×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Mainframe Programming to Make a Comeback?

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 7 years ago | from the now-hiring-bofh dept.

262

ajw1976 writes to tell us that IBM has released a series of announcements today "introducing many new software tools, academic programs, and support for outside developers." The new releases are designed to help entice programmers and businesses back to the mainframe. From the article: "The announcements, according to analysts briefed on them in advance, signal a shift from defense to offense in the company's mainframe strategy. Last month, I.B.M. introduced a machine priced at $100,000, about half the previous starting price for its mainframes, which can run up to several million dollars. The announcement of the low-end mainframe was made in China, which I.B.M. regards as a promising market for the machines."

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

262 comments

mainframes rock (5, Insightful)

yagu (721525) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289204)

Cool, I can dust off my old bell bottom pants and platform shoes. I knew they would come back!

All seriousness aside, I started out coding for mainframes, mostly assembly. To this day some of the most screaming and cool programs I ever wrote were on mainframes (wrote (in assembly) an on-line trouble logging system to replace a paper system back in '76).

I did lots of COBOL programming and maintenance for a major, now absorbed by increasingly corrupt larger pseudo-telcos, telco. COBOL, not the most exciting language, but the throughput and data integrity of those days I've not seen matched since (and I still love Unix as my first choice for environment).

Which brings me (and us) to what I think works in favor of mainframes having a chance at a major comeback:

  • TCP/IP stack not builtin and assumed. In the old days, if you wanted to communicate with other architectures it was a RPITA. With internet protocol everything is easy. Now you can take the raw power and integrity of the mainframe and lace it up to foreign technology.
  • IBM's OSS/Linux participation. I don't know if IBM has completely jumped on this bandwagon, but they've made contributions, and you can "do" Unix on their mainframes. And, they have cool passthrough mechanisms, how cool is it to write a shell script that can access VSAM data? If you don't know, it is very cool.
  • Mainframes historically have gi-huge support organizations built up around them. They have backups to backups. And, it's all managed for you.
  • Mainframes are single point of support, you all know you're using the same configuration (well, to the extent you're in the same virtual system on a mainframe).
  • Mainframes aren't Windows (sorry, had to put that in for the troll mods.)

This is a partial list. I've long lusted for the raw power of mainframes with the standard support and the nimble Unix utilities.

Re:mainframes rock (4, Insightful)

EmoryBrighton (934326) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289259)

I have heard a lot about mainfraimes (heck, I work for the gov and we rent a 3M+/year Unisys mainframe for certain sensitive databases) ... but I have never seen statistics that show *how much better* those mainframes are...

Does anyone know of any (non VENDOR) studies & comparisons vs traditional computer architectures?

Re:mainframes rock (5, Insightful)

AuMatar (183847) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289305)

Mainframes are just too different a world. Its not just performance (in fact, the performance difference is due only to an insane number of cores and memory, not an inherently better chip), its reliability. Some IBM mainframes have CPUs that do every instruction twice in parallel (different cores on the chip). If the results don't match, it turns the chip off as defective and shunts the program to a backup. That kind of thing just doesn't exist in traditional architectures.

Although in the days of clusters, I don't know if mainframes can make it. Clusters have the same edge and much lower cost. I think we're more likely to see some of the OS advantages of mainframes get ported down.

Re:mainframes rock (1)

Arker (91948) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289763)

Umm I've yet to see a cluster with anything even approaching the kind of data throughput mainframes achieve though.

Re:mainframes rock (1)

SocietyoftheFist (316444) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289778)

Your cluster doesn't have the memory bandwidth that mainframe does and the network latency puts it behind in performance too.

Re:mainframes rock (5, Insightful)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289366)

Does anyone know of any (non VENDOR) studies & comparisons vs traditional computer architectures?

Mainframes are traditional computer architecture! Unix is 'new' compared to mainframe technology.

The modern mainframe is, in general, vastly more reliable than even the best of the best of 'big servers.' Mainframes are generally redundant to the point that you can change out thefr CPUs, memory, drives, etc. without turning the power off or rebooting the machine. Linux and Unix servers might boast about a couple of years of uptime, but many mainframe systems have been up for decades.

Many mainframe systems can process orders of magnitude more transactions than your typical *nix system running Oracle -- even when compared to systems with SMP, gigabytes of memory and the latest in high-speed storage. In fact, the stuff that people use nowadays for high-speed, high-reliability storage -- storage area networks (SANs) -- have their roots in mainframe technology. EMC, one of the market leaders in SANs was formerly part of Data General. In fact, so does most of the rest of your high availability 'enterprise-class' technologies -- SMP, NUMA, clustering, etc. Where do you think Linux's current SMP technologies came from? IBM. Who developed them on mainframes, ported them to AIX and then eventually ported them to Linux.

Massively-clustered systems like Google's are quickly become the norm for high-end stuff. But there are certain things that will probably always run on Big Iron. Whenever tasks are mission-critical and need to 24x7 and 'three 9's' doesn't even touch the tip of the iceberg in what you need in reliability -- you'll see mainframes running those tasks more often than not.

Re:mainframes rock (3, Insightful)

molarmass192 (608071) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289470)

Mainframes excel in throughput, if you have a sh!t load of data that needs to go through in a contiguous run, mainframes are the answer. Think IRS refunds, telco billing, utilities billing, etc. Lots of the same stuff in massive amounts. That said, mission critical, 24x7, and 3-9s are no longer the sole domain of mainframes. In fact, we cluster Solaris and Linux boxen in mission critical, 24x7, 5-9 configs (that's 5 minutes downtime a year ... think network hiccup) at virtually all our deployments. Clustering took this advantage from mainframes. On that note, we don't have the same insane throughput needs that mainframes are built to address. My $0.02, take it or leave it.

Re:mainframes rock (3, Informative)

AKAImBatman (238306) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289472)

Mainframes are generally redundant to the point that you can change out thefr CPUs, memory, drives, etc. without turning the power off or rebooting the machine.

Same with the big Unix servers. Unix was considered "ready" for Big Iron usage once machines started shipping with crossbars (for hotplugging CPU boards) and redundnat everything. If you open a Sun E10000, you'll find that it looks a lot like a mainframe on the inside.

The modern mainframe is, in general, vastly more reliable than even the best of the best of 'big servers.'

Right up until Unisys invented "Clearpath" technology. Blech. Leave it to Unisys to take great tech halfway to nowhere.

Re:mainframes rock (3, Interesting)

morgan_greywolf (835522) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289662)

If you open a Sun E10000, you'll find that it looks a lot like a mainframe on the inside.

Yeah, I've seen 'em. Sun E10Ks are practically mainframes. And they cost about as much, too.

Of course, when it comes to raw transactional throughput, your average E10K running Solaris and Oracle just doesn't hold a candle to, say, an IBM z9 Enterprise Class running z/OS and DB2.

Re:mainframes rock (3, Informative)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289646)

EMC, one of the market leaders in SANs was formerly part of Data General.

Data General wasn't a Mainframe vendor. They produced Minicomputers, not mainframes.

Re:mainframes rock (1)

RubberDuckie (53329) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289405)

Last time I tried to install TCP/IP on a mainframe, it was indeed a RPITA. That was 10 years ago, and I knew next to nothing about TCP/IP.

VTAM, the mainframe networking protocol that was around back then, was not very flexible. It sacrificed performance for flexibility, which pretty much required a 'systems programmer' to do anything. Hopefully, things have changed since I last saw mainframe networking.

Re:mainframes rock (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289894)

Yup! That is the one place where windo$$$$$ can't retch out and barf all over you with ...lets see..copywrong..
fademark....and patents on air, the roman alephbet vowels, and all the trolls that infest microcomputerdom since
Al Gore sold us out to the big corporations with his beloved DMCA.

Wow! (1)

cashman73 (855518) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289205)

China seems to finally be catching up to the west!

Imagine what a beowulf cluster of these things could do?

Re:Wow! (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289286)

""Imagine what a beowulf cluster of these things could do?""

Probably not a whole lot.

High performance computing is not a Mainframe's purpose. A typical personal computer is going to have a much more powerfull proccessor then what you'd find in your average mainframe.. Of course if you have a few million dollars laying around you can find all sorts of stuff that is blazing fast.

The thing that Mainframes are good at are I/O. That is sorting and managing massive amounts of information. You'll have transactions and records being sorted that are numbered not in the thousands, but in the tens or hundreds of millions.

Also you have all these intellegent peripherals.

For instance in PC-land typically scsi drives are faster then SATA drives.

This isn't because SCSI is so much faster or using space age materials. (although they tend to last longer because they are simply better built to higher tolerances and also this allows them to spin faster.)

SCSI and SATA use pretty much the same technologies to do the same stuff. Same materials, same most anything. What makes them faster is the intellegent controllers and I/O bandwidth (although not so much anymore).

Mainframes are like that. Everything has a built in proccessor that does it's share of the workloads. All these intellegent controllers for all I/O. network offload. Disk activity offload. All this stuff.

Like a big brachiosaurus vs a monkey.

The dinosaur is the mainframe, the cat is the monkey.

So a beowolf cluster is like a thousand monkeys on a thousand typewriters.

A brachiosaurus supposadly had multiple special brains or nerve clusters around it's body. That way you have a controller in it's ass to control the back legs and the tail. A controller to control the multiple stomachs. etc etc.

That way it could live with a brain the size of a walnut.

So if you want to decode the genome, use the monkeys. If you want to move mountains, use the dinosaur.

Re:Wow! (1)

Saedrael (880381) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289801)

That was one of the most twisted, surreal and obtuse extended metaphors I've ever seen. "The dinosaur is the mainframe, the cat is the monkey." What???

Re:Wow! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289899)

Wow man! I love you (for your mind) (but not in a gay way) (I'm not like that).

IBM and human rights (-1, Troll)

EmbeddedJanitor (597831) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289299)

IBM sells to China.... Only 70 years ago they were selling to Nazis to track people for "processing". http://www.ibmandtheholocaust.com/ [ibmandtheholocaust.com]

Re:IBM and human rights (1)

grub (11606) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289326)


Only 70 years ago they were selling to Nazis to track people for "processing".

Today the Nazis could make some spiffy looking spreadsheets with bar charts showing throughput and other cool things.
They really were ahead of their time.

Re:IBM and human rights (1)

kephunk (35920) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289328)

IBM will happily sell to any customer as long as the said customer can pay IBM. They don't discriminate! ;-)

Re:IBM and human rights (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289497)

Do you also blame the paperclip and staple manufacturers for aiding the Nazis in managing their documents in the death camps? The pipe makers for helping to build the gas chambers?

The problem is that any tool has both good and bad uses. The fault does not lie with people who make and sell tools, but with those who directly harm others, and those who stand by and let it happen. If the German people had started a mass revolt over being tracked and catalogued like farm animals by the government, it wouldn't have mattered which company's logo was on the computer.

Obfuscating moral issues by displacing blame onto inanimate objects is stupid. It may comfort you to think that by banning or controlling things you can also control people and make them stop doing evil, but it doesn't work.

Whoot (1, Interesting)

RubberDuckie (53329) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289219)

I knew those IBM assembler skills would come in handy again some day. Ah, back to the days of xedit, and Rexx as well.

Re:Whoot (3, Funny)

plover (150551) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289448)

But development has progressed on the mainframes, too, far beyond BAL or HLASM. They now have Object Oriented Cobol, or as it's known in the biz:
ADD-ONE-TO-COBOL
Danke, I'll be here all ze veek. Tip your vaitresses.

Re:Whoot (3, Insightful)

T-Ranger (10520) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289803)

If your going to do the joke, at least do it correctly, with valid syntax.

ADD 1 TO COBOL GIVING COBOL

All I know is this (3, Insightful)

Neil Blender (555885) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289235)

In my field (bioinformatics) data generation is far outpacing desktop computer power. I work with microarrays and in the last 5 years feature sets have increased over 1000 times with the prices moving almost as quickly in the opposite direction. We've been struggling for a while. It will soon take mainframes to process this sort of data.

Re:All I know is this (1)

(H)elix1 (231155) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289294)

Yikes. Looking at the article, it gives the impression that the big iron is a fast box. While they have godlike IO, the actual CPU speed is quite disappointing. Wrong kit to calculate primes, right tool for a webserver. More and more they are pitching this for things that require very little CPU power - replacing a rack (or two) of x86 hardware doing nothing harder than DNS, mail, etc. Depends on what you are doing, but I know I was disappointed... (unless you are just moving stuff around)

Re:All I know is this (1)

LordOfTheNoobs (949080) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289463)

*cou-- massively parrellel processing with nonexistant downtime --ough*

Re:All I know is this (3, Interesting)

(H)elix1 (231155) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289592)

*cou-- massively parrellel processing with nonexistant downtime --ough*

Exactly - this is the wrong tool for the job. The hardware is fantastic - and yes, I've never seen a hardware problem, though crappy code (waves hand) can hork an instance. One of the machines I use is a eServer zSeries 900. Max of 16 CPU's, and this one has less than that - think it has 6, but not sure. Not that they would ever *allocate* all the MIPS my direction.

But lets say I had some stupid money. From the website, the latest greatest box...

The following models were announced on July 26, 2005:
* A z9-109 S08 model can be a 1-way through 8-way - which means there are 8 processor
units or PUs contained on one book.
* A z9-109 S18 model can be a 1-way through 18-way (18 PUs) contained on two books.
* A z9-109 S28 model can be a 1-way through 28-way (28 PUs) contained on three books.
* A z9-109 S38 model can be a 1-way through 38-way (38 PUs) contained on four books.
* A z9-109 S54 model can be a 1-way through 54-way (54 PUs) contained on four books.

The z9 EC will provide all these same models.
The PUs can be configured as general purpose processors (CPs), Integrated Facilities for Linux (IFLs), System z Application Assist Processors (zAAPs), System z9 Integrated Information Processors (zIIPs), additional System Assist Processors (SAPs), or used as additional spares.
Only eight subcapacity processors can be active on the server (and it doesn't matter which model you have). When more than eight CPs have been purchased on servers that have more than one book, a selection can be made to activate only 8 or fewer subcapacity features. This means that the new subcapacity settings are available on any of the models as long as they are configured (not the same as purchased) with eight or fewer general purpose processors.


If you need to crunch hard numbers - especially in parallel - there are much better options out there for the money. The folks a few miles down the road from me do a fantastic job with large Opteron clusters (waves to Malice). The mainframe is not the hardware you want when it comes to getting the math on.

IO and uptime... that is another story...

Re:All I know is this (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289677)

The mainframe is not the hardware you want when it comes to getting the math on.

Similarly, the embedded controller in my mouse is not the hardware you want when it comes to getting the math on.

But what was your point?

Re:All I know is this (1)

(H)elix1 (231155) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289886)

Similarly, the embedded controller in my mouse is not the hardware you want when it comes to getting the math on.

But what was your point?


When I was doing bioinformatics work, it was Math intensive... The loading of large datasets was a small part of the time involved. No point other than a mainframe is not the right tool for the job (from my experience). Reading up the thread, that was what the OP was wondering about.

Re:All I know is this (1)

Profane MuthaFucka (574406) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289719)

A high performance super-fast cluster coule be a peripheral device for a mainframe. If you're calculating something that requires terabytes of input and produces terabytes of output, then a mainframe is definitely an option for controlling the cluster, feeding the data, reading and recording the data to a big fast disk array, compiling programs, and handling user interaction. That's sort of how things were done with the original supercomputers. Some of them would come with a VAX for a front end device to handle I/O and other things for the supercomputer.

Re:All I know is this (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289406)

It will soon take mainframes to process this sort of data.
You misspelled supercomputer there.

Not mainframes, SMP UNIX boxes (2, Insightful)

Col. Bloodnok (825749) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289512)

Mainframes are very good at reliably performing batch and OLTP workloads, they're hopeless at HPC - inadequate performance (even latest models) with *way* too much admin and maintenance/software cost overhead. Wrong tool for the job.

Challenges (3, Funny)

From A Far Away Land (930780) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289256)

I don't think Mainframes will come back in a big way. I forsee virtual servers becoming much bigger, as RDP and VNC protocols get more handy too.

Plus, just imagine a Beowulf cluster of virtual servers!

Re:Challenges (1)

pmwestjr (965240) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289376)

Are you suggesting a "distributed system"? That's sooooo old school. Distributed system == distributed fail points.

Re:Challenges (1)

From A Far Away Land (930780) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289505)

Perhaps you missed the joke? Running a bunch of virtual servers is like dividing up one machine to do different tasks. A Beowulf cluster is joining several machines to do a single task. So as I see it, a Beowulf cluster of virtual machines is an exceedingly worthless use of both virtual server software, and Beowulf clustering. Someone would be much better off leaving the system alone, or using a mainframe.

Re:Challenges (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289479)

No hardware architecture in existence today can match the raw IO throughput of big iron. You can get faster CPU's, and you can get bigger hard disks, but you will never find a system that can consistently move data as fast the mainframe.

Maybe (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289271)

Maybe it's just IBM realizing that their goose isn't laying as many golden eggs as it used to?

Limit the bleeding ... bah! (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289278)

The market for big computing is increasing. It's just that most tasks can now be done on small machines. One of my buddies was a numerical modeller in the '70s. In 1975 they put on a night shift in the computer center to run his jobs. By 1985 he could run the same model on his desktop in less time.

It makes sense for IBM to make less expensive mainframes. The jobs will expand to fit the computers available. If you build it they will come, etc. etc.

I recently met another co-irker who used to program mini-computers. He said his students were calling him the old fart. I pointed out that he could be right up-to-date if he just prefaced all his comments with the word 'embedded'. There are modern chips that have exactly the same architecture and instruction set that the old minis he worked on had.

There is a market for what IBM is doing and it isn't going away any time soon. It will just be done on cheaper machines.

STop H1Bs!!!! (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289279)

All major corps will outsource their work. Don't waste your time learning this freakn s**t. Perhaps you'll last 5 years before they outsource your job to India. Let them outsource all hi-tech jobs to India until one day all your credit numbers are sold to some foreign organized crime syndicate.
Take my advise there are plenty of job opprotunities in Mexico. Remember their standard of living is goign up. Ours is going down. Learn Spanish now. It is pretty much our national language. Viva zapata!!

Mainframe Programming to Make a Comeback? (0)

yppiz (574466) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289293)

Mainframe Programming to Make a Comeback?

No.

I hope this saved everyone a few minutes. Now get back to your 3270 terminal and XEDIT that REXX script to help you manage DASD on your VM/370.

--Pat

Re: Mainframe Programming to Make a Comeback? (1)

sgt_doom (655561) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289424)

Wow oh wow, dudes and dudettes!

I surely remember the olden days of yore when I was a contract programmer with Big Blue (do they still call those clowns at IBM that??) and I'd walk up to the SYSTEMS ANALYST and ask her what system she was working on.

Of course, she had no idea. So I'd ask her what programming languages she knew. Of course, she didn't know any languages. Gee, how I yearn for those days....

Re: Mainframe Programming to Make a Comeback? (1)

fuzzix (700457) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289747)

Of course, she had no idea. So I'd ask her what programming languages she knew. Of course, she didn't know any languages. Gee, how I yearn for those days....
Come to Ireland, get a contract working for government.

I had fun working on VAX and Alpha Minicomputers - VMS has an actual interface you can use to, you know, run programs. The people there knew their stuff. All was good. Even the fact that most of my work involved COBOL didn't phase me too much. Then...

I was moved to another department with OS/390 - fuck TSO. Fuck it in its form-filling, counter-intuitive, non-interactive ass. The people there knew shit and reading manuals was seen as a sign of weakness (didn't stop me...) A variety of database frontends and terrible 4GLs were held together by a core of COBOL batch jobs. Maintaining this core was my job. The thing is, I had to stick to a small subset of COBOL (small as that toolset is to begin with) so the next dork to fill my seat could understand what I did (remember, no RTFM here). Tight standards and a completely non-technical set of analysts making my decisions for me... Ah, great days.

Didn't last long there for some reason.

Re: Mainframe Programming to Make a Comeback? (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289438)

"Now get back to your 3270 terminal and XEDIT that REXX script to help you manage DASD on your VM/370."

This simply shows your ignorance. Over fifteen years ago we quit using 3270's. XEdit? Before that.

Re: Mainframe Programming to Make a Comeback? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289537)

Don't knock XEDIT. I will gladly take XEDIT over emacs or vi anyday.

Yes -- I have tried (as in really trying) both emacs and vi.

Yes there are some oddities and carryovers from the "punched cards" day. But hmm lets look at how a modern system behaves.

Why does my Linux box require terminfo and why is it reporting that I'm logged into a tty anyway?

Mainframes have just the same type of legacy baggage as the Unix world

Re: Mainframe Programming to Make a Comeback? (1)

Wolfrider (856) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289775)

--The funny thing is, I know exactly what you said. :)

--As long as they dump TSO like a bad habit, and implement VM/CMS with decent REXX throughput, I'd do it...

A "promising market" (1, Interesting)

Null Nihils (965047) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289297)

"The announcement of the low-end mainframe was made in China, which I.B.M. regards as a promising market for the machines."

Way to go IBM, supplying fresh "bricks" for the Great Firewall. I mean, I'm not trying to start a China-bashing-fest, but I can think of quite a few applications China might have for mainframe computers that a Westerner might find... a little unnerving.

In communist China, the mainframe schedules time with YOU!

Re:A "promising market" (1)

Null Nihils (965047) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289333)

Eeg, I hope people don't take that post as sounding too hostile towards our Chinese friends. Heck, to be perfectly honest, I would be suspicious if IBM was selling fresh mainframes to the US government.

*dons tinfoil hat and heads for his lead-lined bunker*

Final Solution to the Chinese Question (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289427)

Way to go IBM, supplying fresh "bricks" for the Great Firewall.
I remember reading that IBM was accused of supplying equipment and services in aiding the Nazis with their Final Solution to the Jewish Question. Will they be judged in the future for their aid the the PRoC today?

Re:A "promising market" (1)

swordgeek (112599) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289621)

First of all, who scares you more, the USA or China? The answer for me is USA. China is at least pretty clear about what they want, and upfront. The USA is turning into a nation controlled by morallistic holy warriors, bent on world conquest.

Secondly, consider IBM's history--they actively worked with the Nazis to develop the modern digital computer, for the sake of collating data on prisoners in the death camps.

So this is neither surprising nor alarming, at least for me.

Re:A "promising market" (1)

Bing Tsher E (943915) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289698)

China is at least pretty clear about what they want, and upfront.

I take it you're posting your message from China. You clearly know a lot about the place.

But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (3, Insightful)

Tracy Reed (3563) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289336)

I do not understand how IBM expects to sell mainframes when nobody knows how to use them. If I wanted to get out of the Unix/Linux biz and get into mainframes or even recommend a mainframe for use at my employer I would have to know something about using one. But I would not have any clue as to where I could go to get that kind of information or training. I have only met two mainframe knowledgable people in my whole life (among zillions of un*x people) and they are both old farts. Finding good Linux/perl/whatever people is hard enough. I can't even imagine having to recruit a mainframe person.

So where are you young mainframe people learning how to use mainframes?

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (1)

Null Nihils (965047) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289361)

"So where are you young mainframe people learning how to use mainframes?"

*crickets chirp in the background*

I don't think there are any "young mainframe people". ;)

On a more serious note, I would suspect that any new "mainframe people" (should they exist) would be employed somewhere they are learning from the "old mainframe people", so that they can keep the big iron running when their predecessors retire.

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (1)

geekoid (135745) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289375)

They exist. There are some people who want to work with computers, and not toys. ;)

"Young mainframe people" (1)

NighthawkFoo (16928) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289513)

I'm one of them. Granted, there aren't many of us, but that's the whole point of IBM's announcement. They have realized that there is a skills deficit in good mainframe programmers, and they are taking steps to address that.

Of course, I owe my mainframe skills to the fact that I work for IBM.

Ex mainframe programmer on linux, unix and windows (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289369)

Anything but mainframes. Not even the big bucks they were offering for Y2K mainframe programming was enough to get me to go back. I only keep my yellow card (System 370 Reference Summary) out of nostalgia.

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (3, Funny)

TheFairElf (669537) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289372)

I had to recently log into our mainframe terminal, to change my password (everything else I can do using windows front end apps for mainframe). It was the weirdest computing experience I've ever had. I had to move the cursor around the "graphical" interface using the arrow keys and then press the right control button to select an item. Freaky!

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (1)

iamdrscience (541136) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289417)

I had to move the cursor around the "graphical" interface using the arrow keys and then press the right control button to select an item. Freaky!
That's the weirdest computer experience you've ever had? I had Apple IIe programs that were exactly like that.

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289491)

Wow! What a bass-ackwards company that was. There have been GUI interfaces since before the internet.

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289422)

Had a mate from uni who is now training on IBM mainframes as part of an industry placement program. Got him straight after 1st year, pay him a working wage, and sent him to melbourne. He studies part time while working for a large australian bank.

They pick up the people and train them, unlike most areas of IT.

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (1)

echocola (871854) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289457)

Im a recent college grad and I started off as a PERL programmer doing stuff in UNIX and Windows. Now I am learning how to allocate data sets and various other things on MVS. It is pretty fun actually and a whole new world, it is so different than UNIX and Windows, but fun nonetheless. I am learning from the old fogeys, and they seem rather eager to teach me, im their "protege". I think that the mainframe is here to stay. I have been working with websphere on the mainframe and it's a pretty neat product it's a webserver that can run on the mainframe ( think scalability ).

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289462)

If I wanted to get out of the Unix/Linux biz and get into mainframes...

Prepare to take a big pay cut. The main reason nobody learns this stuff is that you can make more money programming VB6 or PHP.

Not only are you competing with all the framers laid off over the last 15 years, any company with a mainframe sends so much cash to IBM that there's nothing left in the budget for people.

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289484)

Flame, nothing else. Support your stats. My personal experience is exactly the opposite.

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289495)

Who was he flaming? Nobody.

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (3, Informative)

pmwestjr (965240) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289481)

First, let me say, uh, LINUX ON Z. Now, to the real question--how can anyone learn to use mainframes?. The same way anyone learns to use anything else in the computer world. Hit the library, buy a book (or just hang out in B&N for a few hours), search the net, get some example code...

That's how people learn, especially in the trendy world of Comp-Sci.

Geek1: "Have you tried [insert language du jour, such as Ruby on Rails]"
Geek2: (12 hours later) "Check out my new ap; it's in [language du jour]"

Don't have access to Z machine? Start with Hercules.

Here's a debug tip:

LGHI R1,X'DEADDEAD'

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (2, Informative)

BlindSpot (512363) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289487)

So where are you young mainframe people learning how to use mainframes?

From the "old farts", as you put it.

We've got a large mainframe contingent where I work - there are lots of critical legacy apps that nobody wants to pay to build replacements to - and I doubt any of them are under 40. But man, they all know their stuff. You could easily bring in one of them to train people if you needed to.

I'm do not belong to the set of "mainframe people" per se however I do sometimes have to use the mainframe on my job. When I need to do something new on the mainframe I first look for docs past team members might have written to tell me how, and if I find them then I don't need to bother anyone. However if there's nothing there, I go talk to someone, and they'll usually be able to tell me just what I need to do.

Probably the biggest problem they'll face when teaching is that the environment is totally different. I've been around desktop computers since I was 7 but even I get lost in the mainframe world. I still hesitate when told to "hit PF5" to do something. And I can't tell you the number of times that, by force of habit, I've hit Esc to get out of something on the mainframe and completely fucked up my terminal display. But like anything else, it gets easier with time.

So long as companies continue to look at IT systems like they would look at a piece of heavy machinery, they'll continue to pay to support legacy systems instead of paying to replace them. They'd rather pay a little over a long period of time, rather than pay a lot now and much less later. IBM, if they're serious, is just trying to cater to this mindset. After all, demand drives supply.

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (1)

Skater (41976) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289534)

Well, how'd they do it the first time, when mainframes were invented? No one knew how to use them then...

Come to think of it, that's been true for every piece of technology.

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289658)

The company I work for does credit card processing. Im not in HR, so I can't say exactly, but we employ close to 6000 and maybe 1/4 are cobol and assembler mainframe programmers. I look around and see ppl as young as 21 programing here.

Re:But how can anyone learn to use mainframes? (1)

Pinback (80041) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289711)

At one point you could hang around on ebay and find microchannel 390 cards to host under OS/2. I don't think there was any legal way to get the OS to run on them.

These days, there is the Hercules project, but the legal hurdles still remain.

The value of the mainframe is in the hardware... (5, Informative)

kcbrown (7426) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289380)

Mainframes don't have the fastest CPUs around. Instead, they have the most reliable ones.

The same is true of their memory subsystems, their disk subsystems, etc., though their backplane performance tends to be second to none. Mainframes are designed for throughput.

Mainframes are capable of staying operational for decades at a time. If you don't want your computer to ever go down and can afford the price, a mainframe is what you want.

One other nice benefit: they've had virtualization figured out on mainframes since the 1960s, so allocating resources is a relatively easy thing to do.

If you're interested in finding out what the older mainframe OSes were like, check out the Hercules IBM mainframe emulator here [conmicro.cx] .

Re:The value of the mainframe is in the hardware.. (2, Informative)

(H)elix1 (231155) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289613)

if you're interested in finding out what the older mainframe OSes were like, check out the Hercules IBM mainframe emulator here. (http://www.conmicro.cx/hercules/)

It is worth adding that this emulator lets you run 31 (not a typo) and 64-bit zSeries Linux distributions as well. Very cool stuff.

Gee, at only 100k (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289400)

I've wanted to get into mainframe programming for years, it interests me in a very major way. (On the unix machines I actually DO make use of the 'batch' utility)

Not the sort of thing you can just pick up to play around on though (unless you happen to be extremely wealthy)

The cost is the biggest factor, they're just not accessible to most of us, that is why it won't come-around any time soon. Shame really, I'd love to play with one!

Re:Gee, at only 100k (1)

Oligonicella (659917) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289444)

What's wrong with applying for a job working on one?

Re:Gee, at only 100k (1)

The Warlock (701535) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289533)

Because you don't have any experience. You can't get experienced unless you've been hired, and you can't get hired unless you have experience. Normally, there'd be a way into this system, namely, college, but mainframe stuff isn't tought in CS courses anymore, because the mainframe is largely dead.

Cluster computing is better (4, Interesting)

starfishsystems (834319) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289412)

There is a strong movement toward cluster computing as a way of sharing the costs and benefits entailed by massive compute resources.

It turns out to be a lot like mainframe computing in terms of physical infrastructure and administration, and in fact often takes over disused mainframe computing centres, at least in the university space.

Unlike the mainframe environment, anyone with Unix/Linux experience is already equipped to take full advantage of cluster and grid computing. Either enviroment provides specialized resources that you have to learn how to access, but to me, the advantage goes to whichever environment provides the most universal expression of those resources, and is least likely to lock my efforts into one particular architecture.

A mainframe is an especially proprietary architecture. Portability has never been its strong point. Conversely, most cluster computations that I've seen have been quite trivially ported from one cluster environment to another. And to some degree it's in every vendor's interest to make it so.

The exceptions are interesting but, at this point, surprisingly rare. Relatively few researchers are decomposing problems in a way which requires either MPI or shared memory. Perhaps the field is not mature enough for that yet, much less for the sorts of computation envisioned by the Grid community, though that day will eventually arrive.

What I mean is, the biggest market for massive computation is always going to be driven by ordinary computation which happens to operate at a massive scale. And for that, the plainer, more symmetric, and more standardized the architecture, the better, because development and testing costs are not going to go down in the face of massive computing resources, they're going to go up.

The perfect mainframe, in other words, is one node in a Beowulf cluster. And that's fine. Just don't go running MQ Series on it, okay?

Re:Cluster computing is better (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289502)

Real simple, a single mainframe can run thousands of Linux servers (about 4, 5 years ago someone did a test run and got up to around 40,000 Linux systems on one test partition on a mainframe.

I was recently doing a new configuration for a mainframe upgrade (upgrading a z/900 to a z9-109). Our z/900 which was configured towards the top end model can now be replaced by a low end model of the z9.

To the users of the Linux systems they would not see any difference in terms of user interface. They would continue to telnet/ssh/http/ftp/... see X windows, gnome/kde/etc. From the systems admins, what it could mean is doing one "install" and then cloning the changes throughout the entire suite of linux systems running on the mainframe. You can treat each linux image the same as you would treat a intel box -- or -- you can start taking advantage of the underlying layout and start playing some really neat games that would take advantage of the underlying hypervisor.

Re:Cluster computing is better (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289755)

Those 40,000 Linux VMs didn't do anything except display a login prompt.

The thing to realize is that mainframe price/performance is awful for interactive tasks (eg X11). The only way it could be possibly justified is if you run a mainframe shop and can distribute the costs across other tasks somehow. Otherwise just buy a cluster of PC servers and automate the administration.

Re:Cluster computing is better (4, Informative)

Animats (122034) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289540)

A mainframe is an especially proprietary architecture.

Actually, no. The IBM 370 architecture is open, as a result of an antitrust decree decades ago. There are plug-compatible peripherals and software-compatible CPUs. There's even a good emulator for PCs. It's actually more open that x86 or PowerPC.

Mainframe programming? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289446)

Call me crazy but:

I'm just really glad that IBM already owns half the real estate in places "offshore" where all the programming gets done. If you know what I mean. That way we don't have to worry about training up Americans to do any mainframe programming. It should be a simple matter to get some "local" (local: relative to IBM's buildings offshore) talent. All we would have to do is get an American Judas to act as the interface between the offshore mainframe programmers and the western company.

I think this might just work. We'd just have to keep Americans out of the labor loop to keep costs down. The money we save on Amercians, we can sell a mainframe for $100,000 cheaper than normal to China, who can then increase productivity in creating walmart goods to put the rest of the Amercians in oo?

We'd have to make sure Hollywood put out movies which relfected this new lowered standard of living by having war of the worlds type heros living in near ghetto conditions and working on the docks. Docks which are now owned by foreign interests.

This $100,000 mainframe represents the fruits of the work that's gone into lowering the standards of living for space aliens.

With a cluster of these mainframes, we can calculate the value of the eye on the triangle in the dollar bill.

Like I said. Call me crazy.

Beware the PC's of slashdot. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289467)

"IBM has released a series of announcements today "introducing many new software tools, academic programs, and support for outside developers." The new releases are designed to help entice programmers and businesses back to the mainframe."

But, according to slashdot [slashdot.org] "The money's not in hardware anymore" and "Big hardware companies need to seriously change their outlook" Plus "it will eventually be done with a PC cheaply" anyway.

I've been doing mainframe C++ programming (3, Funny)

Omnifarious (11933) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289482)

For the past year or so. The environment has potential. But the CPU speed is horribly slow. I would have really loved a cross compiler that could offload CPU intensive C++ compilation off onto some other box that wasn't so CPU limited.

It's really interesting the things that take no time at all on the mainframe (grepping the source tree) and the things that take forever (compiling it). It's an odd architecture. There are definitely things you should not use it for, but it would likely make an excellent web server.

Re:I've been doing mainframe C++ programming (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289580)

Major parts of z/OS (the mainframe OS) are written in C++. They include the TCP/IP stack, and Unix Systems Services. USS is Unix running along side traditional IBM mainframe OS. It has a kernel and HFS. I backup my work PC to a mainframe Unix HFS using Samba. As far as clustering, mainframes do that too. Its called a Parallel Sysplex. It allows an application to have 100% availability as it runs across multiple boxes. It can survive crashes, and allows for planned outages or upgrades. From the standpoint of a user of the application, the application is always running,no matter what happens in the datacenter.

What makes a mainframe a mainframe? (4, Insightful)

toybuilder (161045) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289503)

Asking most programmers to appreciate mainframes must be like asking most drivers to appreciate 18-wheel big rigs -- you know they exist, and large companies rely on them, but you never really have a *need* to know what it's like to operate one.

I've always believed that mainframes have their place in the world, even when the world was announcing the era of the personal computers and the death of mainframes. But while I understood them to be highly specialized high-throughput high-reliability machines, I never had a personal experience with a mainframe operating environment. So I never truly understood what a mainframe is...

I've worked on (relatively) bigger Unix systems (8 processor SPARCservers, 4-rack Sequent NUMA-Q's, and others), but at the end of the day, they seemed no different from a single desktop Unix machine -- just faster and with more memory and storage. I've also used a VAX, briefly, during my freshman year in college. I've always imagined that VMS was closest to what a mainframe environment must be like.

So, to the folks that understand the mainframe -- what is it about them that makes them more than just faster versions of desktop machines, or even server systems that us non-mainframes are used to?

Re:What makes a mainframe a mainframe? (4, Informative)

swordgeek (112599) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289574)

To answer your question at least partly, look at something that Sun termed "midframe," the SunFire 6800.

This beast can be physically partitioned into multiple domains. One OS runs on each domain. CPU/Memory boards and I/O boats can be dynamically moved from one domain to another. You can run Solaris 8 in one domain, Solaris10 in another, Linux in a third, and um...*BSD in a fourth. Any of them runs independently of the others. If a board dies, you can deallocate it from a domain, swap it out, and add it back in--all live.

Now multiply that by a LARGE number, add crazy amounts of fault tolerance, and you're getting into the world of mainframes.

Re:What makes a mainframe a mainframe? (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289688)

Your analogy of a 18-wheeler is probably a good one.

It's not the fastest thing in the world, but would you want to haul a load of water main pipes with a Porche?

background.. I'm a mainframe systems programmer..

There are two major aspects of a mainframe. One is the physical hardware (and software), on how it is designed and the other how they are used. The hardware is designed from the ground up to be robust and redundant. Yes it costs thousands (millions?) of dollars for a mainframe system, but with that you get the assurance that the system *WILL NOT CRASH* when an error happens. Instead the system will perform a self diagnosis, make an automated phonecall back to support. Support will send out an engineer (CE) with the replacement parts, which will be replaced while the system is still running (note that there are some (very few) instances where the repair does require downtime to actually perform the repair).

A few years ago, one of our CE's informed me that one of our mainframes had called home with a CPU failure. I asked if he would need to schedule some downtime to replace the card(s). He said ".. No.. we would have to lose 5 more before they would get worried.." Now.. from my viewpoint, I did not see any error, I still see the same number of "Processors" as I did before. What happens is that the system has a bunch of spare CPUs that are kept online. Instructions are run in parallel across multiple CPUs and then the results are checked. If there is a failure (as in the results don't all agree) the system will determine which CPU "failed", perform a diagnosis on that CPU and if it's determined that there is a problem will fence the failed CPU off from use. Note that this is all done under the covers from the operating systems. There is nothing that I need to do to enable or disable this.

Mainframe operating systems behave very differently then the Windows/Unix world. -- Lets take a simple example. An application allocating memory. Under Windows/Unix what happens if the memory allocation fails? -- Answer, the program is handed back control with the hopes that it will test the returned value. On a mainframe by default if there is a memory allocation error, the application will be "abended". Now the program *can* request that if there is an error to allow it to continue by explicitly stating that it will handle the error. This concept is carried throughout the system API. By default the application will be halted if there is an error. Under Windows/Unix the default is to simply return some error flag and hope that the application will handle it.

The way mainframes are used and maintained is a little different. Things are usually not done on a whim. This really isn't due to anything physically different on a mainframe, but more of the "culture". Yes these are big expensive boxes, therefore the company that owns (rents) them wants to make sure they are maintained and running efficently. When changes are made, they are researched and documented with fallback plans. When even minutes of downtime could mean millions of dollars lost, it's well worth the investment in time to make sure that a change is correct. Going back to the 18-wheeler analogy, I suspect that when it's time to do a scheduled maintenance on the tractor there is a lot more testing/verification then you would have done on your family car.

MF + Linux (3, Informative)

jsailor (255868) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289525)

Both of these are huge. I don't know of a single major financial firm that is shrinking their mainframe footprint. Also, most of the talent is retirement age - so their is a promising future for those entering now.

Perhaps most interesting to this community is that Linux on the mainframe solves a major problem that all large institutions are dealing with: Power. Power density and consumption for intel/amd boxes is through the roof and is breaking most data centers. Exponential growth is not an understatement. Mainframes however, remain very predictable with a fairly flat and linear power curve. Porting quantitative trading and analysis applications to the mainframe would solve this problems and literally save 100's of millions of dollars.

No more downtime! (1)

micrometer2003 (715068) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289554)

What I liked best about m/f is they were never down while I worked. The o/s is in a separate partition from the users and nothing can stop that train. Furthermore, the packed decimal arithmetic is best for business and financial apps.

No big surprise. (1)

fotbr (855184) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289564)

With the big push towards web-deliverable apps, and thin-clients, the processing power has to come from somewhere. If its not going to be the end user, the logical place is a step back towards mainfraims.

Hurray web 2.0!

I'll be brushing up on my APL (3, Funny)

cmacb (547347) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289589)

ALC
Algol
Ada ...and any other A-list languages as I think of them.

"Mainframe" is a class of computing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289602)

Not specific machines.


IBM's party line has always been that high performance, ultra-reliable machines are "mainframes" regardless of if they are running 370 code or a bunch of LPARs with Linux in them or if its a bunch of UNIX machines in a redundant cluster or a massivley parallel machine. There is a class of computing where reliaibilty and uptime are key, that's mainframe computing.


I'd argue that this is often a bit different than many cluster architectures. If google hiccups and doesn't return a result for one in 100,000 pages and you just hit reload and see your page, not too many people will complain. If it takes a few weeks to index a web site, the world will somehow continue. If the machine that is processing your backrecords "loses" a couple transactions, it's a really big deal. That's a cluster vs. a mainframe.


Will IBM's mainframes become more popular? I expect so. The cheaper, faster, throw away cluster idea is nice and it works for a lot of things but as it grows the costs of administrating and dealing with it grow too. As does the power consumption and space requirements. Having one $200k computer with 20 LPARs running different servers and services all in one place has some nice aspects to it.

They never went out of style ... (2, Interesting)

Kittenman (971447) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289652)

I've been gainfully employed on Mainframes (mainly) for about 25 years now. I wrote yet another ALGOL program this morning. I've done UNIX and some Windows on the way down the road, and am still waiting for the college graduates who know my job backwards to come in and put me out to stud. Hasn't happened yet.

Mainframes are industrial strength. Full stop.

Oh great!!! (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 7 years ago | (#15289713)

Next we have the come back of the Mini??, Maybe I better incorporate and name my new company Digital Equipment or Data General?

Maybe the world get tired of Window infamous blue screen?

Gibsons (3, Funny)

rkulla (973592) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289814)

I just hope Gibsons make a comeback. They never recovered after the movie 'Hackers' came out and every kiddie on the block was brute forcing their way in.

Windows (0, Troll)

Brandybuck (704397) | more than 7 years ago | (#15289831)

If it doesn't run Windows, most companies won't want it. They spent all their money migrating away from Unix big iron, because Gartner showed them a study saying it was cheaper, and now they're too broke to do another switch. All they can afford are high school dropouts with an MCSE, and they're they last people who want near a mainframe.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Account

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Don't worry, we never post anything without your permission.

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>
Sign up for Slashdot Newsletters
Create a Slashdot Account

Loading...