They are big, they are heavy, and they are said to be dead for a long time anyway. But they still exist, the dinosaurs of IT: mainframe computers. At T-Systems, we are even seeing increasing demand from our customers. A flash in the pan or a sustained trend? I asked three of our mainframe experts - Dirk Kullmann, Lénárd Szucs and Dieter Kölbl - about future opportunities for this technology.
"Dinos of the IT", ... admittedly, journalistically this is a often used cliché. Is it true or does it annoy?
Lénárd Szucs: It annoys me (laughs). The platform is by no means outdated. What customers do with it is of course a different matter. If they have outdated legacy systems, they’ll have problems. That's true. Investing in new systems is absolutely essential. But it's not just for mainframes.
Dirk Kullmann: In the past, "modernizing" meant replacing the machines. Off to the cloud. Today, of course, that's still an option. The others: modernising applications or optimising environments in order to achieve more cost-effective solutions. These are two real alternatives.
T-Systems is investing in a new generation of mainframe specialists. How did this come about?
Lénárd Szucs: More than half of our mainframe specialists and experts will retire in the next few years. A lot of know-how will be lost. That's why we are doing more for training. There are two initiatives: the zMaster Program in Germany and the Mainframe Structured Development Program in Hungary.
Why do you think that "mainframe" and "innovation" are not contradictory?
Dirk Kullmann: Because we are driving the innovative and sustainable development of mainframes in the direction of Cloud and DevOps.
Dieter Kölbl: There is a new mainframe reference architecture with Java as the primary language and z/Linux as the operating system. Old software is partly "translated" with tools and partly rewritten. This provides for versatile possibilities. We can thus develop new applications. For example, we have implemented a block chain with open source software. By the way: For non- or not-yet-mainframers: The "z" in the name reflects the designation of the IBM hardware versions, for example zOS, z14, zLinux. With the name zFuture instead of Mainframe we also set a clear sign for the way forward.
Two years ago, T-Systems wanted to outsource its basic operations for mainframes and only develop and operate business applications. What is the situation today?
Dirk Kullmann: IBM and T-Systems decided not to go ahead with the planned IT outsourcing due to concerns expressed by the antitrust authorities. We then concluded a new partnership agreement with IBM on good terms. It provides, for example, for us to obtain IBM personnel for basic technical operations on IBM infrastructure. For our part, we are concentrating on a dedicated portfolio. Our Chief Technical Officer for Mainframe, Andre Schreiber, drives technical progress. Mainframe Solution Sales is there for the customers. We have been following this line consistently since Q4 last year.
What is the T-Systems mainframe story and strategy today?
Dirk Kullmann: The mainframe is a strategic platform. The z-Future team are working together on the new strategy across the whole group.
Dieter Kölbl: Platform know-how combined with application expertise. United we create synergies: We are there for our customers end-to-end. We know the platforms, are familiar with the business processes and deliver operations with application operations on top. The customer can offload everything to T-Systems.
How is business going?
Dirk Kullmann: We currently have the thickest deal pipeline since 2012, which is a huge boost. It's a lot of work, but the prospects are good!
Where do we go from here? What are the next steps?
Dirk Kullmann: Getting the new mainframe portfolio up and running. Strategic bets are also important. Of the six workstreams in T-Systems' investment program, two are on the mainframe. One of the topics is the automation of interfaces; zFuture should feel like a "normal" cloud.
Lénárd Szucs: Our goal is to bring cloud and mainframe offerings closer together. The so-called zFCI (Future Cloud Infrastructure) is already in progress. It's our solution that brings together the power of mainframe with cloud-like ordering and provisioning capabilities.