It's alive! It's alive!

Craig Mullins explains why the mainframe is here to stay, despite rumors otherwise.

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This tip originally appeared on TechTarget's Expert Answer Center as a post in Craig Mullins' blog. Craig served as the on-demand expert on the Expert Answer Center for two weeks in February, during which he was available to quickly answer questions on EAC topic as well as to write daily blog entries. Keep an eye on the Expert Answer Center for topics that could help your IT shop.


There is a lingering perception in some parts of the IT industry that the mainframe is dead. Nothing could be further from the truth. The market for mainframes and mainframe computing is healthy and, indeed, continues to grow.

The client/server bandwagon that swept through the IT world in the late 1980s and early 1990s threatened the existence of the mainframe. Pundits everywhere declared mainframes old technology and no longer relevant. But organizations quickly learned that the scalability, performance and reliability of large-scale mainframes was hard to duplicate. Today, most large organizations still rely on mainframe-class computers like IBM's zSeries systems for much of their mission-critical computing needs. The mainframe was not banished, but is a vital component of the overall IT infrastructure of most large corporations.

The Year 2000 (Y2K) problem was perhaps a bigger threat to the mainframe than client/server. Given the mainframe's long history and heritage, the predominance of Y2K code problems existed in mainframe applications. Users, in some cases, replaced those systems with new applications that run on different, client/server machines. But only infrequently did shops swap out their mainframe wholesale for a completely new computing platform. If the Y2K problem did not provide the push to do this, what will?

Mainframes have been around for a long time. As such, the glass house that was erected to provide the care and feeding of mainframes has proven to be one of the primary benefits of mainframe computing. Most IT shops are looking to improve manageability and availability. The mainframe excels at these tasks not only because of the support infrastructure built around them, but because of the years spent by vendors such as IBM improving the quality and functionality of the hardware.

The mainframe of today is quite different from the mainframe of yesteryear. That hulking, water-cooled beast you may remember has been replaced with chip-based, CMOS, air-cooled systems. And today's mainframes are easier to hook together using parallel Sysplex technology. In short, the word "mainframe" need not mean unfriendly green screens, complex JCL and ancient COBOL programmers any more. By adapting its technology when threatened by a new client/server paradigm, the mainframe has not just survived, but improved upon itself and thrived.

Perhaps the biggest "problem" that today's mainframe systems face is one of "word of mouth." So much has been written and implied about the mainframe being dead that a lot folks believe that hogwash. Few organizations that rely on mainframes to run their complex information processing tasks would even consider thinking about replacing them. And if they consider it, the cost of conversion coupled with the reduced availability and scalability of alternate solutions quickly brings them back to their senses. The mainframe continues to be a robust, viable component of today's IT infrastructure. Organizations continue to add more MIPS, deploy more applications and run their most important, mission-critical applications on mainframe computers.

According to an article in Information Week, more than 75% of internal data accessed by corporate PC users is stored on mainframes. Additionally, more than 60% of all data available over the Web originates from mainframe databases, and over 80% of all commercial transactions are processed by mainframes.

The mainframe is a robust, reliable and heavily utilized platform.

The reports of its death were greatly exaggerated.


This was first published in February 2005
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