×

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!

The Mainframe Still Lives!

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the gets-knocked-down-they-get-up-again-etc dept.

IBM 372

coondoggie passed us a NetworkWorld blog post about the incredible rock-em-sock-em mainframe. Knocked frequently in recent years, the site notes that IBM's workhorse continues to do important work in a number of enterprise environments. "While there are some out there who'd like to see its demise, a true threat to the Big Iron has never really amounted to much. Even today, the proponents of commodity boxes offering less expensive x86/x64 or RISC technologies say the mainframe is doomed. But the facts say otherwise. For example, IBM recently said the mainframe has achieved three consecutive quarters of growth, marked by new customers choosing the platform for the first time and existing customers adding new workloads, such as Linux and Java applications."

cancel ×
This is a preview of your comment

No Comment Title Entered

Anonymous Coward 1 minute ago

No Comment Entered

372 comments

Brought to you by the (5, Insightful)

geekoid (135745) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759525)

no shit dept.

Of course it lives, and in fact it has done things in 20+ years ago the the PC is just now approaching.

Re:Brought to you by the (2, Funny)

ls671 (1122017) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759735)

I agree, my low cost "mainframe" is a quad core packed with RAM and running a bunch of VMware.

Mainframes have been running VMs for years.

With more powerful PCs, virtualization is now possible with PCs.

I tend to enjoy virtualization, it saves a bunch of money in deployment, management, maintenance, backup procedures, etc., etc. compared to having 12 physical servers to maintain when you can all run it on one piece of hardware (depending on your use case of course).

Re:Brought to you by the (4, Informative)

EvanED (569694) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760273)

Mainframes have been running VMs for years.

Years? More like decades. IBM more or less invented virtualization back in the 60s for the System/390, and it lives on today as z/VM.

Re:Brought to you by the (1)

kantier (993472) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760867)

I agree, my low cost "mainframe" is a quad core packed with RAM and running a bunch of VMware.

Mainframes have been running VMs for years.

With more powerful PCs, virtualization is now possible with PCs.

I tend to enjoy virtualization, it saves a bunch of money in deployment, management, maintenance, backup procedures, etc., etc. compared to having 12 physical servers to maintain when you can all run it on one piece of hardware (depending on your use case of course).

I would rather prefer LPAR if I had the posibility, but for the moment I'll have to be happy with virtualization. (on x86/x64 hardware)

Re:Brought to you by the (1)

j-pimp (177072) | more than 6 years ago | (#19761075)

I would rather prefer LPAR if I had the posibility, but for the moment I'll have to be happy with virtualization. (on x86/x64 hardware)

What exactly is the difference between LPAR and virtualization? Other than allocating specific CPUs or chunks of CPUs, what does VMWare offer that the LPARs of an iSeries do not?

This article is the gay (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19759969)

Parent put it well. Mod me up. Also, mod parent up.

Moderators, lick my easter-egg sized balls! (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19760281)

Parent is NOT off-topic.

MOD PARENT UP! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19760767)

For he speaketh the truth!

We still depend on a mainframe app (1)

BadERA (107121) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759533)

It's a 17 or 18 year old app, running on IBM hardware -- recently purchased, new hardware in fact. Only thing is, IBM won't support the OS anymore, at least not without charging us out the wazoo, and soon enough, simply not at all.

Your Upgrade Options (4, Informative)

BBCWatcher (900486) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760475)

So why not upgrade the OS to a supported version? If your hardware is recently purchased/new, it probably cannot even run too many releases of unsupported operating systems anyway. And all the latest IBM operating system versions run on all the mainframe models stretching back to the end of 2000 (three generations). IBM always has a lot of overlap.

If you have z/OS V1.x, the upgrade to 1.8 or (soon) 1.9 is free. If you have OS/390 still -- hard to imagine on recently purchased/new hardware since it doesn't run on the z9 anyway -- the upgrade to z/OS is probably better than free (i.e. you typically save money), and you usually save money on the other software that runs on z/OS. (z/OS introduced subcapacity licensing.) And you have a full year when you can run both on the same system for no additional charge to get the migration done.

An OS upgrade is extremely unlikely to break any applications. There's 40+ year old code that's still running, right along with 64-bit Java code written an hour ago. Your 17 to 18 year old code should be perfectly happy on the new OS. And here's a radical notion: you can actually change your code if you wish. You know, add features and functions. You're allowed to do that. :-) You run code as long as it has value on the mainframe, for as long as you wish, without the vendor saying, "Sorry, that code must die this year." Just keep your OS and middleware on at least relatively recent releases, that's all -- it's backward compatible. Change your code and add code as you want, when you want.

That's no mainframe (3, Funny)

yada21 (1042762) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759549)

Mainframe? Don't you mean a high capacity, legacy compatible application server?

What is a mainframe, anyway? (2, Informative)

Foerstner (931398) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759831)

Seriously, at what point does a large, highly redundant server become a mainframe? (Yes, I've checked the Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org] and somewhat out-of-date FOLDOC [foldoc.org] definition.

Or is the definition merely, "any large computer descended from one of the old-guard mainframes?"

Still going strong... (2, Informative)

CompMD (522020) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759641)

My two AS/400s keep chugging along. They have never screwed up when they have been needed. With every other type of computer I've worked with, there has always been a case that I've gotten screwed by them. But those two old IBM mini-mainframes just do what they're told, so I'm happy.

Besides, I love the sounds of IPL'ing one of those monsters.

Re:Still going strong... (2, Interesting)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760105)

With every other type of computer I've worked with, there has always been a case that I've gotten screwed by them.

True - getting screwed by an AS/400 is more like a state of being. I went to a free lunch given by the local IBM rep and he was talking about the wonderful, affordable iSeries. Everyone else in the room thought that subscribing to CPU output levels was perfectly reasonable, and that paying a base rate and a (much) higher per-time-unit rate for higher utilization so that you could power through quarterly reports was simply marvelous. Oh, and they'd dropped their prices for SCSI drives to only $3000 per 36GB or something amazingly affordable like that.

Honestly, it was like going to a Scientology convention. The audience ate it up and the sales rep just kept shovelling it on. The more outlandish the quote, the bigger the grins.

I don't mean to hate on any particular computing platform, but I swear to God, the costs that the rep and his customers were casually throwing around were mind-bending. Yeah, they might be wonderful, but at $250,000 for a decent size server, they damn well should be.

True, but.... (3, Informative)

raftpeople (844215) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760645)

It's true the AS/400 is an expensive platform. It's also true you save money every year because you don't need sysadmin's or DBA's (at all at the low to medium end and much less at the upper end). Additionally, in my experience with similar workloads between AS/400 and PC servers, you need lots of PC servers to match the throughput in OLTP applications.

I think when you balance these things, the AS/400 is much less expensive than it may seem when you are buying disk or memory at extremely high prices.

In a mid-sized manufacturing or distribution... (1)

rickb928 (945187) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760771)

...environment, the AS/400 and now iSeries are the shits. Reliable, fast, flexible.

You can run Websphere with or without Java, be your LAN's SMB server, and take heart in knowing that the hardware is the least of your concerns. You still need backups, but your IBM rep is a LOT less likely to be telling you the data is 'lost' than with your Sun, Compaq, HP, or even IBM x86 server.

FWIW, the HP9000s were the shits too. If only HP coulda spun up the Alpha to reasonable performance levels. Damn, that stuff just hummed.

Don't go dissing the AS/400 line. It gets it done. You wish your Linux box was as solid. Oh, crap, I be they can run Linux on the iSeries by now....:-)

Re:In a mid-sized manufacturing or distribution... (2, Interesting)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 6 years ago | (#19761171)

Don't go dissing the AS/400 line. It gets it done. You wish your Linux box was as solid.

I'm honestly not dissing the line; I'm sure they really are great hardware. But oh, the price! I don't remember the exact cost I heard for a mid-range server, but I do remember getting back to the office and running the numbers to find that I could buy something like 60 nice Dell rackmount servers for the same price and make a small Linux cluster of them. I'd end up with about 30 times the throughput, 100 times the storage, and 0% of the software cost.

I cannot believe that the AS/400, solid as it is, has better uptimes than a 60-machine cluster (given that only about one tenth of those machines had to be online to exceed the AS/400's performance). Heck, for half the price, you could have two smaller clusters in geographically distinct locations with a high-speed link between them.

I think the iSeries has a solid position of running legacy systems, and I could even understand the justification for buying newer, more powerful machines as those systems grow in size and scope. That seems perfectly reasonable. But for new development, I just don't get how that single expensive box is more cost-effective than a small group of decent x86 systems. Think of it as a RAIS (Redundant Array of Inexpensive Servers). I'd rather place my trust in a few good but affordable mirrored drives than one hyper-expensive bulletproof device. Well, same concept here.

Re:Still going strong... (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760849)

Honestly, it was like going to a Scientology convention. The audience ate it up and the sales rep just kept shovelling it on. The more outlandish the quote, the bigger the grins.
Think of it as fucking them as good and hard as they deserve.

 

It's all over, though, as soon as someone... (3, Funny)

msauve (701917) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759643)

comes out with an object-oriented RPG and 9 track tape drive for a micro.

(and no, newbie, "RPG" does _not_ stand for "role playing game.")

Re:It's all over, though, as soon as someone... (1)

Potor (658520) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759867)

i actually did an internship at ibm toronto writing an rpg manual (as400).

Re:It's all over, though, as soon as someone... (1)

Mattintosh (758112) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760035)

Who the hell needs a freakin' manual for RPG/400? Good god. It's just COBOL with all the logic removed and a template to fill out. Like Crystal Reports is for SQL databases, only 20 years older.

"Hmm... let's see... I want this EMPNUM, EMPNAM, EMPDAT, EMPSAL, and EMPTRM... Now I want EMPDAT and EMPTRM compared to give me EMPEMP... and go! Yaaaaay! Reports!" - pointy-haired bosses everywhere, circa 1975

Re:It's all over, though, as soon as someone... (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19759879)

(and no, newbie, "RPG" does _not_ stand for "role playing game.")
Of course not, it stands for "Rocket Propelled Grenade", although why you would want an object-oriented RPG is beyond me.

Re:It's all over, though, as soon as someone... (5, Funny)

blacklint (985235) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759951)

Well, what else would you orient your rocket propelled grenade at? Not hitting anything wouldn't be any fun.

Re:It's all over, though, as soon as someone... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19759955)

I would prefer Target Oriented

Re:It's all over, though, as soon as someone... (1)

jimbojw (1010949) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760735)

(and no, newbie, "RPG" does _not_ stand for "role playing game.")
What do rocket propelled grenades have to do with anything? And besides, it's not even worth it when you consider all that environmental damage. Stick with the plasma gun - it's the enthusiast's choice.

Re:It's all over, though, as soon as someone... (1)

loganrapp (975327) | more than 6 years ago | (#19761129)

comes out with an object-oriented RPG and 9 track tape drive for a micro.


(and no, newbie, "RPG" does _not_ stand for "role playing game.")

Oh, really? Like Lord of the---aw.

Some want to see the demise of the mainframe? (4, Insightful)

Ravnen (823845) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759647)

Why would anyone want to see the demise of the mainframe, or any other particular technology? I don't understand all the emotion about such things: if the mainframe continues to provide value in certain areas, then customers in those areas will continue to buy it.

Re:Some want to see the demise of the mainframe? (1, Informative)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759751)


Why would anyone want to see the demise of the mainframe, or any other particular technology?

Because they're a burden to maintain, but have developed "traction" because they've invaded every part of a business.

I don't do mainframe stuff (and hope I never will), but the little I've heard is ugly. Ancient COBOL (yick) code written 40 years ago running on a dinosaur OS.

Re:Some want to see the demise of the mainframe? (5, Interesting)

jbohumil (517473) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759851)

I do both mainframe programming and PC based programming and it's really far easier to maintain the mainframe stuff. It's also much more interesting. As a programmer perhaps the most telling thing I can say about the difference is that when your mainframe application dumps, you can actually analyze the dump and learn everything you need to know in most cases to fully diagnose the problem. PC programs on the other hand rely pretty much completely on recreating the abnormal situation in a debugging session in order to debug a problem. If you can't recreate the problem in your test case, you typically can't solve a problem. This pretty much insures that properly maintained mainframe programs will always be more reliable than PC based ones.

Re:Some want to see the demise of the mainframe? (1)

baggins2001 (697667) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760121)

I think this can also be said for some of the clustered systems.
But people tend to look at clustering as a way of doing heavy computing, instead of computing in a controlled environment.

If they would ever figure out the cost of maintaining these PC programs they would see some serious cost benefits to controlled environments.
I think part of the problem is that people can hire MS programmers for cheap. Then they can say yeah I have 10 programmers working in my group, instead of yeah I have 3 talented programmers in my group.

Re:Some want to see the demise of the mainframe? (1, Insightful)

Vellmont (569020) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760871)


As a programmer perhaps the most telling thing I can say about the difference is that when your mainframe application dumps, you can actually analyze the dump and learn everything you need to know in most cases to fully diagnose the problem.

I'm not sure what language you're talking about here, but I write in Java. When something miss-behaves I get a thrown exception and a line number. Most of the time you can do exactly what you're saying and find out what went wrong. The same is true for most any interpreted language. I don't really see why the Mainframe is somehow superior.

This pretty much insures that properly maintained mainframe programs will always be more reliable than PC based ones.

Pure nonsense. Debugging is only one aspect of programming (and I take issue that it's somehow easier on a mainframe). Software is constantly in flux, and a reliable program is far more reliant on the programmer that wrote it than the hardware or environment it runs on. There's also a reason people have moved away from the popular Mainframe languages like COBOL and towards object oriented languages like Java or C++. (See maintainibility, complexity, and code re-use. I suppose you can run Java on a Mainframe... but from a programmers perspective I don't see why it matters.

I find it kind of strange you're touting the programming strengths of Mainframes. The only good thing I've heard about them is the reliability, speed, processing power, etc of the hardware.

Re:Some want to see the demise of the mainframe? (0, Troll)

Just Some Guy (3352) | more than 6 years ago | (#19761269)

As a programmer perhaps the most telling thing I can say about the difference is that when your mainframe application dumps, you can actually analyze the dump and learn everything you need to know in most cases to fully diagnose the problem.

If only there were some way to make a "dump" of the "core" of that application's memory, then you could use some sort of a debugger to look at that application's state and figure it out. I'd call it, oh, "Genuinely Decent Bugridder", or gdb for short. If only.

Re:Some want to see the demise of the mainframe? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759785)

They're a pain in the ass to work on. If you don't know about Elips, JCL, Roscoe then you're lucky; if you do you should see where I'm coming from. Of course strictly speaking that wasn't the problem with mainframes as such, more the horridly bogus OSes they ran.

Re:Some want to see the demise of the mainframe? (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19760153)

Of course strictly speaking that wasn't the problem with mainframes as such, more the horridly bogus OSes they ran.
You can get an IBM z-series mainframe that runs Linux -- a decidely non-horridly bogus OS. I understand where you're coming from, but really, it's not like things are the same as they were back in the days that mainframes reigned supreme, the OSes have gotten better -- not just Linux, but other OSes you can get on mainframes as well.

Wow! That's growth rate! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19759651)

If this is correct it's astonishing. It seems it *has* to be wrong.

"Further, IBM says the System z has been gaining high-end servers and that System z capacity shipped in 4Q06 was greater than the total capacity of the then current installed IBM mainframe worldwide inventory."

rhb

Wrong Again! (3, Interesting)

filesiteguy (695431) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759657)

I remember back in '93, calling for the end of the mainframe era, when some of my friends were taking COBOL classes at university. Look how wrong I am! Here we are, years later, and I'm still hooking into some mainframe system or another.

I have come to very much appreciate the high availability (24/7/365) and stability of the mainframe. In fact, when I get approached by vendors these days telling me I can support virtualization on high-end PCs, which cost $1M or more, I ask, "why not just by a Z-Series."

Long Live the Mainframe!

Maybe someday, I'll learn COBOL... ...nah.

Virtualization is old technology! (5, Insightful)

Envy Life (993972) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760649)

I knew this news was coming.

After the advent of client/server and GUI interfaces the mainframe was declared dead. Yet the web happened, and all of a sudded all the inefficiencies of the GUI interface was replaced with, effectively, a 3270 terminal because it's a more efficient network model. Enter data, submit, wait for a response, just like a mainframe, but somehow... new?

In the past few years, virtualization has become a huge topic, and it's most interesting following the developments of Xen and Vmware and Solaris Containers and all the hardware vendors just now designing and building support for virtualization... and then I realize again... haven't we been here before? Virtualization is old technology, tried and true on the mainframe, and it's going to be some more years before it becomes a commodity. Oh it'll be here, someday, but again, don't hold your breath waiting the mainframe to go away as yet another generation realizes the advantages of what as invented long ago.

Hardware quality... (5, Informative)

mi (197448) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759661)

Hardware quality is the key here. It may not matter, if the application is even 30% faster on x86. But if the motherboard is buggy, or the parallel port is flaky, or cable can fluctuate, or the video card can get loose (early AGPs anyone?) — it is death. Even if the probability of it ever happening is very low, the costs will be devastating. Thus the expectation (probabilty times cost) of the loss is still lower than the cost.

I've heard of machines, where the CPUs or memory can be replaced without shutting down — 15 years ago (Sequoia)... Meanwhile, some controllers and OSes still don't fully support hard-disk replacement, or even network cable unplugging — today...

Put it like this ... (3, Interesting)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759663)

if you're a major business operation, and you have the usual multiple terabytes of data that needs to be stored and processed with near-100% reliability, you need big iron. My company has an AS400, and it does a lot of things that we'd be hard pressed to accomplish using PCs. Predicting the demise of the mainframe is like predicting the demise of our economy. You'd best hope it doesn't ever actually happen.

Re:Put it like this ... (2, Interesting)

blhack (921171) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759971)

I know that most /.ers out there probably don't know this industry even exists, but As400 is used pretty much exclusively through the automotive auction industry.

Re:Put it like this ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19760315)

Huge in the gaming industry as well.

Hotels as well.

Sidenote:When do we get to start bashing the Tandem and Stratus systems?

Re:Put it like this ... (1)

Risha (999721) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760931)

*raises hand* HR outsourcing here. I don't work directly with the hardware, so I have no idea how many we have, but I know that we shell out every year for at least one more to handle the increased open enrollment traffic.

Mainframes are not Magic (2, Insightful)

fm6 (162816) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760275)

it does a lot of things that we'd be hard pressed to accomplish using PCs
And why is that? Because PCs are fundamentally incapable of running the kind of software you need? Computers don't work that way.

Which is not to say that using mainframes never makes sense. If you have a lot of tried-and-true legacy software, it might well be cost effective to keep legacy hardware around to run it. The alternative is to write replacement software that runs on modern systems, meaning you have to go through the whole development, QA, and deployment thing all over again, at huge cost. Very often it makes more sense just to keep using mainframes. But that's a matter of economics, not technology.

I would also point out that modern mainframes are not really "mainframes" in the original sense. The original mainframes used technology that became obsolete on the day microprocessor-based systems became more cost effective. What we now call "mainframes" are just specialized microcomputers that are optimized to run legacy mainframe code.

Re:Mainframes are not Magic (1)

raftpeople (844215) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760757)

But that's a matter of economics, not technology

I can only speak for the AS/400, not mainframes, but I can tell you there are numerous things in the system that simply are not found in PC's and PC OS's. Many of the time saving or satbility/realiability things the other poster was referring to really are technology issues.

I would also point out that modern mainframes are not really "mainframes" in the original sense. The original mainframes used technology that became obsolete on the day microprocessor-based systems became more cost effective. What we now call "mainframes" are just specialized microcomputers that are optimized to run legacy mainframe code.

While it's true IBM is closing in on a common CPU for all platforms, I don't think this supports your argument. Mainframes have always had multiple processors for various functions on various boards, and I don't think that's any different today. It's not that much different from a PC either, just a matter of degree, more stuff in IBM mainframes and mini's were offloaded to other processors than in a PC.

Re:Mainframes are not Magic (1)

fm6 (162816) | more than 6 years ago | (#19761031)

but I can tell you there are numerous things in the system that simply are not found in PC's and PC OS's.
For example?

Mainframes have always had multiple processors for various functions on various boards,
As do modern microcomputers. Having a lot of complex logic all over the place isn't what separates mainframes from micros. Originally, mainframes were distinguished by the fact that they used discrete components [thefreedictionary.com]. They stopped doing that when integrated logic got fast enough to replace discrete technology. Now the only thing that distinguishes a mainframe is backward compatibility.

Re:Mainframes are not Magic (5, Insightful)

drgould (24404) | more than 6 years ago | (#19761151)

Mainframes have features that just aren't available in commodity or even server PC.

Mainframes are designed not just for speed, but also for reliability and throughput.

Throughput is limited in a standard PC because everything has to go through the northbridge chip and all I/O has to go though both the northbridge and southbridge chip. Depending on the make and model, a mainframe will have multiple and redundant I/O buses for drives and networking. And multiple CPUs with multiple redundant banks of memory.

Everything is monitored. If a stick of RAM starts to fail (they use ECC RAM of course), programs and data are dynamically moved to another bank and a service call is automatically logged. Same thing with drives, CPUs, power supplies, etc. Everything is monitored and redundant.

Mainframes are designed so they don't even have to be powered-down for service. Anything; CPUs, memory, drives, power supplies, can be replaced or upgraded while it's running. Users won't even notice.

Mainframes are designed from the ground-up for companies that absolutely, positively can not afford downtime. It's a completely different market than a typical server PC.

Re:Put it like this ... (2, Insightful)

complete loony (663508) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760979)

Tell that to Google. The PC world needs better tools to break up processing tasks and data into small units that can be distributed over a large number of inexpensive and unreliable machines. With automatic failover and recovery. Google seem to be inventing and using such tools all the time.

KISS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19759667)

Keep It Simple Stupid

Why change something that does the job? Anticipations based on hype may lead to disasters of Titanic proportions.

Re:KISS (1)

Leibel (768832) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759745)

Except that mainframes aren't the simple beasts they were. They have evolved like everything else as new technologies evolve and mature.

god bless virtualization and Big Blue's Iron (2, Insightful)

hguorbray (967940) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759765)

With the flexibility afforded by virtualization who wouldn't want big iron to pump out the megabytes? You can run dozens or hundreds of webservers or databases on a single mainframe with virtualization.

What is better equipped to handle iSCSI and fibre channel storage data that the massive crossbar-IO throughput capabilities of the mainframe.

Blade servers are to mainframes as a pack of mice are to an elephant.

All hail Big Iron! All Hail IBM! Hail Eris!

I'm just sayin'

Re:god bless virtualization and Big Blue's Iron (1)

countSudoku() (1047544) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760199)

I agree with you 95%!!1! However, to use a big iron box to run a bunch of lowly webservers is ludicrous and expensive. I'd say leave that low-end task to the 1U boxen of your favorite OS/platform or virtualized on a smaller box. Besides, most competent data centers will have to keep the webservers on the DMZ and exterior facing nets, and the big boxen well inside the firewall and behind enemy lines and *not* sharing a single frame of the same h/w even when virtualized.

Re:god bless virtualization and Big Blue's Iron (2, Interesting)

kraut (2788) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760597)

> Blade servers are to mainframes as a pack of mice are to an elephant.
I'm fairly sure my 400 blades run rings around any mainframe for what I do - floating point calculations.

Apart from that, go mainframe! As long as I don't have to get involved with it;)

Misleading article (4, Funny)

dangitman (862676) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759767)

a NetworkWorld blog post about the incredible rock-em-sock-em mainframe.

I clicked on the link, but did not see any photos of mainframes fighting each other to the death. It wasn't even mentioned in the text! I want my money back.

Chuckle (5, Insightful)

dedazo (737510) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759821)

What did everyone think takes over when you swipe that Amex or Visa card at the convenience store? A PC running some OTS operating system like Linux, BSD or Windows? Nope, it's been and will probably always be big iron from IBM, Fujitsu, Hitachi and NEC. These are the billion-transaction, subsecond-response, petabyte-scale database business systems (COBOL on DB2 babee!) that have run the world for decades, and I don't see them going away soon... because there's nothing out there that's as capable or scalable.

The move away from mainframes, minis and midrange boxes happened because the commodity PC platform reached a point where it was a viable replacement for processing/storage requirements for which the old systems were sold as complete overkill (or there was no choice at the time). Wherever it was actually needed, there has been exactly ZERO migration and the mainframe is still the king of the hill, by far. So no, some of us are not "surprised" at all.

Re:Chuckle (1)

iamdrscience (541136) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760025)

What did everyone think takes over when you swipe that Amex or Visa card at the convenience store? A PC running some OTS operating system like Linux, BSD or Windows?
While they're certainly running on mainframes, that doesn't mean they're not using Linux. IIRC, Citigroup's credit card processing is done on Linux mainframes and I'd imagine Linux mainframes have found their way into plenty of other "critical" areas as well.

Chuckle-Acting like a guest. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19760181)

Linux mainframe? No. Linux is a guest OS and there could be other OSs running concurrently as well like BSD. That wouldn't make the mainframe a BSD mainframe.

Re:Chuckle (1)

funwithBSD (245349) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760297)

One of the major advantages is that the mainframe has much more power per CPU. This avoids the problem Linux (and other PC based UNIX's) can have with scaling to large numbers of CPU's, say more than 8.

It is a real problem with CPU's now coming with 4 cores per chip, with more cores planned in the future.

College days (0)

Dan East (318230) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759829)

It was during my college days that I truly recognized the usefulness of mainframes. I can remember numerous occasions when mainframe terminal rooms were at capacity - full of students chatting on IRC, because the PC rooms were full of people playing Doom.

The only people doing real work were on X Terminals in the Unix labs. :)

Dan East

Re:College days (1)

dbIII (701233) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760651)

The only people doing real work were on X Terminals in the Unix labs. :)

It may have looked like nethack but it was really people improving their vi cursor navigation skills :)

Features that you can't even buy anymore (5, Interesting)

mcrbids (148650) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759895)

Many years ago, I had the opportunity to work on a VAX VMS system. It was an 11/750, shaped like an oversized washing machine, and took up an entire room with all its cabling, Hard Disk stack, RAM box, and a huge multiplexer.

Although it was a thunderously loud, kilowatt-sucking machine with the processing power of an 80286, it had a number of features that are simply not available until you start ponying up some serious cash:

1) Dynamic memory remapping - when memory failed, it would "fix" the bad parts with checksum or by reloading the data in the memory from disk, and remap the addresses to another chip that wasn't failed. It would VM out as needed if/when it simply ran out.

2) File versioning - you could "bring back" previous copies of any file in the system simply by specifying its revision NN times back. EG: "edit myfile.txt" could be replaced with "edit myfile.txt:1" to see the previous edition. This was simply awesome and I've not seen this elsewhere.

3) Automated clustering - simply by connecting several of these machines together with a fairly simple serial adapter, they would immediately "recognize" each other and start sharing loads as needed. I don't know how many of these could be clustered together, what the limits were, but the fact that it was so simple to set up and it "just worked" was simply amazing.

ECC RAM doesn't hold a candle to #1. I'm unaware of a production-ready filesystem that can match #2 above, and #3 is simply in another league.

Why hasn't this technology persisted to this day? DEC/Compaq/HP screwed the pooch on this one.

Re:Features that you can't even buy anymore (3, Informative)

funwithBSD (245349) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760191)

All that still exists for VMS, and it runs on Itanium. There is some serious work being done on getting it to run on Opertion as well.

What they have failed to do is avertize properly so people know what it can do and what it cannot.

Re:Features that you can't even buy anymore (1)

Mattintosh (758112) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760293)

#1 seems like it would be horribly cost-prohibitive. Too many redundant systems that cost money, for little-to-no payback for most people. You won't ever see this on commodity hardware.

#2 and #3 seem to be happening even on PC's now. Give it 5 years and they'll be widespread. I know that #2 sounds remarkably similar to what's going on in Mac OS X's new "Time Machine" feature as well as ZFS. I give them both a couple of years before they're stable enough for everyday use. #3 is partially already there in Mac OS X, and no doubt other systems. Apple calls it Xgrid. There's gotta be someone else out there with the same thing for Linux or Windows. The necessary underlying technology is Zeroconf (a.k.a. Bonjour) and a network connection.

The technology has persisted, but it hasn't been feasible against the trade-offs typically found in the commodity/PC market. Size has always been a major limiting factor. Nobody wants a washing-machine-sized computer in their house (much less that plus some refrigerator-sized peripherals), and fewer and fewer people are tolerating traditional PC-sized computers. Smaller is better for everyday personal computing as well as datacenters (rack space is limited), and that leaves little room for the features you mentioned (especially #1). DEC, et al were just ahead of their time.

Re:Features that you can't even buy anymore (1)

EvanED (569694) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760331)

I know that #2 sounds remarkably similar to what's going on in Mac OS X's new "Time Machine" feature as well as ZFS.

And, be fair, Vista's "previous versions" feature. They've got it too, and before Apple.

I know it's not an innovation on their part, but why mention OS X and not it?

Re:Features that you can't even buy anymore (2, Insightful)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760883)

#1 is available on x86 workstation systems in the form of Chipkill, which isn't too far from being commodity hardware, it's relatively easily obtainable. I'm sure Intel and AMD could easily bring it down to consumer systems if there was any call for it, but there really isn't.

Re:Features that you can't even buy anymore (1)

EvanED (569694) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760361)

2) File versioning - you could "bring back" previous copies of any file in the system simply by specifying its revision NN times back. EG: "edit myfile.txt" could be replaced with "edit myfile.txt:1" to see the previous edition. This was simply awesome and I've not seen this elsewhere.

This, as another poster said, is starting to make a comeback again, though mostly in the form of file system snapshots instead of explicit file versioning. They tend to be coarse-grained though timewise instead of triggered by saves, which is unfortunate. An exception to this (I think) is WAFL, which IIRC takes snapshots every second or so. (I could be wrong there, I've never used it.)

I too would really like to see this feature done right.

Re:Features that you can't even buy anymore (1)

GotenXiao (863190) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760467)

You can get a properly versioned filesystem that runs under FUSE: CopyFS. It works rather well, but they've yet to make it particularly optimised space-wise (for example, each version is a full copy rather than a diff).

Re:Features that you can't even buy anymore (1)

EvanED (569694) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760493)

There are a couple others, like ext2cow and versionfs (I think that's the one), and elephant for BSD, but I don't think any of them have gone through the testing that would let them be used in many production environments.

Re:Features that you can't even buy anymore (2, Informative)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760457)

Solaris and Linux can now do number 1 with the correct hardware support. This generally means big iron from Sun or IBM (possibly SGI too, on the Linux side). File versioning was a nice feature of VMS. I wouldn't be surprised if it made it into Solaris soon; ZFS has the basic building blocks required (non-destructive, transactional, write operations and O(1) shapshots), so it wouldn't be too hard to do. The only *NIX know of that can do number 3 is DragonFly BSD, and that doesn't do it well yet.

For the record, HP will still sell you OpenVMS systems. The OS runs on VAX, Alpha and Itanium, although I believe they only ship Itanium these days. They're still popular amongst banks, I'm told.

Re:Features that you can't even buy anymore (1)

TodMinuit (1026042) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760521)

2) File versioning - you could "bring back" previous copies of any file in the system simply by specifying its revision NN times back. EG: "edit myfile.txt" could be replaced with "edit myfile.txt:1" to see the previous edition. This was simply awesome and I've not seen this elsewhere.
Plan 9 [wikipedia.org] has had it in various implementations for a very long time, the most recent being Venti [wikipedia.org] coupled with Fossil [wikipedia.org].

Re:Features that you can't even buy anymore (1)

truckaxle (883149) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760569)

Hey I also remember an experience with a VAX 11/750. I had written some submarine simulation in FORTRAN on a 80286 with a math coprocessor. However, finally I got into the server room and had access to the big iron VAX. Oh boy, I thought I made to the major leagues.

I loaded my software and started a compile. I felt the room move as the washing machine sized fixed disk started to churn on the compile. I waited... waited... waited.... and finally what took 5 minutes to compile on my lowly PC took 10 minutes on the big iron. Program execution performance was also slower. I was surprised. I pleaded with my boss if I could just bring in my personal 286 and do my work, as the VAX was just too damn slow and tools sucked.

However, I will note that your item #2 with the VAX file versioning was cool and useful and sometimes wish I could turn on this feature on a directory basis.

Re:Features that you can't even buy anymore (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19760759)

openVMS [hp.com]

Sigh - the usual crap (0)

Master of Transhuman (597628) | more than 6 years ago | (#19759897)

Mainframes ARE dead - for ninety nine percent of the world's corporations. Who cares if a handful of morons have specific requirements for large processors with large I/O bandwidths?

Everybody likes to claim Windows outsells Linux by looking at the revenue figures rather than the units figures.

How about how much money mainframes bring in vs the rest of the hardware industry?

A recent study said the primary reason for moving from non-mainframe architectures to mainframes was:
"improved workload management, performance, availability, and security coupled with reduced costs for electrical power, cooling, floor space, and support staffs."

Which of course only applies to the data center, not to anything else in the IT world.

Here's an example of what more advanced people are doing:

Linux grid takes out firm's aging mainframe
By Jack Loftus, News Writer
04 Jan 2007 | SearchOpenSource.com

R.L. Polk & Co., one of the oldest providers of automotive information in the U.S., had a mainframe problem.

In December, IBM touted a 100% increase in the number of ISV applications available for its mainframe offering, System z. More than 390 IBM business partners now offer nearly 1,000 applications for System z customers running Linux, IBM said.

Analyst firm Ptak Noel & Associates also identified the trend in a report released this month, but conceded it was unable to get IBM to disclose if growth was due to internal development on mainframe, or actual production use. Overall, mainframes grew from 2% to 7% on the year, a Ptak report said.

In addition, IBM business partners reported increased customer interest in new IBM technology including the z9 Integrated Information Processor (zIIP) and z Application Assistant Processor (zAAP) specialty engines. More than 60% of IBM mainframe revenue is now driven by new workloads, with approximately 20% of revenue and 30% of MIPS (million instructions per second) coming from Linux customers.

"The story of IBM's mainframe experience is still being written and it looks to be a story of impressive rebirth, renewal and return," the Ptak report said.

Apparently RLP Technologies didn't get the memo.

The mainframe -- an IBM 2066-002, part of the zSeries line -- was unable to keep up with the demands of crunching data on 500 million unique vehicles every year. Some of the data processing jobs on the mainframe would often take several days to complete. Parts of the infrastructure at Polk were close to 20 years old when executives first started looking elsewhere for solutions in 2004.

With about 4.5 petabytes of stored information on hand, the mainframe took on the persona of a lumbering behemoth. This was especially the case when the IT staff had to accommodate new business requirements such as a car dealership adding a new type of vehicle to its inventory. Each update required a major rework of the program, said Mick Isiminger, director of IT operations at RLP Technologies, a wholly-owned research and development subsidiary of Polk.

And the amount of information on hand was growing. As one of the largest providers of automotive consumer information, Polk tasked RLP Technologies (RLPT) with finding, configuring and deploying a higher performance and more flexible alternative.

Grid computing versus mainframe

Leading the effort, Isiminger said the decision was made early on to switch out the mainframe and go with a grid computing environment. Why a grid? Because it offered a "loosely coupled environment" that could adapt to change more easily than a mainframe, he said.

Grid computing performs higher throughput computing by distributing processes across a group of servers. Grids use the resources of this network to solve large-scale computations.

They can also perform computations on large data sets by breaking them into many smaller ones. Grids are a popular form of computing in academic and scientific environments, and organizations like the Open Grid Forum have formed to promote their use in the enterprise.

The servers that would go into the grid were still a matter of debate, however. RLPT's search began with SPARC-based servers from Sun Microsystems Inc. and x86 servers from Dell Inc. Testing included performance benchmarking and scalability for future updates and determined which servers handled floating point and integer calculations the fastest.

Price was also a consideration, although it actually trailed performance and scalability in the pecking order. Truth be told, the Sun SPARC and Dell x86 servers were similarly priced, Isiminger said.

Ultimately, the choice was made to deploy the grid on Intel-based Dell PowerEdge 6850 servers. The production grid comprises 49 servers and 118 processors running Red Hat Enterprise Linux. The grid also runs an RLPT custom-built internal data management application, called OneView360, which handles all information processing.

Isiminger said his IT staff moved from the mainframe to a grid using high-performance code developed in Assembler and PL/1, business logic in COBOL, proprietary mainframe development tools, flat file processing, VSAM and some IMS.

Most of the OneView360 architecture was developed by RLPT, but Cap Gemini and several smaller local boutique consultancy firms were also used to build out the application. Application development took 14 months, while implementation and integration into the business took six months to complete, Isiminger said.

Grid goodness

The benefits of grid computing were immediately apparent to Isiminger and his staff.

"In the old world," Isiminger said of life with a mainframe, "we would have passed all the [customer and vehicle] information through in big batches. These batches would run for days in the mainframe, and we're talking batches upon batches upon batches."

But with a grid, this week-long process was reduced to "a matter of hours," said Norm Marks, RLPT's head of marketing. The grid was "elegant" in comparison, he said.

"As the data flows through the grid, we can carve out just the information we need to make the service run. We can parse out individual names, add and separate information all at the same time. Eventually, all of the information meets up at a single end point and is joined together again," Marks said. And instead of having to deal with the entire batch at one time, grid allows the IT staff to scale capacity on demand.

The grid also grants the ability to automate manual tasks and cut hours off the day, Marks said. "Typical up-front data captures used to take four to 14 hours on the mainframe, but today we're completing them as automated tasks in [less than 30 minutes]," he said.

Internal tests have showed speed improvements in data-file processing of up to 70% over what the mainframe could provide. Grid computing granted 100 transactions per second, on average, which was four times parent company [R.L. Polk's] 25 per second. Marks said the differential provides room for future transactions, business growth and processing spikes.

Life on the grid also saved money. Millions, to be precise. Isiminger's IT group now operates at a 43% smaller size, and the move away from the mainframe to a grid computing model reduced hardware costs by 65% overall.

Why Linux and open source?

When RLPT compared servers, they also compared operating systems. The winner was "easily Red Hat," but Eisminger said Sun Solaris was in the running when his company debated whether to use SPARC or Intel-based servers.

The OS comparison focused on security. Isiminger wanted assurances that patching and other security updates would be delivered in a timely manner by the vendor.

Security was the most important criteria because OneView360 functioned as a secure door through which all data for R.L. Polk would flow, Isiminger said. The data included sensitive information like VIN numbers, car pricing and customer names. Linux in general was prized because of its lower price, flexibility and security.

Red Hat Linux impressed Isiminger with its security chops, but the company's partnership with open source middleware provider JBoss Inc. sealed the deal. Red Hat acquired JBoss for $350 million in April.

Isiminger said JBoss became an integral part of OneView360 both as an application server for its user interface (UI) and as a platform for running the applications' complex custom service orchestration engine. The orchestration engine handles the most complex processing in the system and controls mass parallel processing across the grid, he said.

JBoss staff was also onsite to provide subject matter expertise and training for their technologies, he said.

When he was asked to advise potential adopters of grid computing technology, Isiminger kept it simple: "Do your research," he said. "In our case, we needed to enhance a service. Grid computing is certainly no silver bullet, but it worked perfectly for us."

And what of that old mainframe? It's still around, but Isiminger wouldn't say exactly what it was up to. It operates in a "reduced capacity," he said.

Previous studies I've read indicate that to make a mainframe profitable you need to run tons of different applications on it - or one application thousands of times. Not too many operations fit that latter category. The overall cost of a mainframe some years ago was around $18 million. I've read studies where companies switched from mainframes to client server or other PC-based architectures and not only saved eighty to ninety percent in costs, the entire new system cost less than the MAINTENANCE on the mainframe - AND the company got some four or five TIMES the processing power to boot.

Sure, the mainframe has its place - in a niche.

Otherwise it's irrelevant to anything going on here.

Re:Sigh - the usual crap (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19760167)

This was especially the case when the IT staff had to accommodate new business requirements such as a car dealership adding a new type of vehicle to its inventory. Each update required a major rework of the program, said Mick Isiminger, director of IT operations at RLP Technologies, a wholly-owned research and development subsidiary of Polk."


This is inexcusable on ANY platform, never mind on a mainframe....

Sounds like it was written by my current crop of interns....sigh.

Re:Sigh - the usual crap (2, Interesting)

ls671 (1122017) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760523)

I have seen old crappy RPG apps, what you are reffering to (crunching 500 million unique vehicles) sounds it could have been one of those crappy 20 years old application full of spaghetti code.

Let's not mix hardware and software.

Linux and JBoss run just fine on zSeries. Rewriting an application in Java and running it on JBoss is one thing. The hardware you will run it on is another thing.

Note that I don't run zSeries, they are too expensive ;-)

I do use virtualization although to reduce the number of deployed servers. For rundundancy, the good old shared drive with a standby machine principle is used. This principle is used by Oracle, IBM, MSCS, etc. and is still viewed as more robust than linux grid computing by most corporate decision takers.

Linux grid computing is becoming more and more mature although and it will be interesting to see what happens in the long run.

this FP f0r GNAA (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19760009)

to use the GNAA Nigger Association That freeBSD is thing5 I still and building is GNAA and support (7000+1400+700)*4 Is wiped off and exactly what you've have somebody just ME! It's official any parting shot, fastest-growing GAY

My first Mainframe (5, Interesting)

Sanat (702) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760043)

My first experience was with the CDC 3200 series back in 1970. It programmed in Compass (assembler level). Cobol and Fortran as compiled languages. It was an Octal machine with the primary input being the card reader.

Each gate was on a separate printed circuit board and there were probably in excess of 5,000 PCB's in the mainframe and the various controllers. Quite a monster to troubleshoot unless the circuit was fully understood. We had a Tektronix's 545 scope with delayed sweep to trace out the circuits.

The main timing chain for the core memory was initiated by sending a "0" down a ringing coil that has various taps on it for the whole read/write cycle.

We kid about having to key in the boot code manually, but the 3200 required about a 20 step boot program. I still remember parts of the code even now.

What is a mainframe? (1)

www.sorehands.com (142825) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760177)

While a chapter president of the DPMA, at least once a month there was an argument "are we a mainframe group or PC group?" My response is it does not matter, the same principal applies. The only difference is if a mainframe goes down, people are fired.

What is a mainframe now? Multiple hard drives running live backups? PCs do that. ECC memory, PCs do that too. 24/7 operation? Non-windows based systems do that.

So how is a mainframe different from a PC?

Guess I'm too young (1)

jimktrains (838227) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760219)

This is probably a dumb question to some, but I guess I'm too young. What exactly sets a mainframe apart from a cluster of commodity boxes? The wikipedia articles wasn't all too much help.

Re:Guess I'm too young (4, Funny)

Bill, Shooter of Bul (629286) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760345)

Well, yes you are young. Perhaps a better definition for you would go thusly:

If it takes Chuck Norris a round house kick to destroy, instead of a simple side kick, then its a mainframe.

Re:Guess I'm too young (2, Interesting)

Sawopox (18730) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760507)

Well, from what I understand, one thing makes a mainframe a mainframe is that it's not commodity boxes clustered together. It will carry a larger price tag, but should come with the increased reliability and support over the commodity boxes.

It's similar to the difference between military grade and consumer grade equipment. For example, a GPS receiver you purchase that doesn't crashes on the trip to grandma is no big deal. A Navy SEAL squad that has a GPS receiver crash IS a big deal.

One of the things about the "Beowulf cluster" of commodity boxes is that they are cheap, giving some aspects of high-end computing power without the cost. This is for those garage-based start-ups that need some serious power but if a hard-disk drops out or a LAN connection goes dead it's not a huge deal.

Your mainframe setup is for large scale businesses, universities, nuclear research, all that fun kind of stuff. If your job is riding on it, get a mainframe.

What Makes a "Mainframe" Anymore? (2, Interesting)

hardburn (141468) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760477)

What is it that makes a computer a "mainframe"? For years, the "Big Iron" programmers insisted that they worked with the only real computers, and the term "mainframe" was always associated with big machines that could only be used by the most experienced programmers. That's just silly; either your computer is Turing Complete or it isn't (making allowances for finate memory limitations, of course). The important distinctions are:

  1. How much memory does it have?
  2. How fast is it?
  3. How easy is it to use it in solving real problems? (Possibly the most important point.)
  4. What sort of extra i/o devices does it have? (Mice, displays, webcams, sensors, etc.)

Big Iron has always had points 1 and 2, but clusters of cheap PCs can often match their level. In practice, current Big Iron hardware isn't fundamentally different from current PCs--it just tends to have better quality control and "more" than whatever's in the PC (more RAM, more hard drive, more processors, etc.). In fact, an AS400 is about the same size as a large server PC, not the room-filling Big Iron machines of yore.

Number 4 simply has to do with what sort of connectors and drivers you have available.

I've had personal experience with RPG, which is why I say with confidence that mainframes are utter failures at number 3. The languages are so primitive that they've barely discovered indentation blocks (and some older programmers shun this "freeform" mode). Sure, they run Java now, but I didn't need Big Iron to run Java. I'll take a VB job before I touch RPG again.

If the programming languages are what make it "Big Iron", then I hope it dies a horrible death.

Overall, we don't need the special terms "mainframe" and "Big Iron" anymore, because all the machines that fit those descriptions are better called "servers" or "supercomputers".

I must say, however, that I am impressed that old Big Iron still works, and in fact still runs a lot of financial transactions. It's no exaggeration to say that removing all the old Big Iron tonight would kill the world economy by tomorrow. It's best to keep those machines and programs in working order, since they obviously work, are quite robust, and solve many problems, whereas a new program may fail.

Big-Iron Is Great (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19760495)

We are one of the new mainframe customers out there. We are actually in transition. Running hundreds of Linux servers is less efficient for our workload and application type than a few large-scale 'big-iron' systems. Not that a cluster of Linux servers couldn't beat the big box, our engineers just can't hack it. It is HARD writing applications that scale well across hundreds of totally unique systems. More often than not our software boys have created islands or pockets of computing regions in the cluster - so it no longer is a cluster. It's just a bunch of stand-alone servers. In this scenario (bad programmers) we can mask a lot of the poor design by consolidating the workload up instead of scaling out. I would prefer they'd fix the code. However, you can't tell a software engineer he's wrong - it gets ugly fast. I admit that the process is 'broken' when compared to some ideal business standard. The truth is, it's like this at a lot of companies.

As a system administrator, I wish I had a few big-iron boxes to babysit rather than hundreds of smaller ones. There are dozens of reasons why the mainframe is easier to manage and deal with. There has been years and years of engineering that has gone in to these things. They are on a different level.

The downside is that we will probably have to have a 'work-force reduction' due to the decreased demands of the hardware support team. It is an ugly but necessary part of a capitalist work force. I'm keeping my resume up to date - just incase. :)

Ressurrect my mainframe exp on the ole resume (1)

Danathar (267989) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760619)

Wow...maybe I should put that line back in my resume about being the lead computer operator and later batch scheduler (it was my first job back in the early 90's).

Reading the article I can believe IBM is moving the mainframe forward.

It's hard to believe that ANYTHING Unisys does with it's mainframe is anything decent. (The system I was in charge of was a Unisys 2200/622)

Is this really surprising ? (4, Interesting)

richg74 (650636) | more than 6 years ago | (#19760621)

[Another obligatory old fart post]

There are some pretty obvious reasons why there are still mainframes around: there's lots of "legacy" applications out there (in a US context, consider the Social Security Administration, the IRS, or the FAA). And there are systems with BIG databases (something like SABRE, or the IRS and SSA again). Mainframe technology has been running those for a while. To replace those with an unproven (in a similar context) new technology is not likely to be a career-enhancing move for the IT Director.

More to the point, though, is that in the rush to embrace the newest and coolest, some of the genuine virtues of the mainframe environment were overlooked. Back in the early 1980's, I was the head of IT, and a partner, in an investment management firm, the subsidiary of a larger financial services corporation. Our investment analysis process was pretty quantitative: we used statistical valuation models and optimization methods to build our portfolios. We ran all our internal applications on our IBM 4341 under VM/SP, and were linked into our parent's big iron running VM and MVS. We also were linked to fund custodians and to DTC [Depository Trust Co.] for trade confirmations, and got data transmissions from various exchanges to get prices for fund valuations.

Every person in the firm had an IBM 327x terminal, or the equivalent, on her/his desk. (The clerical staff had IBM DisplayWriters with 327x emulation.) I just pulled out a "Getting Started" guide from 1985: it has a terse synopsis of how to send and receive E-mail, how to use the scheduling system for things like conference rooms and overhead projectors, how to access our internal client and research data bases (including a small but growing index of technical documentation), and how to use our portfolio management application. Using these facilities was routine for the most non-technical people in the firm.

(Part of that was by design. For example, we made it nearly impossible for a portfolio manager to do a trade without using the portfolio management application. There was a bypass, for emergencies, but it was designed to be highly visible.)

Now, I am not claiming this was Nirvana. It was expensive, and I spent a lot of time negotiating with IBM, and other near-monopoly suppliers, to get better terms. And having what we had was entirely dependent on the fact that we were 100 percent an IBM shop. I'm not arguing for going back to those days at all; I do think, though, that sometimes people may have, as one of my colleagues memorably put it, "thrown the baby out with the dishwater". I still, for example, haven't seen a "virtualization" solution that is as elegant as VM on IBM hardware.

What the article missed - IBM's illegal actions (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19760807)

What a fluff piece. The real news is that IBM is actively in the process of trying to kill the only competition that it has left in mainframes. And that they are using a bogus software patent lawsuit to do so. Against a product which is Linux based, no less.

The company in question is Platform Solutions, Inc., who realized that they can completely emulate the Mainframe CPU opcodes by changing the microcode in Intel CPUs. And use Linux to handle all of the IO. The result is that you end up with a much faster Mainframe than IBM can build. And you can charge a lot less for it.

IBM got pissed off with the only competition that they have left (since all of the other mainframe builders went out of business years ago; and in fact PSI has a ton of ex-Amdahl guys who are about the only ones left who understand mainframes outside of IBM, but I digress). So, IBM filed a bogus lawsuit against this start-up. This is Deja-vu if you remember how Amdahl got started.

PSI has countered with an Antitrust lawsuit, and some other ones, last I heard. But the bottom line is that IBM is behaving worse than Microsoft to try to kill off the only competition that it has left.

You almost never hear about IBM's actions with software patents in the Linux community. But their actions clearly show that they are willing to do whatever it takes to enhance their monopoly.

Sure, and without mainframes (1)

Mycroft_514 (701676) | more than 6 years ago | (#19761009)

The economy would collapse tomorrow. I work for a company that depends on mainframes. And you know what? Just about every delivery company out there does. You want your stuff delivered to the store where you can buy it? Mainframe computers put it there. You want your stuff delivered to your home? Mainframe computers put it there.

I'm just saying, Mainframe, DB2 and even Cobol/CICS. At this point, I'll retire before thay do.

Yesterday, I had a Z series computer to myself! (There are some perks to being a DBA!) One of the jobs I ran reorgged about 150 million rows of data, and rebuilt 2 indexes on it. 10 minutes to do it. The similar 180 million row table took 12 minutes.

Don't forget (3, Insightful)

TwistedSpring (594284) | more than 6 years ago | (#19761033)

Don't forget the thin client technologies that are currently making a big impact. We're pretty much back to dumb terminals again. Having a large, centralised system is obviously an advantage until we find some way of utilising all that wasted power in the 2GHz desktops with 1Gib of RAM that companies buy in the hundreds.

It strikes me that along time ago some clever sod managed to dupe companies into buying and maintaining individual PCs at huge cost when small, lightweight terminals connected to a central mainframe were doing a great job. It's taken us nearly 20 years to notice that all people in most companies ever run is Office and most of them don't use even half of the features that were available in, say, Word 6.0. The idea of having hundreds of desktop PCs was a big mistake full of compromises like network drives, roaming profiles and remote control apps like VNC or Microsoft's Remote Assistance, none of which you need if you have the mainframe serve out desktops.

The greatest example of the evolution of the mainframe is the web. Web apps and office suites are quickly evolving thanks to technologies like AJAX and this all harks back to the general mainframe concept: Your clients show the UI, your (possibly distributed) servers do the work, keep the backups, and store everything in one place that's relatively easy to administer. If it goes down you have redundancy in the form of HA clusters or whatever to keep the system as a whole working. These ideas never went away, for some reason we just lost focus.

Forgot to mention... (2, Insightful)

cartman (18204) | more than 6 years ago | (#19761273)

One important reason for the refusal of mainframes to die, is the enormous body of non-portable software written for them. Non-portability is a key advantage. Non-portable applications are what kept people buying mainframes, what kept DOS alive for many years, and what kept people using Windows 3.1 and Windows ME when it sucked ass.

Non-portable applications were written for Mainframes and DOS because the systems were so old that portability wasn't really a consideration when those apps were written. In other words, non-portable apps are a side-effect of having an old system, and they cause the old system to linger.

...The problem with running Oracle on a Sun E10k, is that you can swap out the E10k. Your application code doesn't have to change. Same with java applications. But something written in COBOL that accesses weird hardware-specific data ports and weird OS APIs will keep that hardware around forever. Because those applications will never be rewritten. Because, when it comes time to re-write the apps (ie when you want to run them on another system) they will have decades of convoluted business logic embedded in them, making a re-write practically impossible.

Mainframes definitely have pluses (1)

Pedrito (94783) | more than 6 years ago | (#19761337)

Others have enumerated the reasons why mainframes are simply better suited to certain tasks than others. But here's a big difference I notice in software on PCs vs. mainframes: On a mainframe, if the software works for 1 user, it works for all users with few exceptions. So you only have to get it working on 1 machine! You don't have to worry about different users with different hardware, different OS upgrades, different OS versions.

There were aspects of mainframe programming that I really miss (my first 4 jobs were mostly mainframe work) and it was definitely the coolest environment I've ever written assembly code for, but in terms of UI, it definitely sucked.
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...