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The Mainframe World Is Alive, Even For Those Under 40

timothy posted more than 5 years ago | from the onions-on-belts-and-snowshoe-flippers dept.

IBM 361

willdavid writes with a link to a report by Jeff Gould at Interop Systems, about the definitely-still-around world of mainframe computing, from which he extracts: "Last week I had the occasion to visit SHARE, the premier mainframe conference, which was held in San Jose just down the road from where I live. Based on what I saw, there is one thing I can tell you for sure, and that is that Cobol is not dead. And neither is the mainframe. When I mentioned to one of my friends that I had been to SHARE, he joked that it must have looked like an AARP convention. But this turned out not to be so. While there were certainly a few 60-somethings strolling around the halls, the under 40 generation was also well represented. What struck me the most was not the advanced age of the people but the relative youth of a lot of the software being discussed." However, it's not all fountain of youth there, either. (Thanks, BDPrime.)

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old gay niggers (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697437)

from outter space.

Mainframes (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697481)

Can lick my anus.

Worst Video Ever (-1, Troll)

vimm (1300813) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697501)

Thanks a lot Samzenpus.. er.. Timothy?
Oh my god, the idle section has metastasized!

Look, mess with me again and I will (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697635)

And I will ream you so bad you will call me Unkle Ernie

the more things change... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697503)

You can now get decks of Hollerith cards in turquoise, aqua, lemon, or cherry.

But it's still funny when the old guy drops his box and swears like a sailor as he tries to reassemble them in the original order.

The good ole days (3, Interesting)

webnut77 (1326189) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697505)

I spent 20+ years as a mainframe systems programmer. VM/VSE. Since then, I've learned Linux et. al. Man would I love to install Linux in a virtual machine. I'll bet it could fly.

Re:The good ole days (2, Informative)

argent (18001) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697617)

Man would I love to install Linux in a virtual machine. I'll bet it could fly.

Google for "penguin farm ibm".

Re:The good ole days (4, Informative)

fishbowl (7759) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697675)

Are you aware that Linux competes with z/OS among IBM Mainframe products? IBM will happily deliver a system z with Linux.

Re:The good ole days (0, Flamebait)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698031)

Is't z/OS just a crappy version of Unix installed over their default dinosaur OS (OS390)? Linux would be great, but their default OS is a living nightmare. It's pretty much one step away from still being on punch cards. I can't believe people still use JCL. The whole environment seems to activelu fight change at every opportunity.

z/OS as a dinosaur (5, Informative)

qbzzt (11136) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698785)

z/OS is an upgrade of OS390, but yes - it has something called UNIX System Services, which is POSIX compliant but not as friendly as LINUX.

It's not that z/OS fights changes, exactly. Windows is crufty because it has to run MS-DOS programs from the eighties. z/OS has to run programs from the sixties, and do it with a high degree of reliability.

Disclosure: I am an IBM employee and the author of a mainframe book [amazon.com] .

Re:The good ole days (1)

balbeir (557475) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698131)

Well, I worked for IBM and had to port a product that was a bit heavy on the processor to zlinux. It didn't exactly fly. I'd describe it more like crawling. These things are really good for IO-intensive stuff but the mainframe processors aren't exactly speed daemons.

Re:The good ole days (1)

Neanderthal Ninny (1153369) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698549)

I think we tried that on the mainframe at my old workplace and it was fairly quick. Not as fast at the dedicated servers we had at that time but I think with a little tuning it would rocket. We were working with our development group and RedHat to try to run Linux on a mainframe.
However, a change in development schedules forced us to stop this so I have no idea what happen to this.

Re:The good ole days (1)

RollingThunder (88952) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698565)

It can be interesting, but I found all kinds of performance oddities when we had a Linux slice on a mainframe. It certainly didn't help that they initially set it up with only 64MB of RAM!

What with problems getting modules installed, we eventually decided it would be easier on ourselves to go back to a gray box under a desk. We may go with a VMWare based linux install to get proper internal corporate support, since nobody wants to put in a simple server anymore.

Not surprising.... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697549)

The ol' yellow number 2 pencil is still around as well, as is shoe-making, wine-barrel repair, and of course the oldest tool in the book ... the tool.

Like humans all technologies find their place in the universe. Mainframes have their advantages, just would not want one sitting on my lap.

Re:Not surprising.... (0, Troll)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697911)

The ol' yellow number 2 pencil is still around as well, as is shoe-making, wine-barrel repair, and of course the oldest tool in the book ... the tool.

Of these, shoe-making and wine-barrel repair deal with things which are not yet obsolete, and the number 2 pencil has the advantage that it's eraseable, machine-readable, cheap, and requires no batteries.

Like humans all technologies find their place in the universe.

Not really. Seen any steam engines lately?

You see, unlike the things you've listed, the mainframe really provides (as far as I know) no advantage over a modern Linux system (or cluster) other than that people already know it, and that it will run these old COBOL apps.

Re:Not surprising.... (5, Insightful)

Enleth (947766) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697971)

As far as the general principle of operation is concerned, your average nuclear (or coal/natural gas/oil, for that matter) power plant is a huge steam engine attached to a generator. Sure, it uses a turbine instead of a piston, but there AFAIK were some attempts at a turbine-based steam engine of a more typical size and use, they just came too late for the techology to be used for transportation. So it got to be used for generating electricity on a massive scale.

Re:Not surprising.... (2, Interesting)

sycodon (149926) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698033)

There are some things COBOL will do better than any other language.

First, it can run through millions and millions of records very quickly. I expect that most payroll systems are done in COBOL. I can't imagine anyone doing it one in C or Java.

The language may be simple but I have not seen any other language that can slice and dice data as easily. But you have to be careful because the type checking is done at 3am when they are running production jobs!

Re:Not surprising.... (5, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698139)

COBOL also has better support for binary coded decimals than most languages. The latest POWER chips have hardware support for BCD, but the OS/360 derivatives (I think they're called System Z or something now, but I lose track of IBM branding) have had this since the beginning, and it's still popular in financial systems where you are required to have a certain number of decimal digits of precision. Most languages these days have some library support for BCDs, but they are not nearly as tightly integrated as they are in COBOL.

Re:Not surprising.... (3, Informative)

hot soldering iron (800102) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698071)

Steam engine? Why yes, but now they call them 'Power Plants'. Most still use coal, but there are a lot of natural gas powered ones, and a few nuclear powered ones.

Re:Not surprising.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24698659)

No advantage? How about a design where you have three CPUs, each running the same software on the same data, and if one gives a different answer, that CPU gets taken offline and support paged automatically to replace it? How about a design that lets you run applications 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, with no downtime required for system upgrades? How about a design where reliability is the number one concern - not raw CPU performance, but the certainty that you are getting the results you need, and that they are correct?

There are areas where mainframes eat Unix systems for lunch. Don't even think about bringing Windows into the discussion.

Disclaimer: I work for IBM, but my area of work is in backup/recovery on Unix systems, not mainframe.

Re:Not surprising.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24698751)

Not really. Seen any steam engines lately?

Yes, at many electrical generating stations.

Re:Not surprising.... (4, Informative)

Pharmboy (216950) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698757)

Not really. Seen any steam engines lately?

Yes, I have. 80% of the electrity generated in the United States is done by steam engine. Coal and nuclear power both use steam engines.

Just because YOU are unfamiliar with a technology, that doesn't mean it isn't being used. And thank you for clearly demonstrating that point.

Re:Not surprising.... (1)

Kjella (173770) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697957)

Mainframes have their advantages, just would not want one sitting on my lap.

Somewhere in there is a joke about fembots and the Crushinator, but I'm too lazy to find it.

Re:Not surprising.... (2, Funny)

StormShaman (603879) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698159)

I think you'll find the tool is a class, not an object.

Re:Not surprising.... (3, Funny)

JakusMinimus (49854) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698771)

I think you'll find that tool is slang for penis.

Re:Not surprising.... (3, Interesting)

ryanisflyboy (202507) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698531)

Perhaps you are not familiar with what a modern day large server is capable of. The cost/benefit of larger systems doesn't work in every case, but in many cases it does. Not every application is suited to run on a cluster of low cost x86 systems.

My favorite large server is the HP superdome. Check out some of the specs:

- Up to 128 core.
- Up to 2TB of RAM, usually you'd mirror this, so 1TB usable realistically.
- Up to 192 PCI-X slots.
- 12 power supplies.
- 18 fans.
- Partition the system up to 16 different ways.
- Up to 32 GB/s IO bandwidth.
- 273.1 GB/s memory bandwidth.
- Cost, starts around $1,000,000 (last I asked).
- Jump the CPU/RAM/IO around to different partitions as needed, without rebooting anything.

The thing about this that is unlike your typical entry level x86 Enterprise server - EVERYTHING is hot swap. And I mean everything. CPUs, RAM, IO. Very few pieces require a complete shutdown to service.

My favorite mainframe story: "A guy called to ask what procedure he should follow to reboot his mainframe. Tech support told him to just follow the same procedure he did last time. The guy responded, "but only knows how to do that." And so, tech support said "well, get him to do it." At which point the guy remarked: "Well, the problem is he quit 6 years ago."

Yeah. When you need _UPTIME_ it is hard to do better.

Re:Not surprising.... (4, Funny)

Nursie (632944) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698591)

Yeah, but look at the spec that counts.

HP's top of the line barely weighs over a ton, whereas IBM's top Z box weighs a little over two!

Not so smart now, huh, HP?

Wiki was obviously wrong... (5, Interesting)

neokushan (932374) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697551)

Can somebody please explain to me what the hell a "mainframe" is/was for and why it might be dead?
According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] , Mainframes are a bit like supercomputers but better suited to tasks where there's a LOT of input/output data, but not a lot of calculation involved. Payrolls and such.
As far as I'm aware, those tasks still exist today, probably moreso than in the 1970's and 1980's, so why would the Mainframe be dying out? Have regular desktop/server processors advanced faster than demand for this data calculation and thus are now simply adequate or is this article just a bit of FUD to make 'ol timmy look like he's doing his job?

FYI: I'm most certainly under 40. In fact, I'm barely more than half that age, so excuse my ignorance on the subject; the only times I've really heard the term "mainframe" used is in Films, Games and cheap 80's TV shows. And slashdot.

Re:Wiki was obviously wrong... (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697597)

For many people, the image of a mainframe computer is a complex of dozens of refrigerator-sized cabinets containing tape drives, disks, processors, and communications hardware located in a freezing room, consuming enough electricity to power a small city.

Mainframes are not dead. All of the top 25 banks world-wide run mainframes, as do 23 of the top 25 U.S. retailers and 9 of the top 10 global insurance companies. 80% of the world's corporate data exists on mainframes.

You ask, why have companies continued to use large scale computers, despite the ubiquity of microprocessor-based servers?

This is why [youtube.com] .

Re:Wiki was obviously wrong... (2, Insightful)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697655)

For many people, the image of a mainframe computer is a complex of dozens of refrigerator-sized cabinets containing tape drives, disks, processors, and communications hardware located in a freezing room, consuming enough electricity to power a small city.

And is that image mistaken?

Re:Wiki was obviously wrong... (2, Interesting)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698003)

Yes. We have at least two functioning mainframes at my university, and they look like strangely shaped refrigerators -- single refrigerators. The only other mainframe I saw in person was the Red Hat Summit this year, and it was open; inside, it looked like a bizarre rack where the internal wires from the servers were all exposed. Modern mainframes are not the same "big iron" equipment from the 1960s...

Re:Wiki was obviously wrong... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697661)

i hate you.

Re:Wiki was obviously wrong... (4, Funny)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697751)

Dude, slashdot ... this is. Links to youtube for answers to mainframe questions will simply not suffice. Video? No thanks. You must link to a slideshow of picture of IBM cards of programs ( preferably FORTRAN) that will out put the answers to the questions that we seek.

Re:Wiki was obviously wrong... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697921)

HAHA I knew slow internet was good for something!

Foiled again!

Re:Wiki was obviously wrong... (1)

pilgrim23 (716938) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697809)

Main Frame means a IBM System 360 370 3033 3081 3084 3090 or whatever the heck they use now and comparables like the CDC 6600 or 7600, the Sperry Univac, the Burroughs and a few others.

I know the Itty Bitty Machine Company's products best though I have worked everythign from Amydal to PRIME to WANG.

antecdote. 1st chat I ever did was via a master operator console to a RJE (Remote Job Entry) it started out: $DMR1,'HOW BOUT LUNCH?',LOG=N and ended with some well remembered pleasure.

Re:Wiki was obviously wrong... (1)

weetabeex (1065032) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698385)

Your post made me laugh, and then made feel rather ignorant.

Do all those things you just said really exist, or did you just made them all up?

Re:Wiki was obviously wrong... (2, Informative)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697969)

People were saying mainframes would die because of things like cluster servers, desktop computing, etc. The idea was that cheap commodity servers could replace mainframes for back end tasks, without the expense (an IBM mainframe, last I checked, cost $100k per year just to own, plus the salaries of the mainframe operators), and that commodity desktops could replace mainframes with thin client connections for typical office applications. While the latter is certainly true, the former is not -- it turns out that operating hundreds of commodity servers actually costs a lot, and for many institutions with HUGE server needs, mainframes wind up being a lot less expensive in the long run. The costs of commodity hardware come from things like cooling needs, power needs (including the power needed to run large air conditioners), the increased number of administrators needed to maintain that many systems, and a few other factors, which together wind up exceeding $100k (or $1M for the largest mainframes) by a wide margin.

Re:Wiki was obviously wrong... (1)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697979)

As far as I'm aware, those tasks still exist today, probably moreso than in the 1970's and 1980's, so why would the Mainframe be dying out? Have regular desktop/server processors advanced faster than demand for this data calculation

Pretty much.

Additionally, we've figured out how to network a bunch of regular desktop/server machines to do the job of a mainframe -- and to partition our data among a bunch of smaller machines.

After all...

Mainframes are a bit like supercomputers but better suited to tasks where there's a LOT of input/output data, but not a lot of calculation involved. Payrolls and such.

Is there ever a time when you actually need to look at the payroll at once?

And if you said "yes", there's a fair chance you're wrong -- there's very likely some small subset of the payroll, that just happens to be spread across all records (for example, the sum of all values in a particular column) -- so techniques like map/reduce can still parallize that task.

I'm going to guess there's not a single mainframe at Google. And I'm also going to guess that Google's cluster could easily handle the tasks you've proposed. The only question would be whether two mainframes would be cheaper -- two, of course, because you need redundancy.

Re:Wiki was obviously wrong... (3, Insightful)

Shinobi (19308) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698079)

The Google model is not applicable for the tasks where mainframes are used. Mainframes are used for high-throughput/high availability/high RELIABILITY as well as high-INTEGRITY operations. In contrast, with Google, if a server dies, leaving 50 queries in Limbo, well, the internet users will just have to try their luck again, and hope for the best.

Re:Wiki was obviously wrong... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24698617)

Not exactly. You can achieve high reliability and high integrity in a Google-like model, as long as you code the system with such requirements in mind. Their requirement for search is 'fast, fast, FASTER!", so delays may not be acceptable as you say.

But for other stuff, even Google needs a system with high reliability and high integrity. Or do you want to receive "ALPHA" from the user, store it and when the user requests that information, gets "ALTHA" back? Take a look at their paper about GFS. It may not fit 100% of the requirements that a mainframe service, but it shows that , given the right set of requirements at coding time, you can find ways to achieve it.

Re:Wiki was obviously wrong... (1)

jhines (82154) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698293)

You have to think back to old style computing. If you wanted a peripheral, you need a controller card. Then some place to plug it into (bus). Mainframes had enormous expansion capabilities, if you needed another item and it wouldn't fit, you could get expansion cabinets with additional buses which would hold additional controllers.

Typical mainframes would have a couple of dozen hard drives, of which a 14" multi-platter drive would have 300 Mb or so. A dozen tape drives or so, a couple of line printers, IO cards for terminals, stacks of memory cards, etc. Thats a lot of controller cards that need to be plugged in.

The "under 40 generation"? (2, Funny)

justin_ramos (1335257) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697729)

I think you mean the "almost 40 generation". ;-)

Re:The "under 40 generation"? (1)

Larryish (1215510) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698395)

Hey! I'm almost 40, you insensitive clod!

Need... (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697735)

I question the need of mainframes today. Now, they are great for running legacy programs (such as payroll, etc) but other than for backwards-compatibly, what advantage does a mainframe have compared to say, a server?

Re:Need... (1)

samcan (1349105) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697811)

They cost more. :-)

Re:Need... (1)

larry bagina (561269) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697855)

does your server include an IBM repair man who will come out and hot swap parts before you realize there's a problem?

Re:Need... (4, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697875)

99.999 Up time, speed, number of transactions, precision, hot swapping, 64 CPUs, lower cost to maintain, longer life time.

Hell, I can get a mainframe and put 30,000 Linux instance on it and use it as a cluster, or rollover servers.

PC Servers still aren't as capable as a mainframe, not even clusters.

Re:Need... (1)

Tubal-Cain (1289912) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697913)

99.999 Up time, speed, number of transactions, precision, hot swapping, 64 CPUs, lower cost to maintain, longer life time...

Don't forget "Job Security"

Re:Need... (1)

A Numinous Cohort (872515) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698693)

ISTR that IBM claims 4 9's reliability for the IBM i (new name of the AS/400) which is a midrange machine. For IBM z, the claim is 100% uptime.

Re:Need... (5, Informative)

malchus842 (741252) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697903)

Raw IO power, in our case. With the number of transactions we process per day (financial services - clearing, trade matching, reconciliation, etc) nothing beats the System-i in terms of raw IO in getting the data in, massaging it and spitting it out...and far easier to manage than a server farm, at least for our use. The same vendor that provides our software also provides a JAVA version, but it's not going to handle the 2 billion+ transactions we do in a quarter.

And this software isn't legacy - it's relatively new and updated on a regular basis to take into account developments in the kinds of products offered.

"Horses for courses" as my British friends like to say./p?

Re:Need... (5, Insightful)

awyeah (70462) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698081)

That's correct. Also, look at the retail business. Merchandise management, loss prevention, warehousing and distribution... And we're not talking arcane software packages.

Here's an example: A retail chain has payroll, merchandising, and warehousing/distribution systems, all on the mainframe. The point of sale interfaces with the mainframe as well. A store starts to run low on an item? The mainframe knows because the POS sends its inventory data constantly. The MMS then tells the warehousing system that that store needs more. A pick list is automatically printed by the warehousing system. The warehouse worker picks the item off the shelf, puts it on a conveyor belt which runs through an RFID portal, linked to the mainframe, that then routes the item to the proper truck in the dock so it gets to the correct store - automatically. The truck delivers the item to the store, and the driver enters that into a wireless device which (you guessed it!) tells the warehousing system and merchandise management system that the item has been received by the store, so the MMS always knows the inventory levels in the store. The associate sells that item, and the MMS sees that from the POS data... it also knows that this particular item pays out a spiff to the associate and sends the information directly to the payroll system, which interfaces with a company who handles payroll (like ADP), and automatically adds the spiff to their next paycheck.

Uh oh - the chain is growing and adding new stores, with increasing volumes of data to process, and the nightly batch processing is taking too long... what to do? Call IBM, license another processor... They activate it immediately for you.

But oh no! A disk is failing... no need to worry, because IBM already knows about it and has dispatched a technician to diagnose and replace the faulty hardware.

New versions of this software are being released all the time, and just about every retailer with more than a few stores uses them. These systems are modern. Don't think a big room full of giant cabinets, reel-to-reel tapes and punch cards. Some of the current IBM iSeries (AS/400) models have a form factor that looks more like a PC than a mainframe.

Show me a Windows or Linux system that can do all that, 24x7, for hundreds or thousands of stores.

Re:Need... (1)

jsight (8987) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698103)

Raw IO power, in our case. With the number of transactions we process per day (financial services - clearing, trade matching, reconciliation, etc) nothing beats the System-i in terms of raw IO in getting the data in, massaging it and spitting it out...and far easier to manage than a server farm, at least for our use. The same vendor that provides our software also provides a JAVA version, but it's not going to handle the 2 billion+ transactions we do in a quarter.

That's about 250 txns/sec. There are Java apps that do that (admittedly on very big hardware... probably including mainframes).

Re:Need... (1)

Repton (60818) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698155)

If you average it out ... I bet the peak rate is much higher.

Re:Need... (2, Informative)

malchus842 (741252) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698667)

Exactly. I believe the last reported peak was in the 2200/sec range. And we expect our volumes to double. Fortunately, our System-i (AS/400) team can simply license additional processors 'on the fly' to improve performance. My team even has some of our Unix stuff (I'm the Unix Manager) running in a logical partition on the System-I. And it's freaking fast.

iSeries is superior to a mainframe (1)

Relayman (1068986) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698405)

The iSeries is superior to a mainframe. The smallest servers cost about $10,000 and are good for a small business (50 - 60 employees) while the largest iSeries system dwarfs the largest mainframe. Being able to run virtually any operating system (Linux, Unix [AIX], Windows Server and i5/OS [formerly OS/400]) is an advantage as well. Discussion of a mainframe should be limited to IBM systems running z/OS and equivalents.

Re:Need... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24698787)

System i is midrange - for boys
Z is a man's system :-)

Payroll? (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697967)

I question the need of mainframes today. Now, they are great for running legacy programs (such as payroll, etc) but other than for backwards-compatibly, what advantage does a mainframe have compared to say, a server?

Send me your Resume... if getting payed is something you consider "legacy" then I'd be happy to negotiate some legacy pay terms.

LoL: captch is "weekend"

Re:Payroll? (1)

Darkness404 (1287218) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697973)

By legacy I mean the old programs written in the '80s in COBOL rather than more modern programs written in, say, C.

Re:Need... (1)

bws111 (1216812) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698001)

MTBF measured in decades, unsurpassed security, ability to move a LOT of data (like up to 336 FICON 4GB channels), ability to concurrently add/remove resources (processors, memory, channels), etc. Have a look at http://www-03.ibm.com/systems/resources/systems_z_news_announcement_pdf_ZSO03018.pdf [ibm.com]

Re:Need... (3, Informative)

Shinobi (19308) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698015)

Quality control, quality control, quality control, quality control
Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy
Reliability, lots of it.
LOTS of I/O.
Solid VM technologies that makes VMWare appear like the software equivalent of a toddler still in diapers.
Hardware-accelerated crypto, integrated into the overall system design, and not just an add-on card, at least on fairly modern mainframes.
Some mainframes also run dedicated hardware for CRC on data being churned through.

Designing all that into a cluster leads to something that is just as expensive to operate, and still won't have the same reliability as a mainframe environment.

And no, Google's model does not apply here. Google aren't working with data that must approach 100% reliability to the extent that it's possible for humans and technology to make it.

Re:Need... (2, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698025)

A lower end mainframe can replace roughly 1000 commodity servers, or so I've been told. It consumes roughly 10kW of power and requires only one operator to keep it functional (well, assuming 8 hours shifts, 3 operators). Those 1000 commodity servers will be consuming ~100W a piece, so the overall power consumption will be 10 times higher than the mainframe, and will probably require at least 3 administrators on the clock at any given time (so going with non-overlapping 8 hour shifts, that's 9 administrators). The cost savings could easily justify the expense of the mainframe, assuming that you are an institution that uses 1000 or more commodity servers.

Re:Need... (1)

snicho99 (984884) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698043)

oblig. simpsons.. What advantage does this mainframe have over say, a train. Which I could also afford...

Re:Need... (4, Informative)

vux984 (928602) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698091)

Now, they are great for running legacy programs (such as payroll, etc)

Payroll is not a legacy application. You still get paid don't you? :)
My point is, even if payroll were 'rewritten' it would still be a suitable mainframe application.

what advantage does a mainframe have compared to say, a server?

They are bigger.

A mainframe more comparable to a server cluster or server farm than a single server.

They feature processors dedicated to IO tasks. They are the kings of data throughput.

They are also big on reliability. Everything is hot-swappable. Everything is redundant. Failover is automatic and processes are rarely even aware its even happened. They have stuff like io multipathing (multiple redundant buses, controllers, etc) and execution integrity -- multiple processors do the same work, the results are compared, and only if they all agree is the computation accepted, errors are thus averted and defective processors and memory can be detected (and hot-swapped), transparent to the running programs and users.

Because they are basically an entire 'server farm' in a dedicated optimized box they also can require less space and power than a server farm of equivalent capability, which is one of their selling points.

I doubt there are any features of a mainframe that can't be obtained by building a suitable server farm, but at some point in some cases the mainframe is markedly more cost effective.

Re:Need... (1)

jacobsm (661831) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698689)

Hardware

RAS, Reliability, Availability, Serviceability. MTBF measured in years, Massive I/O capabilities. Integrated cryptographic hardware that can be configured for SSL acceleration or for general purpose cryptographic services.

Software

zVM - Forty years of virtualization behind the current release. It can virtualize zOS, zVSE, zLinux and will soon support Open Solaris. I have heard that the record for zLinux images virtualized under a single zVM instance is on the order of 64,000.

zOS - With roots going back to OS/360 (1960's) it is the premier operating system for most major corporations. With zOS 1.10 (available next month) it can utilize up to 64 processors with 1 TB of memory on a z10 CEC.

Now add the concept of sysplex into the mix. A sysplex can support up to 32 instances of zOS sharing a common workload. Need to shut down a system for hardware or software maintenance, the rest of the environment just keeps on running.

Now add coupling facilities into the environment. Coupling facilities are mainframes running a unique operating system that facilitates cross system communication between each system in the sysplex. A sysplex with coupling facilities is called a parallel sysplex.

Some of the features in zOS are;

The BCP provides the essential operating system services of z/OS. It includes the I/O Control Program and the z/OS UNIX System Services Kernel. z/OS XML System Services is added in z/OS V1R8.

Common Information Model (CIM) is a standard data model for describing and accessing systems management data in heterogeneous environments. It allows system administrators to write applications that measure system resources in a network with different operating systems and hardware.

Communications Server supports secure TCP/IP, SNA, and UNIX networking throughout an enterprise.

Communications Server Security Level 3 - This feature provides authentication and security services in an IP network environment. It provides support for packet filtering, tunnels, and network address translation (NAT) which enables secure communication over private and public networks. It uses the DES algorithm and it includes SSL triple DES (TDES), SNMPv3 56-bit, and IPSec TDES.

Cryptographic Services provides the following base cryptographic functions: data secrecy, data integrity, personal identification, digital signatures, and management of cryptographic keys.

Distributed File Service support provides SMB file and print serving support for Windows clients.

FFST provides immediate notification and first failure data capture for software events.

The IBM HTTP Server provides for scaleable, high performance Web serving for critical e-business applications.

IBM TDS for z/OS, introduced as a new base element in z/OS V1R8, provides client access to an LDAP server It consists of a new, rewritten LDAP server, an LDAP client, and utilities. The LDAP client and utilities can be used with the Integrated Security Services LDAP Server or the new ITDS for z/OS LDAP server.

Network File System acts as a file server to workstations, personal computers, or other authorized systems in a TCP/IP network.

z/OS Security Level 3 includes the following: OCSF Security Level 3, System SSL Security Level 3, Network Authentication Service Security Level 3, and ITDS for z/OS Security Level 3.

z/OS UNIX System Services provides the standard command interface to familiar and interactive UNIX users.

It is not your fathers operating systems any more.

Mainframes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697767)

I work for a small government organization out of CA . Before I started here there was a large push from mainframes to standalone servers, we just bought a backup mainframe though because alot of our core infrastructure runs so smoothly on it. Then when Vmware grew there was a big push into ESX server for our physical servers. Now there is a large discussion on right now for purchasing a IBM Z9 and moving the rest of our servers to that.

So in other words.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697821)

the rebellious youth still does not GET OFF MY LAWN ?!

Well, there's also trust... (1)

bobwrit (1232148) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697841)

The government(USoA) probaly trusts IBM more than any other company because they've had their census being calculated on their mainframes for the past about 110 years and They are good for fast tasks economicly(cheper than server, yet faster than a PC or Laptop).

21 Years Old and Just starting out (5, Informative)

JackStrife17 (982300) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697851)

I actually just took a job in software development on z/OS (the new hip, backwards-hat wearing mainframe operating system). Aside from the impressive clustering capabilities, we've got a lot of new and exciting stuff. (I personally am a big fan of AT-TLS) It's true that the systems are old and the interfaces archaic and painful to use, but the level of configurability and reliability these things offer is staggering. We have a few customers with 100% uptimes in the 20-year range.

My school (Northern Illinois University) actually is one of the few left offering full mainframe tracks in their computer science department, although COBOL was the most painful programming experience of my life.

I'd bet that my meta-group of 50 or so people has a median age of about 33, and while it is still the old dinosaurs who know the most, the definition of "dinosaur" in my personal, 15 person group is around 50 years old.

MILF (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697853)

Mainframe I'd Like to Fsck!

Anonymous Coward (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697861)

I'm 25 and i work on mainframes. There is actually areally big skills crunch in the mainframe world for exactly the reason this post was created. People thought that the main frame is dead, but its not. And so people/companies stopped hiring nd educating. Now there is a big ages gap, between like the 30 somethings and the 40 somethings.

The main reason mainframes are getting used, is server consolidation and Virtualisation. When you can run all of your linux boxes virtualised on one machine, that draws less power, and has automatic systems to manage shutting virtual machines down and bring them back up without any human intervention, that is a positive. Also the mainframes hyper visor has about 30 years of developement in it and is VERY efficient.

I went to SHARE in February (3, Insightful)

PingXao (153057) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697889)

I was at the last winter conference in Orlando. I would guess the median age of the attendees was somewhere around 40. There's a LOT of Linux going on in the mainframe world (and COBOL has nothing to do with it). The biggest mistake IBM is currently making IMO is they've gotten into bed with Suse. There was a large group from Suse (Germany) in Orlando last February. Again IMO, Suse is an awful Linux distro. Yast is an abomination to work with on a daily basis. I think Redhat missed the boat there even though their Enterprise Linux distribution has support for System 390 hardware. Anyway, the point is that Linux is alive and well and thriving on big iron.

In addition, one of the primary draws of Orlando is Disney World and the other nearby theme parks. The (oops, almost wrote "Teh" there) February conference was held IN Disney at the Coronado Springs (stay in the Cabanas section if you ever go there, for any reason). SHARE members vote on where to hold their meetings. If a majority of those folks were over 60 I doubt they'd continue returning to Orlando every few years.

If you're not familiar with where and how mainframes are being used today then I suggest that YOU are the one who's out of touch with a significant sector of the computing world. Business' needs don't all revolve around iphones, ajax and youtube. Or payroll and accounting, for that matter.

Re:I went to SHARE in February (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697995)

IBM supports both SLES and RHEL under zLinux.

Re:I went to SHARE in February (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698133)

Porting Linux all over the place alows IBM to effectively unify a host of different architectures. I doubt they care all that much about YAST or any other idiosyncrasies of SUSE. Whatever problems get in their way they'll just fix them ... and release the patches.

Far from dead (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#24697897)

I worked implementing a new billing system built specifically for a Telco to be used in all branches in Latin America. We used Cobol and a Java front-end.

I must say that you can't beat a mainframe processing millions of records.

Also one thing I didn't know back then is the use of pointers in Cobol.

Of course it's not dead (1, Insightful)

Rossjman1 (1272538) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697927)

I'm taking a Cobol class as we speak (literally... I'm in class)

Re:Of course it's not dead (1)

gladish (982899) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698191)

And it's apparently so interesting that you're surfing the web.

Re:Of course it's not dead (1)

Rossjman1 (1272538) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698391)

I still pay attention, but there is a lot of dead time in class (professor helping classmates with their JCL errors), and I love browsing /.

pc's as good as a mainframe? (1)

iplayfast (166447) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697951)

Back in the day, it seems to me that Sperry or Boughs (sp?) mainframes used their own communications system, which would drive N terminals off of one wire.

In those days, PC's could emulate several terminals, one at a time. I was with a company that did just that. But the PC's of the day would be hard pressed to handle the incoming traffic from multiple terminals.

These days with TCP/IP as the protocal to rule them all, I expect decent server would handle the same traffic as a mainframe of 20 years ago. I don't know what todays are like, but I doubt they've let them languish.

Why Mainframes exist in my organization (3, Insightful)

jackspenn (682188) | more than 5 years ago | (#24697953)

The only reason that we still run a mainframe is because the management in place grow up around the mainframe and their underlings would be put out of work if we got rid of it. There is no reason why we couldn't be moving all of its relatively simple programs from the mainframe to a JAVA or .NET other then the fact that we have to wait for all of the current decision makers to retire or just die. The money we waste on hardware components or in turning on software features that are free in most other parts of the industry as well as the time it takes for old farts to get their head around distributed computing concepts is insane. While they spend days writing a program to do screen scraping to get an answer for management "How many people work here?" before eventually conceding they are unable to get the correct result only to have management come to me for a 2 minute powershell script to get the same information from AD. Yes we store things one way in the mainframe and again in AD or SQL Databases because the mainframe people are scared to try and cross the bridge and work with us. They freak out at anything new and worse they don't how the mainframe works. I read all about the Z/9 in an attempt to relate to those bums, I walked over to their side of the hall and in 15 minutes realized the operators don't care to learn how or why something is, they prefer to think of it as a black box. A big black box that takes up lots of room, lots of power and lots of cash. IBM mainframes exist because people who fear change are unable to get off them, not because there is anything fundamentally advantageous about them. I am planning their destruction, a VM that runs on Intel hardware but responds just like a mainframe, it is software that could be sold for nothing and then all the mainframe apps could be moved to it and IBM would be finished, dead toast. I think it is sad you have to pay and enter a code if you want to see more HD space, you cannot just plug in more SAN space, you have to buy it like you would for the Intel side and then pay IBM to let you see it. It is just a revolting way of doing IT. Mainframes are not innovative people, Mainframes are not sex or cool. Mainframes are anti-hacker, anti-explorer, anti-learning. I cannot stress how much they suck.

Re:Why Mainframes exist in my organization (2, Insightful)

jstott (212041) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698147)

I am planning their destruction, a VM that runs on Intel hardware but responds just like a mainframe, it is software that could be sold for nothing and then all the mainframe apps could be moved to it and IBM would be finished, dead toast.

And it'll run under Vista to guarantee 24-7 reliability!

There's a lot more to a mainframe than just software apps — reliability and massive I/O being the most obvious. Remember, this is a world where down-time is measured in millions of dollars per hour. Mainframes are specialized tools designed for specialized jobs and no PC will ever displace (regardless of what sexy VM you're trying to hype) them simply because PC's are designed for a broad consumer market and not for the 24-7 zero-downtime business world.

-JS

Re:Why Mainframes exist in my organization (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24698205)

Which is why google runs on mainframes?

Oh no, it doesn't, PCs all the way down...

Re:Why Mainframes exist in my organization (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24698403)

You don't really understand computing, do you? Yes, Google has millions of PCs, all with (supposedly) similar (but not the same) data. What if the one you connect to has downlevel data? You would not even notice. What if the server died in the middle of your transaction? You would hit reload. Now, what if your bank decides that your account information is 'good enough', or that missing a few transactions here and there is no problem. Believe it or not, there are reasons there are differing computing models for different tasks.

Re:Why Mainframes exist in my organization (3, Insightful)

satellite17 (816105) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698719)

how many PCs though.

how much space do those PC's take up? How much power do they consume?

Back in the day you had room sized mainframes, sucking up loads of power, sat in big expensive air conditioned data centres. Now you've got room sized server racks, sucking up loads of power, sat in big expensive data centres.

I can guarantee that whoever it is you bank with runs all of their mission critical stuff on a mainframe (and you should be glad that they do). My company are spending over $0.6 billion over the next few years to completely rewrite all of our core systems. Not because the systems can't cope with the demand put upon them but because the software is showing it's age and isn't flexible enough to change as quickly as the business needs it to (and because if there is a piece of technology that's ever been sold we've probably got two of them sat in each of our data centres). Are they going to be running on Windows? err nope, how about Linux? nope. will there be an Intel processor in the box that runs all this stuff? Not a chance. Big iron all the way.

Of course sat around that will be a bunch of web servers running web services and UIs for the users. Those are the machines that will be running the VMs and Java / .net apps that the GGP is talking about. and I'll be the guy writing that Java / .net software.

I've sat on both sides of the fence, started my career as an admin on a mainframe, now I write software using the new fangled stuff. both of them have a place. I'm only 35 but I'd be surprised if the mainframe disappears before I retire

Re:Why Mainframes exist in my organization (1)

Relayman (1068986) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698575)

Check out the IBM System i (or iSeries or Power Systems or whatever they're calling it today). The mainframe world split in 1980 when IBM came out with the System/38 which the mainframers didn't want to touch because it was too innovative. The System/38 has morphed into the current system which runs Java, PHP, Apache and other nice things just fine, thank you. And there's not a single line of JCL in the box.

Re:Why Mainframes exist in my organization (1)

R2.0 (532027) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698577)

You forgot "And they get paid more than me! Waaaahhhhh!!"

Re:Why Mainframes exist in my organization (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24698637)

I cannot stress how much they suck.

In your environment.

I Still Depend on Mainframes (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24698017)

I'm an engineer at a natural gas utility with ~1 million customers and I still depend on our mainframe for the most accurate data. It is used daily by hundreds of people in our company.

I still deal with COBOL exported data even today.. (1)

fitten (521191) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698093)

A system I built just this year has to deal with data exported by a COBOL system (Copybook formatted data). It made me sad.

CobolScript++ (1)

Tablizer (95088) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698105)

So there *is* a market for CobolScript++

Hardly news, really ... (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698107)

In spite of what some people may believe, there a whole raft of things that mainframes do exceedingly well. In spite of its having "reinvented" itself, IBM is still a big iron company, and there's a reason for that.

Why is this a surprise? (1)

afabbro (33948) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698135)

More transactions run through the world's mainframes in an hour than run through Google in a day.

Mainframes? OK. But COBOL??? (1)

PPH (736903) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698229)

There are still places for mainframes. With virtualization, that Linux server you think you are leasing space on may actually be a slice of a mainframe.

But COBOL? Sure, there's legacy COBOL code that needs to be maintained. But answer this question: Given a clean slate and a proposal to build a new application, how many people would choose COBOL? Anybody?

[Sound of crickets]

The main reason COBOL is still around, a perverse reason at that, is that it is more expensive to port an app. than it is to patch it just one more time. This isn't necessarily a fault of COBOL itself, but a by-product of a lot of old apps having been written in it before modern programming practices took hold. Well documented COBOL programs are easier and cheaper to maintain than crummy ones. The problem is: they are also easier to port. The code that gets left behind is the garbage that nobody understands (or even has complete source to anymore). The incremental patches needed to keep it running are cheaper in the short term. But they raise the economic barrier to diving into it to reverse engineer and move to a new platform.

Re:Mainframes? OK. But COBOL??? (2, Insightful)

sphealey (2855) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698383)

=== But COBOL? Sure, there's legacy COBOL code that needs to be maintained. But answer this question: Given a clean slate and a proposal to build a new application, how many people would choose COBOL? Anybody? ===

Serious question - I am long out of touch with language design and practice - which currently used and popular language/compiler/optimizers have solid support for BCD and financial arithmetic?

sPh

Re:Mainframes? OK. But COBOL??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24698557)

java(new cobol) with the BigDecimal class there is even an optimized version for the big iron

Re:Mainframes? OK. But COBOL??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24698709)

BCD & Financial Arithmetic only posed a problem because of shortage of memory and narrow arithmetic mills, If you can do INTEGER 128 bit arithmetic, eg 86_64 SSE3 you can do exact integer arithmetic, even for large systems.

There are still problems, eg multi-currency, market movement (eg mark-to-market) but these are conceptual and legal not representational.

As an aside, modern systems use MPR to provide exact arithmetic even in cross hosted environments and this provides almost arbitrary precision, but only as much as is needed. Similar, but more primative systems are used in financial news feeds eg TIN on the Telekurs feed.

Re:Mainframes? OK. But COBOL??? (3, Informative)

Pig Hogger (10379) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698769)

Cobol is still around because it's an extremely verbose language that is easy to understand (I never said "write into"), so managers can understand what their programmers are doing.

They are the money making engines (3, Interesting)

fartrader (323244) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698241)

Basically the mainframe and the software it hosts really make the cash for most enterprises - and as a consequence any sensible management are loathe to replace it with something "newer", even if the systems in question are horrible spaghetti nightmares that no-one really understands, and maintaining them is a process of trial and error. Replacement would simply be "cleaning the inside of a tin can", no obvious shareholder value at all in change for changes sake.

Also technology vendors have finally woken up to the fact that the mainframe isnt a dinosaur on the verge of extinction - for example making CICS transactions web-service enabled has made COBOL code just as capable of participating in a service-oriented architecture as a set of AXIS hosted java classes.

I worked at IBM Boulder (2, Informative)

Abattoir (16282) | more than 6 years ago | (#24698509)

There's a *lot* of mainframes at IBM-Boulder. They were deploying brand new (at the time) z9's to replace old 360/390 and earlier zSeries. If I recall the conversation with the facility manager for that project, it was a 5 to 1 ratio of old systems to the z9's, most of which would be running Linux VM's for WebSphere deployments of various types.

Re:I worked at IBM Boulder (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#24698583)

That is probably part of 'Project Green', where they are replacing 4000 unix servers with 30 mainframes.
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