Forgotten but not gone: Why mainframes remain the power behind tech's throne

They might not be as fashionable as cloud computing, but the mainframe remains at the heart of many computing environments.

These behemoths of computing might not be as exciting to young developers as cloud and mobile projects, but mainframes are still the power behind many business applications.

According to a survey of CIOs more than half (55 percent) of enterprise applications call upon the mainframe to complete transactions. And that shows little sign of decline – nine out of ten of the CIOs surveyed said their mainframe workloads are increasing, and distributed applications have caused a 44 percent increase in workload over the past five years.

Nine out of ten said new customer-facing applications are accessing the mainframe; however this combination of old and new technologies is adding to the CIOs' headaches - three quarters of CIOs said the complexity of applications working across distributed and mainframe environments is making problem resolution take longer.

Four out of five said they had no visibility of the actual end-user experience and 63 percent of companies admitted they were often unaware of performance problems until calls start coming into the help desk.

Mainframes tend to be stable and reliant pieces of infrastructure, bought so long ago that the costs have long since been written off. And while cloud services might be attractive for new or particularly bursty types of applications , for long-standing and predictable processing jobs these hunks of big tin are still extremely useful to IT departments.

In addition, rewriting mainframe apps for the cloud age is no easy feat: one problem with mainframes is that most of the engineers with the relevant skills are nearing retirement: one company recently described the search for younger staff with the right skills as "looking for a unicorn."

The Compuware-commissioned survey spoke to 350 CIOs at large companies in Australia, Benelux, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US.

Further reading on mainframes