HP said it is seeing growing demand for its mainframe alternative programme, which offers customers a way to reduce operating costs for their big iron, right through to providing a complete migration path onto more modern and open platforms for organisations seeking to leave behind their legacy systems.
The Mainframe Alternative Programme (MFA), which has been operating for several years, has already assisted hundreds of customers worldwide to migrate off the mainframe, and is now one of HP's fastest growing programmes in the EMEA region, according to the firm, with close to 60 contracts signed in the last financial year.
Among the reasons for this is the recession, which has forced many companies to re-assess their IT spending, but also the fact that key staff needed to maintain many legacy systems are now retiring.
"It wasn't seen as a problem to keep the mainframe going before the recession, but when the credit crisis kicked in, many mainframe contracts started to become an unacceptable cost," said Herman Eggink, HP's MFA sales manager for EMEA.
However, this is in contrast with findings from services firm BMC, which published a report last year claiming that mainframe customers are happy with these systems, and were largely seeking ways to hold down costs and modernise their applications.
IDC analyst Chris Ingle said many organisations used the issues around the Y2K modernisation at the end of the last millennium to get off the mainframe, and many others have been considering it since, but the sheer cost of any migration project is likely to be a factor.
"And you have to take risk into account," he added, pointing out that in many cases, mainframes are running applications that drive the day-to-day business operations of the company.
But some customers in talks with HP have also woken up to the fact that as many as half of their specialist mainframe technicians are due to retire within the next three to five years, Eggink said, and so addressing the issue has suddenly moved up their agenda.
Ingle agreed, saying that "skills are definitely a problem. IBM has been investing in university places to get new people with mainframe skills, but there are still going to be few of them. Of course, IBM would claim that you don't need as many as you do to manage Windows."
Another major factor is that IBM has effectively become the sole vendor left in the mainframe ecosystem, and this lack of competition is driving up costs to the point where many customers have had enough, according to HP.
"In our re-hosting projects to date, we haven’t seen less than a 50 per cent reduction in total cost of ownership, and people just find it hard to believe this when we tell them," Eggink said.
With potential savings such as this, it is easy to see why organisations might show an interest, but moving away from a mainframe system that a customer might have been operating for decades is a daunting prospect.
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