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Death of the Mainframe? New survey finds PC servers growing in popularity among banks

The dominance of mainframe computers* in the banking industry is over. Increasingly, PC servers are taking over key banking data management functions such as direct information feed collection and capture of reference data. This is the view of 80% of financial data managers** surveyed recently by CMS WebView plc (CMS) a leading provider of software systems for real-time financial data distribution and management. In fact, 61% of market data managers at banks such as Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs report that their banks have already moved from mainframes to PC servers in certain key areas.

According to the survey, the move towards PC servers is a fairly recent trend in investment banking, driven partly by cost but also by PC servers offering scalability, familiarity and ease of use. More than half of those surveyed (54%) say it’s only in the last three years that PC servers have started to replace mainframes in certain areas.

It’s not only cost and ease of use that is helping PC servers, 74% of data managers said that their flexibility is the most compelling reason for replacing mainframes. A massive 89% said PC servers provide enough flexibility to enable them to react to changing patterns in user demand. And 87% can envisage a function such as data-warehousing running on a PC server solution.

TThere are some concerns over the rise of the PC server. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (65%) expressed concern about the over-dominance of Microsoft’s Windows-based systems. Thirty-three percent worry about the lack of competition to Windows in the marketplace, with associated concerns about cost and lack of quality assurance voiced. And more worryingly, 73% believe an over-reliance on Windows-based systems could leave their bank vulnerable to security breaches. Because of this, 86% would consider using an alternative operating system to Windows. The majority of these (65%) would use Linux, which is also seen as cost-effective.

Bob Antell, Chief Executive of CMS, commented:

"From the results of the CMS survey it’s clear that the flexibility and reliability offered by PC servers makes them increasingly attractive for banks over the traditional mainstay of the mainframe. Modern PC servers can handle comfortably the vast amounts of data in real time that global banks must process, store and analyse 24 hours a day, every day of the week. The results of this survey correlate strongly with our day-to-day experience of financial institutions increasingly being prepared to consider PC Server based products, such as CMS’s TDI™ system, as viable alternative solutions for the management of mission critical data."

*Mainframes are very large computers which are capable of supporting hundreds, even thousands, of users simultaneously. They have been widely used in banks since the 1960s. PC servers are a more recent technological development which provide similar functions to a mainframe but are a fraction of the size.

** CMS interviewed 50 market data managers