and future data management on the mainframe look like?
The Explosion of Mainframe DBMS Use Cases
Data evolves over time, as does data usage. Twenty years ago, data was simply part of an application process. Today, it is a living, breathing part of the digital ecosystem. Accordingly, there has been explosive growth in both data access and captured data – and the mainframe database has been notable for keeping pace with increasing access, volume and with the new variety of data types, including biometric images such as fingerprints and retinal scans.
Consider these examples of how changing industry needs are affecting database usage:
- A government agency stores biometric and biographic information about international travelers to speed immigration, while still meeting a high level of security.
- A retailer has all transactional and data infrastructure managed entirely by the DBMS platform, and is beginning to use RFID tracking systems to provide analytics and track customer buying trends. This will maximize in-store sales and drive promotional offers in real-time.
- A bank is facing expanding data volumes and exponential data growth of over 500% due to increasing regulatory requirements and mobile accessibility. Through the mainframe, the bank is able to scale these data stores and maintain system performance, all while managing infrastructure costs.
- A financial services company is addressing the rise of internal fraud threats by improving privileged access controls. Simultaneously, it is applying targeted analytics to ensure that already-authorized users are accessing privileged data in appropriate and predictable ways.
- An insurance provider subject to HIPAA is required to track the provenance of data in many forms, no matter what the state, driving increased need for audit controls. Auditors must validate who has been exposed to protected data. New data points need to capture and report on various kinds of information, from access to patient biologicals to system logging.
- A school district has a large database with a 40-year history of student, faculty, and building information. Mobility is driving increased demands for secure teacher/parent/student portals that provide real-time access to status, records and alerts.
The Mainframe on the Move
It is clear that with the exponential increase in data and its associated use cases, the need for the mainframe’s inherent reliability, scalability, and security is greater than ever before. The great news for IT leaders is that mainframe innovation is fully aligned with the demands of this data explosion.
A key example of mainframe DBMS innovation is in the area of automation. Today’s database rules react within a small corrective window (e.g., 30 seconds) to avoid an application failure or performance impact and avoid administrator intervention. Adding advanced automation solutions tied to your DBMS reduces that risk even further and also helps to address the decline in deep database knowledge on the mainframe due to the maturing mainframe workforce.
Similarly, the mainframe now has the ability to detect a spike in data activity in real-time and automatically expand limits based on predictive trending identified in the data stores. With this dynamic extend capability, you can put business rules in place that allow specific system managed DASD Pools to get larger for systems that experience severe data spikes, such as financial transactions tied to mobile.
By combining automation and self-healing capabilities with targeted machine learning offerings such as Operational Intelligence (OI), you can shift your database management strategy from reactive real-time trending toward intelligent automation of database administration on the mainframe – a key ingredient in the evolution toward self-driven data centers. With intelligent systems in place, you will be able to manage data growth and discover and correct issues in advance based on insights drawn from unique cycles and specific data stores.
Another major area of mainframe DBMS innovation is security and access. For example, employees are often granted access via a group or other convenient method on the mainframe. However, when there is particularly sensitive data in a specific database, such access might open the door to the risk of theft. Access rights, therefore, need to be examined and tightened to ensure Least Access Privileges best practices. With mainframe innovation, it is getting easier to reduce the number of privileged users with authority to valuable databases and to monitor access for potential insider threats, unusual behavior, and data breaches.
Innovation is also paving the way to not only validate security access of a specific person to specific data, but also secure the full access path to that data from external sources, regardless of whether those sources (such as web interfaces) are trusted or untrusted. Therefore, even if an “authorized” user comes in through a trusted web service, he or she can be monitored and managed very closely.
This path-level security is currently available through enhanced integration offerings between the database and the security model in use on the mainframe. In the future, analytics will be able to better investigate internal threats that stem from authorized access points by using even higher levels of data access control for privileged users. The intent is to keep a company’s employees from misusing the data that they may technically be authorized to view to accomplish their job, detecting inappropriate data use by intelligently examining what appears to be inappropriate queries outside the scope of that person’s authority.
These two examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Mainframe databases are also able to:
- Provide pervasive encryption of data at rest and data in memory.
- Employ automated self-healing properties so that intervention by a human is not required, reducing labor needs and costs associated with outages.
- Integrate with modern applications via web services and direct SQL access, enabling reuse of existing application and business logic.
- Integrate with mission-critical data, enabling data security analysts to gain more holistic views and richer insights into the DBMS, and empowering them to become more proactive than reactive to address business and security needs.
- Improve mainframe economics, such as by running mission-critical MIPS at a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) by shifting processing from general purpose to specialty engines, as well as through performance and storage optimization.
- Leverage machine learning, operational intelligence, advanced analytics, and autonomics to address skills gaps, simplify database management, and increase efficiency and effectiveness.
- Improve high-availability 24/7/365 capabilities for enhanced business continuity.
- Improve security, compliance, and auditing, including the ability to provide robust and secure test data, enabling faster delivery of applications.
In short, the mainframe is on the move.
Strategizing around the Mainframe
Database systems designed on the mainframe are highly efficient and highly stable; yet – all too often – CIOs are not aware of exactly how to draw additional value from these powerful data repositories. The architects who created the mainframe database systems are beginning to retire and, unfortunately, succession planning that centers around the mainframe DBMS has lagged.
Consequently, some CIOs embark on platform migration missions before thoroughly assessing mainframe opportunities. A move away from the mainframe as the system of record is usually an expensive journey with unknown costs since it is easy to underestimate the true cost of infrastructure replacement required to meet the equivalent value of the existing platform.
As you evaluate your IT infrastructure, you can avoid these errors by incorporating the mainframe as a key element of your strategic IT framework. After all, these powerful database systems often contain thousands of high-value business functions. Complex applications have been specifically designed and tuned to exploit the mainframe DBMS’ reliable, available, secure (RAS) architecture. These applications and the mainframe on which they reside have delivered value for decades – and will do so for decades to come.
Retaining the mainframe as your system of record and keeping these well-functioning systems in place, while leveraging the mainframe’s modern capabilities, will turn around superior business results quickly. Nor do you have to worry about who will program the mainframe: a robust DBMS on the mainframe is an effective and stable solution that can be maintained by a small set of administrators and system programmers via modern user-focused applications and interfaces.
By leaving your data in place, rather than offloading it in an expensive and unnecessary migration, you will drive more bang for your IT buck. You can then use your available capital to develop breakthrough applications that leverage the mainframe’s strengths and its modern capabilities. That is a true winning IT strategy.
The Mainframe and Your Business
The beauty of the mainframe DBMS is simple: it keeps running without disruption, while effortlessly handling unprecedented data growth, providing one of the most secure platforms on the planet, and supporting your business leaders’ objectives and desired business outcomes. You do not need to worry about it; you can let it run and let your data and application base grow to support the needs of your business.
The expanded flexibility and innovative capabilities of the modern mainframe DBMS allow for easy integration of modern application software with your mission-critical database systems. With no need to perform a massive reconstruction of your data and the applications, you are perfectly positioned to implement the next “big thing” to drive your business success.
Originally published in the Enterprise Tech Journal Issue 2:2018.
Deborah Carbo is Senior Director of Product Management at CA Technologies, responsible for the database and systems management, storage and application development products in the mainframe portfolio. Deb has 20 years’ experience leading software organizations. Visit ca.com/mainframe to learn more. Email: Deborah.Carbo@ca.com