A few weeks back, an IBM executive made the claim that running applications on IBM’s latest mainframe is 60 percent cheaper than running comparable applications in the cloud.

IBM sales pitching aside, there is a valid case to be made for running workloads on-premises on a big iron box versus the assuming the gradual costs that will add up from an extended cloud deployment. That is, today’s mainframes are highly versatile – they run unlimited instances of Linux, for example, making large server farms unnecessary. At the same time, mainframes are known for their iron-clad security and endless uptime – all pluses for the enterprise seeking to expand its digital footprint.

Many companies in the insurance industry, of course, have mainframes running many aspects of their back-end systems and customer databases, though many may be outdated. Thus, insurers are reaching that crossroads in which they must decide whether to migrate off of big iron – which they may be under considerable peer pressure to do – or to reconsolidate their workloads in a newer, sleeker and more compact 2015 mainframe.

Technology observer Adrian Bridgwater, writing in Forbes, points out that “mainframes are the ‘original cloud’ and that the virtualization technologies that we champion today were all born on the mainframe.”

Mainframes aren’t just resting on these laurels, either. Big iron is also a great place to run Hadoop clusters, thereby supporting big data installations. Consider, for example, a recent announcement from SUSE and Veristorm, in which they said they are teaming up to provide certified high-performance Hadoop solutions that run directly on Linux on IBM z Systems, IBM Power Systems, and x86-64. Customers with IBM z Systems can team SUSE Linux Enterprise Server for System z with Veristorm zDoop, the first commercial Hadoop supported on mainframes.

Another systems vendor, Compuware, recently put all its eggs in the mainframe basket, focusing on producing tools and products to help younger generations of IT professionals write applications to and run mainframe systems. It just announced a new release of its Topaz tool, intended to help Millennial generation members (30 and under) get a handle on running IBM mainframes. How many kids coming out college these days say they want to be mainframe programmers?

Adrian discusses this topic in more detail, noting that the skills issue is the only factor holding mainframes back from their full potential in today’s digital environment. For insurers dependent on mainframes to run their businesses, this is a threat looming on the near horizon. Mainframe talent is growing scarcer, and there will be fierce competition for those individuals who specialize in mainframes. 


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