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NASA Unplugs Its Last Mainframe

timothy posted more than 2 years ago | from the what-would-you-do-with-the-pieces? dept.

IBM 230

coondoggie writes "It's somewhat hard to imagine that NASA doesn't need the computing power of an IBM mainframe any more, but NASA's CIO posted on her blog today that at the end of the month, the Big Iron will be no more at the space agency. NASA CIO Linda Cureton wrote: 'This month marks the end of an era in NASA computing. Marshall Space Flight Center powered down NASA's last mainframe, the IBM Z9 Mainframe.'"

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Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39012653)

Pardon my youth and naiveness.

I've seen mainframes used at Insurance companies and Banks, but the rest of the world seems to favour the the cloud ways of Elastic Cloud and what not.

I've heard mainframes have high IO thoroughput, but what about their equivalent Cloud solutions and scalability especially?

Thanks.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (5, Informative)

tysonedwards (969693) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012731)

It's also that $730,000 / year in ongoing maintenance for a Z9 is not really all that practical, especially considering that newer deployments based on GPGPUs have far lower operating costs, and provide higher performance than a 5 year old big iron.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (5, Insightful)

Shinobi (19308) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012763)

Only in some aspects, and GPGPU clusters have a hard time matching the transaction rates and number of concurrent I/O's of a Z9. I wouldn't want to use a GPGPU cluster for financial/payrolls, just as an example.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39012835)

Does payroll really require a Big Iron?
I can't really imagine that keeping track of a company's financials (even measured in billions) requires $730,000 / year in number crunching ability...

We are talking about units of measurements that *only* have 2 decimal places after all, across likely hundreds of thousands of employees.
Is clustering even a requirement for this vertical?

I am not an accountant... I am however a theoretical physicist... Maybe I don't understand the eccentricities dealing with calculations with so few decimal places.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (5, Insightful)

jythie (914043) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013033)

Few decimal places, but lots of rules and interactions with banking systems. Though the big element is reliability, mainframes are pretty unmatched in their ability to keep running. There are mainframes that literally go decades between reboots or other failures.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013157)

A PeopleSoft or SAP implementation isn't cheap even if you manage to run it in a distributed Windows and/or *NIX environment. At my last employer, the PeopleSoft IT team was larger than the rest of IT, who had to manage multiple locations, 1000+ phones and 200+ servers.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (5, Interesting)

AK Marc (707885) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013291)

Maybe all payroll stuff requires suckage, but PeopleSoft and SAP are two of the worst products in existence. The city here adopted SAP to "save costs" and now has a department of 10+ "SAP Programmers" just to keep basic functionality running. And PeopleSoft where I used it last directly wasn't hard. It ran on a single low-spec server. You just couldn't use it for 5 days of the month (invoice generation, payroll, and 3 other such dedicated days). That was "acceptable" because the cost of a server that could generate those pieces in a few seconds would have cost more than the inconvenience of the application being unavailable.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (1)

Skuld-Chan (302449) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013935)

I can attest to that. Any product that needs an entire floor of people to operate probably isn't worth much.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (2)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013377)

Over the last ten years or so the mainframe environment I worked with was IPLed (rebooted) every 2 or 3 months. Admittedly, most of these were because of human errors, but the cause doesn't really matter. The uptime is only there if you never let *anyone* touch it, or make *any* changes.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013421)

You don't have to IPL every LPAR in the sysplex at the same time...

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (5, Funny)

Lambeco (1705140) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013705)

If only there was a "...what?" mod option.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013765)

You don't have to IPL (Initial Program Load - reboot) every LPAR (Logical Partition - like a virtual machine) in the sysplex (cluster) at the same time...

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (2)

rtfa-troll (1340807) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013787)

If only there was a "...what?" mod option.

Presumably as a +1. As opposed to the "what the..." moderation.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (5, Informative)

compro01 (777531) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013865)

LPAR is a Logical PARtition, a section of hardware in a mainframe dedicated to one operating system instance. Basically a form of visualization.

A sysplex is a SYStems comPLEX. Basically a cluster of mainframes.

Basically, you reboot a single LPAR containing one specific thing rather than the entire physical system or cluster.

It's basically like having multiple independent servers for each thing, but more reliable and more flexible.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (5, Interesting)

mikael (484) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013427)

Mainframes support virtualization, multiple versions of different operating systems running at the same time. One OS can be used for development, another for production. Hardware can be hot-plugged. You can pull out CPU's, disk drive, memory boards, all while the system is still running. The system will have it's own back-up power, it's own diesel generator, fuel-tanks and air-conditioning. Just as much if not more reliability and redundancy than a nuclear reactor.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013855)

You can also get all of this with a p-Series, or even x84 and VMware.

I don't really see why anyone would chose z-series other than for legacy reasons.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (5, Informative)

Shinobi (19308) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013987)

As much as I use and abuse VMWare, it's not yet comparable to IBM Mainframe class virtualization.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (1)

Skuld-Chan (302449) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013947)

Kinda like the HP Blade server we have running ESX here at work? It costs a lot less than a Z9 as well :).

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (4, Insightful)

Shinobi (19308) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013971)

Except that the HP Blade cluster has nothing on the mainframe in terms of reliability and data integrity.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (4, Interesting)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013179)

"Does payroll really require a Big Iron?"

No it does not. I managed the SQL databases for Comcast's company wide Accounting systems in 2006 it ran off of 4 MSSQL servers. They were monstrous servers, with 8 processors each, (you count the cores) screaming fast Raid 50 arrays with a buttload of ram to deal with the pivot tables. 99% of payroll speed is the DB read and write times not mathematic calculations.

But you certainly do NOT need Big Iron to do a few million payroll calculations for hourly, Executive and Sales people every 2 weeks. Running payroll took 6 hours on tuesday. If something went wrong we ran it later t hat night.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (4, Interesting)

emt377 (610337) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013215)

Does payroll really require a Big Iron? I can't really imagine that keeping track of a company's financials (even measured in billions) requires $730,000 / year in number crunching ability...

It's not just payroll, but also tracking every expense, income, capital asset, depreciation, order placed, order received, services provided, goods shipped, customer phone call received, etc. For a large company it's an AMAZING amount of data. The "old way" of doing this was to dump all this into a set of tables, then run enormously complex recursively joined queries to restructure it and generate reports, billing reminders, etc. The new way is to dump it into mapreduce, scribe feeds, or equivalent and get cooked data out that can easily be tabulated in reports. The data out of the distributed computation gets fed into a relatively small db while all the raw data is just piped to some storage device for posterity. This computational model fits better with cloud provisioning. But you may find a room full of 20U blade chassis loaded up isn't exactly cheap either. But it's more flexible, and the mapreduce model of pre-cooking is more economic because it distributes the load over the quarter rather than over a few days following each quarter. Of course, horizontal scaling is vastly cheaper than vertical scaling, if the problem can be attacked that way. Even if the overhead approaches several hundred percent or you crunch numbers in php (heaven forbid) - it's still vastly cheaper.

But everyone knows the distributed model is cheaper. It's just that any business that's been around more than 10 years has a large body of legacy code to already implement all the custom payroll, auditing, tax code enforcement, tax optimization, reports, etc they need, which makes it's a huge project to move a system that's already in production. Moving it would probably cost in the millions and is very risky, so it's easy to just to pony up $700k annually and forget about it. It's also really difficult to migrate in steps.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (1, Troll)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013401)

People should keep this in mind when they decide to lock-in to a proprietary solution. Also $700K ... very low-ball from what I've seen.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (5, Interesting)

Shinobi (19308) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013313)

It's not the decimal places as such. It's the fact that, if we step through the entire stack: Everything is rounded off properly(that means, no floating points math rounding errors), input from many concurrent sources without choking, reliability not just in terms of machine/OS/application uptime, but also in terms of data integrity(a modern mainframe does ECC, checksumming etc at every stage of data handling, even in transfers to and from RAM. With the proper configuration, you can also have it encrypted in transfer, at no cost in throughput or computational performance). The I/O also means it can crunch through all the conditionals listed in records much faster, including all banking and tax rules etc. In terms of physical hardware, everything is redundant, with the aforementioned ECC etc, and if you are serious, you sysplex it. And that's just for payroll/employee records. Virtualization is handled pretty much transparently, seeing as IBM has done it on mainframes since the 1960's. Security of the underlying system is excellent with superb compartmentalization and ACL's etc, such that the Linux images that you can run virtualized are less secure even in a hardened configuration.

For financials or insurance, it's everything mentioned above, and handling thousands of terminals/ATM's, handling transfers between accounts in real time etc. At a bank here in Sweden, the Unix/Linux crowd has been trying to move the bank away from mainframes for over 9 years now, but the mainframe division can show, year after year, that even with the support costs, it's cheaper to use the mainframe, because it's more reliable, and needs less infrastructure and manpower than the bundle-of-servers approach.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013983)

As a developer of high frequency trading systems I call BS on this big time.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013379)

Not to mention having to rewrite the damn code to work on the GPGPU, and having to re-architect all my programs to be used through OpenCL or CUDA... But in a few years they can buy Intel's Knight's corner CPUs, which do allow for standard programming languages to be used... so perhaps they are simply moving to that.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (2)

Gerzel (240421) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013605)

Yeah but NASA generally is doing the kinds of apps that GPGU clusters excel at and not the types that mainframes excel at. Really they can rent one if they need it, but I don't see a real need at the current time for NASA to have one.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (4, Informative)

bws111 (1216812) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012805)

GPGPUs do not replace mainframes, unless the mainframe in question is being used for the wrong reasons.

GPGPUs excel at very fast computation and being cheap.

Mainframes excel at very high transaction rates (lots of I/O), incredible reliability (five 9s), and security.

GPGPUs are used in scientific (number-crunching) work, mainframes are used for business.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39012845)

Hey fucker. I say they did. Now shut the fuck up.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (0)

Glonoinha (587375) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013163)

I'm guessing part of their security comes from not being connected to the 'net. Hell, DOS and Windows 3.1 machines were some of the most secure machines in the past 25 years history of computers, assuming you secured them physically - because by and large they didn't have dedicated connections to other (external) machines. I'm guessing if you didn't plug it in to an Ethernet connection and physically secured the machine, even an unpatched XP box is pretty secure.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013191)

Not so much. The vast majority of mainframe systems are used with active network connections, and you probably use them without ever realizing that they are the back end to a variety of web engines you touch. Booked a hotel room, car rental, airline seat? Maybe you got money from an ATM? Bought something online? These are common modern uses of the mainframe's vast I/O capacity and reliability.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (3, Insightful)

bws111 (1216812) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013315)

How do you think you can get your bank account balance if the machine storing that info is not connected to anything? The major use of mainframes is high-volume transaction processing, and those transactions come from somewhere (POS terminals, ATMs, reservation systems, web pages, etc).

No, mainframe security comes from the fact that every part of the mainframe - the architecture, the hardware, the OS, the middleware, the applications, the management is concerned with security from the very start.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (5, Informative)

sjames (1099) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012887)

Mainframes aren't about computational performance, they're about reliability and to a lesser degree (these days) I//O performance. If you want computational performance, you go with a cluster or perhaps a cluster of GPUs (depending on the nature of the problem).

Mainframes are about reliability. When your app absolutely positively must run 24/7, a mainframe is a reasonable consideration. We can get about 90% of that with multiple failover servers and other similar strategies. Where that's good enough, we go that way because of the vastly lower prices. However, if the 90% solution just isn't good enough, mainframe it is.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (1)

hairyfeet (841228) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013237)

Are they renting the thing? Because I would think that big iron like that wouldn't be breaking down, hence why they were so popular. If its a support contract then obviously it would be cheaper to hire a couple of admins well versed in the Z-series and let them take care of the thing. But I looked that model up and it was released in 2005, that's barely broke in in mainframe terms. Now if they simply don't need that amount of power now that they've retired the shuttle that's understandable but I just hope it isn't an excuse to buy into some "cloud centric web 3.0 GPGPU blingapaloza" as lets face government agencies and blowing money go together like chocolate and peanut butter. I read TFA (I know I know, but I got bored) and there isn't a single word about what is gonna replace it, is it gonna be more costly? less? Are they simply not replacing it at all? A little more info would be nice.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013297)

zOS is licensed such that you need a support contract to power the machine on. You own an enormous paperweight without a support contract.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013411)

You also pay to use the processors.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (3, Informative)

tysonedwards (969693) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013329)

In the article, they mentioned that 700k was for the maintenance contract, and 30k was for the power.

They also stated that thy were keeping it around for a few projects that were slated to be terminated, but hadn't yet been and they had no desire to migrate services to standard servers.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (4, Informative)

History's Coming To (1059484) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012761)

The reason big old fashioned mainframes are still in use in many places is simply the cost of moving away from them. They're generally running custom code, custom databases, custom hardware....the sheer cost of re-doing everything is the big problem, not the fact that modern hardware has any issues doing the job.

Clusters of PS3s make a perfectly serviceable supercomputer, but if your existing solution still works...

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (4, Insightful)

bws111 (1216812) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012859)

Mainframes are not supercomputers, and are not marketed as such. Not sure what you mean by 'modern hardware' - you don't think mainframes are modern hardware?

Mainframes are used for high-volume transaction systems, where uptime and data integrity is absolutely essential. Clusters of PS3's are not going to match that.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (2)

History's Coming To (1059484) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013079)

Agreed, I was referring to some of the excruciatingly old systems that are still running, some going back three decades or more.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (4, Insightful)

Samantha Wright (1324923) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013007)

You're probably aware of all this, but just to anyone who happens by and gets confused: these mainframes are not exactly dinosaurs; the z9 series was introduced seven years ago and uses totally custom 64-bit CISC silicon designed to give the top of the line performance for the day. The hardware is essentially optimized to run VM hypervisors, and one of the major guest OSes for it is Linux. Essentially what the price tag fetches you—very much unlike a pile of PS3s strung together—is ungodly amounts of vendor support. As documentation-fearing folk, we Slashdotters don't generally think about dependability on the scale that IBM does, but there's a very clear market for it, and that's really been the marketing point of Big Blue for at least the past twenty years or so, much moreso than legacy software lock-in.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (5, Interesting)

Forever Wondering (2506940) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013637)

And backward compatibility and service. Write once, run forever. You can take a binary program compiled in 1975 and it will run unchanged on the latest mainframe.

---

Even if it's on a punched card deck and you don't have card deck reader hardware anymore, IBM does. Its support group will transfer the card deck to whatever media your current hardware can handle.

Also, if a mainframe ever does go down, IBM's service escalation policy is unbelievable (e.g. that's what you pay for). I remember when my datacenter's mainframe went down [circa 1975]. The following numbers aren't exact, but similar.

The local rep must be onsite within a fixed period of time (e.g. 2 hours). He has [say] 4 hours to diagnose/fix the problem. If he is unable to do so, the regional hotshot is called in. If more time goes by, the national service rep and one or more of the system architects must arrive. After 24 hours, an executive vice president must be onsite and stay until the problem is resolved.

When we had our problem, the onsite VP had the entire mainframe replaced, by diverting a system scheduled to go to a new customer and airfreighting it up. Total round trip time [for complete replacement/install]: 72 hours

Also, the mainframes in those days were much bigger iron than the one pictured in the article. You could fit five z9's into the space of a single s/370

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (3, Informative)

webnut77 (1326189) | more than 2 years ago | (#39014051)

Also, the mainframes in those days were much bigger iron than the one pictured in the article. You could fit five z9's into the space of a single s/370

You could literally step inside an IBM 3090.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (5, Informative)

deoxyribonucleose (993319) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012781)

I've seen mainframes used at Insurance companies and Banks, but the rest of the world seems to favour the the cloud ways of Elastic Cloud and what not.

I've heard mainframes have high IO thoroughput, but what about their equivalent Cloud solutions and scalability especially?

Thanks.

Latency. Confidentiality. Reliability. But most of all: sunk costs and proprietary software embodying key business knowledge. Replacing mainframes requires a large enterprise to start not only major software procurement or development (or both, as in ERP), but also business process reengineering... none of which is particularly fun, cheap or in themselves something that helps capture greater market share.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (4, Informative)

Junta (36770) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012841)

I've heard mainframes have high IO thoroughput, but what about their equivalent Cloud solutions and scalability especially?

Depends on the problem.

For a relatively naively constructed algorithm, IO will be measurably worse in any 'cloud' platform popular today, and severely worse than mainframe. However, if you understand how to make your application scale (assuming it theoretically can), you can *in aggregate* match mainframe IO benefit at a much lower acquisition cost (though depending on who you talk to the more fudge-friendly 'TCO' metric may or may not follow). The trick is for many applications, the perceived risk and cost to reach that understanding is higher than just continuing to go with the flow of an IBM mainframe. Of course, some moderately broad areas of problems are getting tooling to more easily do that sort of scaling without too much extra thought. On the other hand, some problem areas no one has constructed a 'proper' approach that would negate the need for mainframe-like architecture.

With respect to the word 'cloud', the overwhelming majority of 'clouds' covered in tech news are EC2 and EC2-workalikes where IO is not particularly optimized. There are also various companies championing a departmental server or two with a few virtual machines on it as a 'cloud', further diluting the message and usually having terrible IO characteristics even with overpriced storage architectures. On the other hand, there are some projects claiming 'cloud' that include arbitration of bare-metal execution that can reasonably compare with a 'boring' scale-out private x86 scale-out solution, but very few people care.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (3, Interesting)

symbolset (646467) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013823)

It's really not hard to configure a single rack server with 1M IOPS, 1-2 TB RAM, 40-160Gbit aggregate networking and 40-48 cores these days. They fit 4-8 per rack, storage and switching included. They don't cost as much as you might think, even with the hand-holding support contract. And they run the OpenStack "cloud" platform quite well.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (2)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012863)

Mainframes have legacy, locality, and privacy, which are particularly important qualities for banks and insurance companies.

The biggest problem is porting old programs to cloud systems. Sure, it can be done, but it's a million-dollar proposal, and if something goes wrong, it's potentially hundreds of millions of dollars in losses for a big bank. New systems will often use cloud solutions, but that requires convincing managers that they'll work just as well.

Whether a cloud solution will meet the throughput capabilities of a mainframe is something of an open question. Sure, cloud systems can scale more easily, but the programs they run must also be scalable. Very often, the algorithm used on the mainframe won't port cleanly to a cloud system in a way that will offer reasonable performance. There's significant re-engineering involved, which drives conversion costs higher.

With so much new code being handed off to a nebulous cloud provider, often in another company, outside the control and oversight of the IT managers, there's reasonable concern for security. While there's few incidents of actual cloud-related security breaches, there are many stories about breaches on shared systems. IT managers know that most cloud systems are shared, and it's seen as only a matter of time before something bad happens.

Clouds are new. New things are scary to the steeped-in-history banks and insurance providers. Give them time, and they'll start using cloud solutions widely, but don't hold your breath waiting.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39012867)

They do.
They use mainframes to _power_ their cloud solutions.

The trend these days is for companies to have a few huge physical machines, and run VMs on top of that. That's what mainframes do best.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (4, Informative)

story645 (1278106) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012903)

My mom keeps telling me that UPS is one of the world's largest users of DB2, a statement backed up in this article [theregister.co.uk] . They're not switching off for the same reason financial institutions don't; After pouring lots of money into alternatives, they found that mainframes have better performance.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (4, Insightful)

arth1 (260657) | more than 2 years ago | (#39014041)

And if not always better performance, usually more predictable performance, which can be far more important.
For some apps, it is better to have a guaranteed transaction time of 10 ms than an average transaction time of 1 ms with no guarantees.
Linux RT and GRIO are getting better, but not quite there yet.

It's also easier to scale with big iron - you pay for more performance, Big Blue delivers it, and you won't have to go through painful migrations.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (1)

jythie (914043) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013067)

Not sure I would say the 'rest of the world'. Some companies seem to be playing with cloud computing and it is a popular buzz word, but most companies still choose between mainframe or a rack full of servers. Cloud stuff is not known for reliability or flexibility of application.

yes (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013565)

Yes, mainframes are still used. They still have their place in the world.

Re:Do companies really use Big Iron anymore? (1)

rotorbudd (1242864) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013769)

From TFA
" But it was time for a change, with the House spending $30,000 a year to power the mainframe and another $700,000 each year for maintenance and support."
  That's THE mainframe. As on one.

Why stop there??? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39012665)

NASA is just one large welfare program for scientists. A space program without a space vehicle is laughable to say the least. Why not at least down size the organization, trim away some of the fat, so they can at least have a next generation space vehicle and scientists that actually do something all day rather than push paperwork around the bureaucracy.

Re:Why stop there??? (1, Insightful)

spire3661 (1038968) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012735)

The worst thing about the Space Shuttle is that it exposed how NASA is funded. Its not pure science, its 'pass work out to my friends first, space second". Politicians shouldnt be in charge of how NASA operates. If we could change the way we allocate money to NASA by appointing SCIENTIST-SENATORS ( this is not a fully formed thought, merely a recognition that lawyers are not scientists), then we might make some progress.

Re:Why stop there??? (4, Informative)

Sir_Sri (199544) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012817)

scientists aren't business people either. The intricacies of managing the main contractors, the infrastructure base and the diplomatic exchanges that go with all the other space programmes in the world are best left to people who aren't scientists.

NASA was always about more than just shuttles and manned spaceflight. Those are, generally, relatively poor investments for the science you get out of them. Great PR, and broadly inspirational, but relatively inefficient actual science. NASA does communications satellites, telescopes, materials sciences, weather, the weather of the sun, general satellite management from all of those things, fundamental aeronautics research, etc. There's a lot more to what goes on that just pure science, and than the trolls misguided view that it's all about manned spaceflight. And, like anything, there's a legitimate desire to use the progamme to showoff expertise and build relationships internationally.

Re:Why stop there??? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39012821)

NASA was derived as a program for basic engineering, and a political venture. Did anyone think that the moon program was really about science?

Re:Why stop there??? (1)

0123456 (636235) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013209)

Politicians shouldnt be in charge of how NASA operates.

Well, that's easy. Just eliminate all NASA funding from the taxpayer and then politicians won't feel such an urge to tell them what to do.

Re:Why stop there??? (1)

Deus.1.01 (946808) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013521)

Or you can just give them a constitutional standard which sets the course and prevent the politicians from making direct decisions.

Re:Why stop there??? (0)

crankyspice (63953) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013767)

a recognition that lawyers are not scientists

I may need to draw you a Venn diagram (and then, based on your 8-digit UID, explain, patiently, what a Venn diagram is ;)), but, this lawyer is a member of Tau Beta Pi [tbp.org] and has personally helped design, assemble, and been a "core team" member on static engine tests and launches of, CALVEIN [csulb.edu] lifters...

Re:Why stop there??? (2)

Sarten-X (1102295) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012783)

Shockingly enough, there's more to space exploration than just putting people in it. There's analysis of radio telescope data, probes leaving our solar system, theoretical physics, simulated microgravity experiments, and an enormous number of other fields of research I simply don't know enough about to even know what they are. Discounting NASA because it doesn't currently have an operational vehicle is like saying that when your car breaks down, the rest of the world doesn't matter.

Looking forward to the Ebay auctions... (1)

Tastecicles (1153671) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012677)

...can I get a mainframe for $5 shipped on BuyItNow?

(I wish!)

the shiping fees are very high (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012733)

and you want to pay more as the people at UPS will not be able to get you something like this with out dropping it.

Re:the shiping fees are very high (1)

davester666 (731373) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013747)

And you definitely don't want to 'upgrade' to Fedex shipping.

I would suggest you drive out and pick it up yourself.

Re:Looking forward to the Ebay auctions... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39012743)

Did NASA own it? I thought the really big Irons were leased?

Obligatory power down sequence (3, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39012687)

Daisy..., daisy... give me our answer, do,
I'm half crazy for the love of you ...
[sounds fades away]

Re:Obligatory power down sequence (2)

MRe_nl (306212) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012707)

I'm afraid I can't do that Linda...

Re:Obligatory power down sequence (1)

History's Coming To (1059484) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012775)

Dave...my mind is going....I can feel it....

I use that as a low-power alert on my netbook, it still freaks me out a little.

Re:Obligatory power down sequence (1)

grumling (94709) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012853)

...But I still have a lot of confidence in the mission.

Distributed servers (2)

Neil_Brown (1568845) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012701)

all about space saving?

Re:Distributed servers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013409)

They just depend on The Cloud. What could possibly go wrong with that?

But they still have the data center (4, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012703)

NASA still has a big data center in Slidell, Louisiana. They're hiring. [jobamatic.com] With the mainframes gone, one would expect they'd close down Slidell, but no. Instead, they're building a big museum and PR center [infinitysc...center.org] there.

NASA seems to spend money at a relatively constant rate, independent of whether they're flying anything.

Re:But they still have the data center (2)

DesScorp (410532) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012769)

NASA seems to spend money at a relatively constant rate, independent of whether they're flying anything.

Which makes them no different from any other government agency.

NASA should disestablished, and it's responsibilities farmed out to other agencies. Give space launch to the Air Force and Navy, and science functions to universities and other research agencies.

Re:But they still have the data center (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39012829)

I agree that a government agency or any organization can continue to spend it's budget without accomplishing a particular function. That is basic human nature, along with kingdom building. However, I'm very uncomfortable with the notion of handing space launches to the military. It's all well and good that they have space defense capability, but I prefer at least a pretense at civilian management for our general space program.

No mainframe = shuttered data center? Huh? (5, Insightful)

sirwired (27582) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012879)

I don't follow why a data center would be kept open for one puny mainframe (or closed because it's gone.) I'm pretty sure there's other stuff there. A modern mainframe is about the size of three deep rack cabinets. Even with associated storage and support peripherals, I could fit a complete mainframe installation in my living room. I doubt the only thing in the data center was the mainframe.

Also, NASA stands for National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NOT National Manned Space Flight Agency. They DO accomplish lots of other stuff other than manned space flight.

Re:No mainframe = shuttered data center? Huh? (1)

NEDHead (1651195) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012993)

Perhaps it could fit in your living room, but I bet it would block the view of the stripper pole

Re:No mainframe = shuttered data center? Huh? (1)

Spliffster (755587) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013103)

just undoing misplaced mod points.

Re:But they still have the data center (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39012927)

NASA is flying an awful lot, just no longer one particular vehicle. But I guess that's an idea too complex for the slashdot brain trust.

Re:But they still have the data center (1)

mx+b (2078162) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013135)

NASA works in that area with the Navy/NOAA. It may not be a strictly NASA data center. I know they do a lot of hurricane research, plus the gulf oil spill, etc. I guess NASA provides the satellites etc for use in research.

TFA (5, Informative)

ldapboy (946366) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012751)

The cited page is a copy/paste of Linda Cureton's blog post. Lame and uncool to copy someone's article whole without a link, don't you think, even if they are paid with taxpayer $$? Here's the original article : http://blogs.nasa.gov/cm/blog/NASA-CIO-Blog/posts/post_1329017818806.html [nasa.gov]

Makes sense... (4, Insightful)

sirwired (27582) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012849)

For the workloads a mainframe is designed to perform, I can't imagine NASA would have much use for one. They are database and transaction processing monsters. NASA does not handle large volumes of either. I imagine their scientific computing needs are pretty fair-sized, but mainframes are indeed rather cost-ineffective for scientific workloads.

Are there emulators for mainframe code? (3, Interesting)

wisebabo (638845) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012855)

I mean it's possible to run your old Commodore 64 or TRS-80 (or even Apple II?) software in a software emulator of these machines. And it's (mostly?) legal to do so? (BTW, anyone know of an Apple II emulator which will run the game "Epoch"?)

So are there software emulators for an IBM 360 or VAX out there? Can I run them on my iPad? There might be some interesting software that you could play with, despite the primitive hardware they did send Man to the moon using these systems as well as defend the U.S. against nuclear attack and run the IRS. (Getting this code might be a bit of a problem!)

Even if there isn't a software emulator DIRECTLY for a mainframe to run on my iPad, what about one that'll run on a pentium class PC. Then is it practical to run THAT in emulation mode on my iPad?

Re:Are there emulators for mainframe code? (5, Interesting)

raburton (1281780) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012959)

Yes, there are mainframe emulators. And if you compare processing power they come out quite well, but as others have pointed out mainframes aren't super computers and don't claim to be. If you just want something that can run your mainframe code that's great. What an emulator won't give you is any of the things that people actually want a mainframe for (see other posts for details).

It's a bit disappointing to see so many people on slashdot wondering what the purpose of a mainframe is. It shows so many "geeks" have a very limited knowledge of IT in the real world.

Re:Are there emulators for mainframe code? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013037)

Yes, yes, we'll get off your lawn, too.

For most of the IT world, Mainframes are relics at this point. Not everybody grew up in the 60's and had to vie for access to punchcards and vacuum tubes.

Re:Are there emulators for mainframe code? (2)

GerryHattrick (1037764) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013167)

Well I loved my mainframe in the '60s. On the nightshift you could keep your cocao hot on top of the CPU, and if things went wrong you could try your hand at 'core alters' from the console (quicker than repunching some cards).

Re:Are there emulators for mainframe code? (1)

cyber-vandal (148830) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013361)

And yet all the new tech seems determined to reimplement mainframe tech but not as well.

Re:Are there emulators for mainframe code? (2)

ToasterMonkey (467067) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013241)

It's a bit disappointing to see so many people on slashdot wondering what the purpose of a mainframe is. It shows so many "geeks" have a very limited knowledge of IT in the real world.

So true.

I think most people have very limited knowledge of the real world. I'm not sure if the Internet works to improve that, or merely demonstrates it. :\

Re:Are there emulators for mainframe code? (5, Informative)

azgard (461476) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012973)

Yes: http://www.hercules-390.org/ [hercules-390.org]

But IBM won't allow to run z/OS (the operating system usually used) on it.

Re:Are there emulators for mainframe code? (3, Interesting)

interval1066 (668936) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012975)

Yes; http://www.turbohercules.com/ [turbohercules.com] . Near and dear to my heart is the CDC Cyber series on which I had to run my COBOL assignments at uni; http://members.iinet.net.au/~tom-hunter/ [iinet.net.au] . Anyone also do assignments on PDP 11/70's as I did also? http://www.dbit.com/ [dbit.com] . Christ, I bet there's an emulator for any platform and architecture that's existed.

Re:Are there emulators for mainframe code? (2)

emt377 (610337) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013399)

Anyone also do assignments on PDP 11/70's as I did also?

Yes, on RSTS/E using BASIC-PLUS (for lab work in high school) and Macro-11 (for personal fun stuff). Also, RSX-11M.

Re:Are there emulators for mainframe code? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013481)

Basic+... yesss....that was a powerful Basic. Remeber how the rsts/e file system stored data in clusters? And the default cluster size was 8 (whatevers? 8 segments or 8 blocks or whatever those were? So your file, even if it was on character in size took up 8 of those blocks? I wrote a program using rsts/e basic+ to compact multiple files into one of those clusters. Kind of like tar I guess. I was in high school at the time. Fun times hanging around the uni c-sci lab.

Re:Are there emulators for mainframe code? (2)

CarsonChittom (2025388) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012979)

It's called Hercules [hercules-390.org] , but there are from what I understand some legal issues surrounding it (like whether you can legally run an IBM operating system on it).

Ooooh!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39012897)

Hand-me-down computers! Can I have it??

Could have just waited (1)

kefkahax (915895) | more than 2 years ago | (#39012949)

If they just tried to leave it running it would've powered itself down eventually.

Re:Could have just waited (2)

Kittenman (971447) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013891)

If they just tried to leave it running it would've powered itself down eventually.

Buddy, this is a mainframe. They don't fault. It would only power itself down when someone actually unplugged it. We're talking years/decades without a problem (well, we are with my Unisys mainframes...).

FSW SPF Mainframe Shutdown was July 29th 2011 (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013047)

The JSC mainframe system(s) used to build and support the shuttle flight software were shutdown on July 29 of 2011. DEVS, PRDS, PATS, SDFC, SDFA, and RTF1 systems.

These systems had been used since May 6, 1981 (no, not the same computers) under a NASA contract. Photos of the servers were taken. Yes, they are just as boring as they sound.

It was sad to see the tape silo nearly empty when it would normally hold hundreds or thousands of tapes.

We have a support group on LinkedIn.

iPads (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013065)

The whole space agency is being run on iPads. I mean you haven't downloaded the NASA app yet?

Remember the Tao... (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013099)

There was once a programmer who worked upon microprocessors. "Look at how well off I am here," he said to a mainframe programmer who came to visit, "I have my own operating system and file storage device. I do not have to share my resources with anyone. The software is self- consistent and easy-to-use. Why do you not quit your present job and join me here?"

The mainframe programmer then began to describe his system to his friend, saying "The mainframe sits like an ancient sage meditating in the midst of the data center. Its disk drives lie end-to-end like a great ocean of machinery. The software is as multifaceted as a diamond, and as convoluted as a primeval jungle. The programs, each unique, move through the system like a swift-flowing river. That is why I am happy where I am."

The microcomputer programmer, upon hearing this, fell silent. But the two programmers remained friends until the end of their days.

Re:Remember the Tao... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013423)

Ohh... That was moving.

NASA ... WTF? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#39013197)

What the fuck are they using then? An iPad?

These kids ... (2)

Grindalf (1089511) | more than 2 years ago | (#39013365)

I get the intuition that these kids don't know what one is, never mind how to use it.
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