Beta
×

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!

Why OldTech Keeps Kicking

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the they-don't-want-to-go-on-the-cart dept.

Businesses 339

Hugh Pickens writes "In 1991 Stewart Alsop, the editor of InfoWorld, predicted that the last mainframe computer would be unplugged by 1996. Just last month, IBM introduced the latest version of its mainframe, and technologies from the golden age of big-box computing continue to be vital components in modern infrastructure. The New York Times explores why old technology is still around, using radio and the mainframe as perfect examples. 'The mainframe is the classic survivor technology, and it owes its longevity to sound business decisions. I.B.M. overhauled the insides of the mainframe, using low-cost microprocessors as the computing engine. The company invested and updated the mainframe software, so that banks, corporations and government agencies could still rely on the mainframe as the rock-solid reliable and secure computer for vital transactions and data, while allowing it to take on new chores like running Web-based programs.'"

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Is it really "old" tech? (4, Insightful)

Sloppy (14984) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871770)

I.B.M. overhauled the insides of the mainframe
Uh, did they replace the insides with something old, or something new? Duuhhh.

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (4, Interesting)

427_ci_505 (1009677) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871812)

It might be new tech, but the mainframe is still an old concept.

...Duuhhh?

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (5, Insightful)

omeomi (675045) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871880)

As is the radio. I'll never understand why people think Television should have killed off the radio. Radio is still around for one major reason: It's hard (and usually illegal) to watch TV while driving. If anything is going to kill radio, it's the advent of the podcast, which in a lot of ways is close enough to the function of radio to be a real threat.

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (4, Interesting)

ericspinder (146776) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872024)

As is the radio. I'll never understand why people think Television should have killed off the radio.

A better analogy would be to see mainframes as movie theaters, and PCs as televisions.

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (4, Funny)

Artuir (1226648) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872168)

Being American, I require all of my analogies to be in libraries of congress vs. nascar track time (as others before me have likely stated.) Thanks in advance!

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (1)

Richard Steiner (1585) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872696)

Mainframes are freight trains, personal computers are sports cars, and little UNIX boxes are trucks. :-)

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (3, Insightful)

Grave (8234) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872366)

What car do you have that by merely pressing a few buttons (or turning some knobs), you can listen to podcasts without any extra technology? The beauty of radio is that it is always there, and it's always updating (ignoring the repetitive nature of music these days). World War III starts, your radio will tell you (unless you're dead already). Natural disaster or severe weather happens, your radio will tell you. Podcasts can't do that.

Radio may some day transform from the traditional AM/FM we've come to know and love (satellite radio, global Wi-Fi streaming, etc ), but the basic idea almost certainly isn't going away anytime soon.

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (3, Insightful)

omeomi (675045) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872596)

What car do you have that by merely pressing a few buttons (or turning some knobs), you can listen to podcasts without any extra technology?

I don't know if it exists yet or not, but it can't be too far off. I can already download podcasts to my iTouch directly over wifi. I would imagine it wouldn't be too hard to make a car radio that did the same thing. You could even make it detect when it's entered a location with a wifi connection, such as the garage, and start downloading new episodes.

Of course, some lame-ass company is probably going to patent this idea, and we'll have to wait until the stupid patent expires before we can actually use it...

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (1)

lena_10326 (1100441) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872556)

Radio is still around for one major reason: It's hard (and usually illegal) to watch TV while driving.
That is until cars drive autonomously.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/KITT [wikipedia.org]

Traffic Reporting via Podcasts.... (1)

billstewart (78916) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872678)

Radio gives me several different things when I'm driving - music (I could listen to CDs instead), entertaining talk (podcasts could do that, but they don't replicate interactive talk radio well), news (I read news online at home, so radio news is mainly headlines as entertainment), sports scores (I don't care, but they tell me traffic is on next :-), and traffic. My car radio alternates between traffic-radio, conservative news/culture (NPR), and leftist news/music (KPFA Pacifica broadcasting), and it's usually on traffic radio if I need to know or CD player if I don't.


If I wanted to do something high-tech and expensive for traffic info, I could probably get some kind of traffic-integrated-GPS-thing; in a few cities there's also a low-tech cheap traffic widget that has a fixed LCD map and gets traffic by subscription for $5-10/month on some kind of radio channel. It's not as detailed about individual events as the every-10-minutes traffic radio, but it covers more of the highways and you don't have to wait for reports.

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (3, Insightful)

langelgjm (860756) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871820)

I think the point is that the idea of the mainframe is old, and many of the naysayers predicted that once smaller computers became affordable, they would replace the centralized mainframe model.

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (4, Insightful)

MozeeToby (1163751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872070)

So shouldn't the article be about how poor our prediction skills are rather than about how we cling to old tech? In the mainframes case, we cling to it because the concept was updated and still represents the most economically efficient solution to the problem.

The article may as well be asking "Why do personal automobiles keep kicking?". Because they work, and they solve they still solve the problems that they are meant to solve. And when a new problem crops up, (fuel prices/pollution) the solution isn't to get rid of the car, it is to redesign it to address the new concerns; just like IBM and other companies did with mainframes.

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (1)

peragrin (659227) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872586)

For the most part smaller computers have replaced the mainframe. but until your PC can keep on going when the power supply and one of the CPU's short out Mainframes will still be around.

If you want reliability you have to have a very redundant system.

desktop PC's are very far away from doing that in both hardware and software.

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (1)

elloGov (1217998) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871928)

It is old tech. Two reasons: 1. People fear change 2. Migrations are headaches, costly and cumbersome.

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (2, Insightful)

Guido von Guido (548827) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872016)

I think you left out a reason:

3. People fear migrations.

Lord knows I do, and I have first hand experience on why.

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (3, Insightful)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872338)

Why migrate unless you absolutely have to. Migrations should be approached with extreme caution, and if the suppliers of your old hardware can mitigate if not outright eliminate this, then why would you go to some other platform? IBM has done what its major corporate customers want, it has permitted them to continue running their tried-and-true software while gaining the advantages of newer technologies.

In the PC world, we're used to revolutions on the desktop every few years. That's the sort of model guys like Apple and Microsoft have relied upon to keep them going. But when you're dealing with infrastructure that in many cases dates back to the 1960s, the idea of incremental change in hardware and software is extremely appealing and quite logical.

Having just done an upgrade to our accounting software this morning, and going through a number of small but still very real headaches, I can appreciate why the guys managing a major bank's information systems is damned glad that IBM does things the way they do.

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (5, Insightful)

Grave (8234) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872660)

Having just done an upgrade to our accounting software this morning, and going through a number of small but still very real headaches, I can appreciate why the guys managing a major bank's information systems is damned glad that IBM does things the way they do.
That's precisely why the mainframe still exists. When 5-nines uptime still isn't good enough, you don't adopt a radically different system just for the sake of change or progress. When billions of dollars rest on the absolute reliability of your computer infrastructure, migration and change are to be approached with the utmost caution, and anything that reduces complexity and presents a smaller degree of change is a godsend.

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (4, Funny)

JoeD (12073) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871970)

No. They used something borrowed, and something blue.

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (4, Funny)

GreatBunzinni (642500) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872074)

Isn't that the motto of IBM's business model?

Re:Is it really "old" tech? (0, Redundant)

An ominous Cow art (320322) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872372)

I.B.M. overhauled the insides of the mainframe

Uh, did they replace the insides with something old, or something new? Duuhhh.
I'm betting it was with something borrowed, or (most likely) something Blue.

Why OldTech Keeps Kicking? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22871792)

Because the people who are used to that tech haven't kicked (the bucket).
Basic psychology. People stick with what they're used to, even if it doesn't always make the most sense.

Re:Why OldTech Keeps Kicking? (2, Insightful)

hardburn (141468) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871946)

People stick with what they're used to, even if it doesn't always make the most sense.

Legacy mainframes do make sense, though. Even if they're old and the people who know how to program them are retiring/dieing off, they do have 20+ years of debugging behind the code. Many of these systems run highly mission critical banking systems. If some of them fail, worldwide economic collapse is a real possibility. It's worth being very conservative in this case. Even if the going rate for COBOL programmers ends up being five times the amount paid to Ruby/Java/whatever coders (just so that somebody would be willing to work with such an archaic language), it'd still be worth it.

Re:Why OldTech Keeps Kicking? (3, Insightful)

gclef (96311) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872340)

Or because it works. This is something lots of technologists keep missing. It doesn't matter if the tech is old. If it works and serves it's purpose, the argument to replace it has to be really compelling. "It's old" is not a compelling argument.

Re:Why OldTech Keeps Kicking? (2, Insightful)

Jarjarthejedi (996957) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872580)

Unless you like new stuff, which is a problem when a software engineer (who either loves new stuff or hates his job basically :P) tries to predict the actions of a business person (who likes his technology to work and be cheap, not cutting edge).

If software engineers ran businesses mainframes would be gone because they are old and not cool anymore. But software engineers don't run businesses (if they did they'd be business people) and so they're still around, which is a good thing in my book (mainframe models make a lot more sense than individual for many problems).

Note that I'm speaking of the stereotypical software engineer. There are plenty who like old stuff, but the majority of software engineers I've met would rather use a brand new system to do something than an old one, that, or they aren't very good at their job because they hate it. Not that there's anything wrong with either way of course, different ideas != good and bad ideas neccessarily.

can be argued for other things too (4, Insightful)

downix (84795) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871822)

Look at the inability of people to drive using joysticks, instead sticking to the classic wheel arrangement. I've seen drive by wire setups using joysticks, they work well, but people just can't get into them.

Re:can be argued for other things too (1)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872052)

Really it's not the joystick that annoys me with those systems (although it is by nature less acurate). It's the whole drive by wire system that I have a problem with. What is the point? They have already designed systems that can make the amount of turn in a steering wheel affect the turn of the wheels on the road in varying amounts while still having a mechanical linkage. The benefit of this is that everything on the car could break and you can still steer the damned thing.

Re:can be argued for other things too (1)

427_ci_505 (1009677) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872630)

I'd imagine you get more steering feel from a mechanical linkage as well, which you might lack from a drive by wire system.

Re:can be argued for other things too (1)

LighterShadeOfBlack (1011407) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872142)

I don't see the connection. In what way is a joystick any more useful or practical than a steering wheel?

Re:can be argued for other things too (3, Insightful)

downix (84795) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872428)

standard rack and pinion steering system is 120 lbs
drive by wire system using a joystick is 25 lbs.

Such changes all added throughout a car can dramatically improve fuel efficiency.

Re:can be argued for other things too (1)

domatic (1128127) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872590)

I think you missed the point. A "drive-by-wire" wheel is possible and IMHO is a better analogy for controlling pivoting wheels on a car. Wheels also allow a variety of ways of gripping the controller, some of which are more comfortable than others. Why does the controller have to be a joystick?

There is one thing about "fly-by-wire" type tech in cars that scares me though. What if you lose power or suffer system failure in the control electronics at highway speed? A car with mechanical linkages is still controllable in that situation.

Re:can be argued for other things too (3, Insightful)

Jarjarthejedi (996957) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872642)

Crashes decrease fuel efficiency, however. Just because something is lighter does not make it better. Joysticks are far less intuative than wheels for turning. They make perfect sense for planes, which require more dimensions of travel and it's not that important if you're off by a degree or two in the long run. A steering wheel is far superior when it comes to traveling through 1 dimension (sideways).

Now here's a question for you. Why not drive-by-wire with a steering wheel? There's plenty of examples of it working, I had a steering wheel peripheral for my PS1 not too long ago. If you want to reduce weight without sacrificing utility then duplicate the old interface with new technology, don't re-invent the interface (unless that's what needs to be improved, and steering wheels are a perfectly good interface in my book).

There's very rarely just two options :P.

Re:can be argued for other things too (2, Insightful)

oyenstikker (536040) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872672)

You still need hardware to turn the wheel. Motors attached to the steering knuckle would increase unsprung weight, so you don't want that. You'll still have two tie rods, and you need something to move them. A couple of motors or a rack and pinion with a power steering unit. Assuming that you just need a small switch of some sort (as the power steering unit is doing most of the work), you've only really cut out the steering column and steering wheel (But you aren't cutting out the weight of the airbag components in the wheel.) No way are you cutting 95 pounds.

What you are doing is removing a significant geometric constraint - you don't need an open straight line between the driver and the steering control mechanism. You may be able to cut a little weight, but more significantly you can decrease the size of the engine compartment.

All of these advantages you get with a joystick you also get with a steering wheel (that isn't physically connected to the tie rods) and the same drive by wire system. The steering wheel is an easier UI because it allows you to reposition your hands on the device at any time.

All of that said, I personally do not want a car that I can't steer when the car is turned off (when I am working on the car), and I would be quite scared to drive a car that I can't steer when the alternator, computer, or power steering unit dies at 80 mph.

LOAD"$",8:LIST (4, Funny)

glindsey (73730) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871826)


I DON'T SEE WHAT THE BIG PROBLEM IS. I
HAVE BEEN POSTING FROM MY COMMODORE 64 F
OR TWENTY YEARS NOW AND IT IS WORKING JU
ST FINE FOR ME!


The damned lameness filter has just managed to destroy my joke. Thanks a lot, filter.

Re:LOAD"$",8:LIST (1)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872032)

49 20 70 6F 73 74 20 69 6E 20 68 65 78 2E

Re:LOAD"$",8:LIST (2, Funny)

Otter (3800) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872186)

Hey, it's that guy from Afghanistan! What's Jon Katz up to these days?

Heh heh heh heh (0)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872576)

Sorry, man; no mod points.

because it works! (3, Informative)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871866)

The New York Times explores why old technology is still around
simple, because it still works. Using radio as an example, it works just fine for what we need it for and we really haven't found a suitable replacement [light based communication for example] same for mainframes, there are niches that still must be filled with "older" technologies until we find something that makes the older tech not worth using.

Re:because it works! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22872060)

we really haven't found a suitable replacement [light based communication for example]
I don't think I like the idea of a light-based radio replacement.

Oww, my eyes!

Re:because it works! (1)

wizardforce (1005805) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872138)

I don't think I like the idea of a light-based radio replacement.
don't worry, the sharks aren't here yet. we do however have mutated ill-tempered seabass.

Re:because it works! (3, Interesting)

Itninja (937614) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872096)

Well, just because it works doesn't mean it works well. Take a look at the Seattle School Districts' dinosaur VAX systems [nwsource.com] . Sure they work, but verrrry slowly. And what's more, maintenance is a nightmare and scalability in not an option. I agree that we should avoid trying to reinvent the wheel, but I think updating a wagon wheel with steel belted radial tire is sometimes a good idea.

Re:because it works! (3, Insightful)

jellomizer (103300) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872620)

There is a huge cost in upgrading that Vax system..
There are Hundreds of Thousands if not millions of dollars of man hours put into that system, and programs. Replaceing them with a new system could lead to a huge mistake. Being that this is a school district. I doubt that anyone is willing to put the job on the line with such a migration. And being a unioned job I doubt that they will hire consultants to do it for them. They are stuck between two political brick walls.

Re:because it works! (1)

Bombula (670389) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872184)

For what it does - provide a secure computing platform - one could argue that the older it gets, the better it becomes. Could your typical script kiddies and ID theives who normally 'hack' by downloading the how-tos for exploits from somewere.ru actually hack a 70s-era mainframe? Yeah, good luck with that.

Re:because it works! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22872710)

obscure != secure

Re:because it works! (1)

sm62704 (957197) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872424)

But some replacements go backwards, and there are some technologies that just died. I wrote an article a few years ago titled Useful Dead Technologies [kuro5hin.org] that highlighted some of them, albeit tongue in cheek. Lo and behold, two of them I mentioned, volume control knobs and flat cotton shoelaces, have come back in vogue.

When the tornado ripped through my neighborhood [wikipedia.org] in 2006, I was out of power for a week. I sorely missed the gravity furnace with its power pile I'd had a few years earlier; the gas only fails when you don't pay the bill. I heated my apartment with the oven in my gas stove.

Of course, some old tech [kuro5hin.org] should die. Like the guillotine. Some should never have been born, like the eight track tape.

But if you're going to run a giant corporation or a country, you're going to need a mainframe, even though PCs are now more powerful than mainframes used to be. Face it, no matter how powerful your laptop is, somebody's going to need a great big giant one that stores a million times as much as it does and processes a million times as fast.

Hell, I bet a VAX wasn't powerful enough to run Vista! (Of course, now someone's going to prove me wrong, because I probably am).

-mcgrew

Re:because it works! (1)

nine-times (778537) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872558)

Correct. We sometimes get used to the idea that no technology can survive for very long, but we still use tons of really old tech every day. The wheel, knives, tables, chairs, bicycles, the internal combustion engine, light bulbs, copper wiring, etc.

I mean, there are plenty of little innovations everyday, but sometimes even big changes are really minor design changes. We've had cups and bottles for a very long time, but when you invent the plastic cup, suddenly you have something that's "disposable". It makes a huge culture shift, but you haven't even really changed the design very much. We get new cars every year, but the design usually isn't that much different.

So why should we necessarily expect that useful technology will cease to be used? Why would we even want that? If it's useful, serves a purpose, and nothing better has been invented, keep using it. Often, new technology isn't even necessarily better, but has instead has new benefits and new drawbacks. Plastic cups won't break as easily as glass, for example, but the texture changes, the chemicals leech into our bodies, and making everything "disposable" has been a nightmare as far as environmentalists are concerned.

because it works (2, Insightful)

gEvil (beta) (945888) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871868)

Some things are just good ideas that work well. That's all there is to it. Sure, something more refined may come along one day, but it will need to be significantly better and offer a lot more. Otherwise, tried and true technology will hang around. Pretty simple, really.

Re:because it works (2, Insightful)

techpawn (969834) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872042)

There's also the argument of "cost to keep working vs. Cost of upgrade"

Many times I've seen historic pieces of IT Architecture in place because the cost to upgrade/train/retain/etc was a lot higher than dusting HAL every few thousand miles.
If the vendor is going o keep supporting it why abandon it?

10 years ago, in Byte (4, Insightful)

wiredog (43288) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871874)

Why PCs Crash, and Mainframes Don't [byte.com]

When a PC crashes, even the system administrator might not hear about it, much less the vendors who made the system, the OS, and the application software. The user shrugs, reboots, and keeps right on working. When a mainframe crashes, however, it's a major catastrophe. It's General Motors calling up IBM to demand answers.


Ten years gone, and still relevant.

Damn I miss Byte.

Re:10 years ago, in Byte (2, Funny)

$RANDOMLUSER (804576) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871994)

The same issue had an article on "DLL disasters - DLL conflicts are a common cause of crashes".

Ten years gone, and still relevant.

Re:10 years ago, in Byte (1)

gnuman99 (746007) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872080)

SxS binding fixes that problem, for almost a decade now. Vista and vs2005/8 now force SxS down developer throats, whether you like it or not. DLL hell is virtually over.

Re:10 years ago, in Byte (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22872320)

And now it has been replaced with Manifest Madness, the fun that developers get to go through when they realize that what compiled and ran for them won't run on anybody else's computer without a series of maddening steps to patch together the slop the linker spits out known as the manifest.

Re:10 years ago, in Byte (1)

eldepeche (854916) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872026)

Also, from that article:

Still, it will be interesting to see how stable NT remains as it grows fatter.

Re:10 years ago, in Byte (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22872234)

I miss Byte too. I miss it even more when all we have to replace it with is the shit-for-brains trolls at Misinfoworld and ZDNot.

Re:10 years ago, in Byte (1)

MightyMartian (840721) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872422)

Well the more critical point is that IBM has long been in the service industry. They produced mainframes because mainframes meant extremely lucrative long-term support contracts. You may not have a Big Blue man hanging out with your mainframe like you did in bygone days, but the essential nature of IBM's business model is the same.

Old Technologies that are still kicking... (5, Informative)

FranTaylor (164577) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871902)

The x86 architecture

The QWERTY keyboard

SATA (yes, folks, a serial version of the old IBM AT bus!)

Drive letters, DOS devices

Does anyone actually use the tar program for its original purpose anymore?

Re:Old Technologies that are still kicking... (1)

zappepcs (820751) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871966)

in a word... YES

Re:Old Technologies that are still kicking... (2, Insightful)

silas_moeckel (234313) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871968)

I can think of a couple major backup applications (netbackup) still use tar when you get down to the tape level there really isn't any good reason to replace it.

Re:Old Technologies that are still kicking... (1)

UnknowingFool (672806) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871986)

Missing option: CowboyNeal

Re:Old Technologies that are still kicking... (1)

Jim Hall (2985) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872156)

Drive letters, DOS devices

I'll take partial credit for that. You are welcome. [freedos.org]

:-)

Re:Old Technologies that are still kicking... (1)

eldepeche (854916) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872296)

Does anyone actually use the tar program for its original purpose anymore?

What, to stick files together? Yeah, I use it all the time.

Re:Old Technologies that are still kicking... (1)

eldepeche (854916) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872316)

Bah, OK, I looked it up, and no, I've never even seen a tape drive.

Re:Old Technologies that are still kicking... (1)

Chris Mattern (191822) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872462)

Heh. My first job involving computers was being a tape monkey. Literally, my eight hour shift, I would watch a 3270 terminal for tape mount requests and mount the tapes requested. When I wasn't doing that, I was reshelving tapes, pulling new scratch tapes and cleaning the drives, which looked like this. Later I advanced to other computer operator duties and finally graduated to system administration, but hanging tapes was part of my job description for some years. [ufl.edu]

Re:Old Technologies that are still kicking... (2, Funny)

Quiet_Desperation (858215) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872308)

Does anyone actually use the tar program for its original purpose anymore?
Sometimes, but I generally skip the feathers.

Ever hear of a "wheel"? (2, Insightful)

marcus (1916) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872350)

That's ancient tech.

How about a bottle or a bucket?

Try an even older and more generic container, a sack.

Old tech hangs around because it does it's job and has not been improved upon in any meaningful fashion by later tech.

Incandescent lights might actually exit the stage soon...

From the Fine Article (4, Funny)

Intron (870560) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871906)

"mainframe sales are a tiny fraction of the personal computer market"

I'm pretty sure that mainframe sales are 0% of the personal computer market.

Re:From the Fine Article (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22872346)

You should check out my livingroom then...

Irony (4, Funny)

Dog-Cow (21281) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871936)

Does noone else see the irony in a newspaper exploring the reasoning behind "old" technology being used in modern environments?

Re:Irony (1)

gstoddart (321705) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872208)

Does noone else see the irony in a newspaper exploring the reasoning behind "old" technology being used in modern environments?

in a story posted on their website, discussed on Slashdot where a bunch of people who remember the old technology are surrounded by a bunch of young people who were born after the remote control and personal computer became ubiquitous. :-P

Utterly. Cheers

Re:Irony (1)

Bryansix (761547) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872458)

I was born after the TV remote but I didn't have a PC till I was in highschool. Does that mean I'm approaching (gasp) middle age?

Mainframes... going out of style?! (3, Insightful)

CaptainPatent (1087643) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871942)

With a "Bill Gates" 640k view of the world, of course we wouldn't need mainframe computers. Desktops now have more than enough power to run even the largest server applications of 1991 hands down and it's easy to see where that statement came from.

The problem with the vision is that Stewart Alsop didn't take into account the growing complexity of computer programs. We have plenty of (in comparison to the software of 1991) inefficient applications that require ridiculous amounts of computer power to serve and process everything we need done. We have complex server applications like gigantic databases and games and video servers that couldn't exist in the 1991 world.

The mainframe of yesteryear may now fit into the physical space of today's desktop... or smaller, but that doesn't mean there won't be a need for a bigger and faster one to take its place. That's as true now as it was then.

Apples and oranges (3, Insightful)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872666)

Actually, no matter how fast your PC is, PCs and mainframes are engineered for different things. Many mainframe-class machines specialize in transaction processing and are designed for total I/O speed, rather than chip clock speed. People also pay the big bucks for mainframes not because they are fast but because they never, ever crash nor require downtime. Don't let Apple calling a G4 Mac a "supercomputer" confuse you -- a mainframe is still highly specialized equipment, and I doubt there's any application that you personally might need to run that would require one. On the other hand, no matter how fast desktop chips get, it seems unlikely to me that major Wall Street banks would ever switch from mainframes to PC-class hardware for financial transaction processing.

Had this discussion... (3, Interesting)

SerpentMage (13390) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871952)

I was at a conference and at a BOF where I raised this question and technology. One person said that at the end of the day Microsoft will be replaced by Google apps.

I said, yeah sure Microsoft will be replaced like IBM and the mainframe will be replaced. He then went on and explained to me on how the mainframe is dead. I looked at him and laughed because there are still oodles of people using the mainframe and there will be oodles of people using Microsoft.

It is not that Google apps will replace, but will complement Microsoft, like the mainframe compliments Microsoft. Where the real understanding begins is when you know what to use when...

Because it's easier and less risky than switching (2, Insightful)

Reality Master 201 (578873) | more than 6 years ago | (#22871974)

First, mainframes have many reliability and redundancy features that aren't found or aren't common in other hardware. If you spend the money, you can get 100% uptime guarantees.

Second, there's a lot of software written for the mainframe that works. It does important stuff, and what it does is probably not exceedingly well documented, and porting all that shit to something new is a massive, risky, expensive task.

Why mess with what works, particularly if the vendor seems to be willing to keep the product line going? There's no pressing reason to move, apart from people's prejudices about the mainframe, and the benefits really don't come close to outweighing the costs/risks.

Re:Because it's easier and less risky than switchi (1)

BlackSnake112 (912158) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872292)

If you spend the money you can also make your servers have a 100% uptime guarantee as well. Hardware wise anyway. The OS/applications are a different story. Most *nix based should be doable. windows based, different story. I am hoping to actually to be able to a full windows update without a reboot someday. Unless the kernel changed, there should be no reason to reboot the machine. Take down an app, sure if there was an update to that app. But not the whole machine.

Advantages count (3, Interesting)

NorbrookC (674063) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872040)

FTA: First, it seems, there is a core technology requirement: there must be some enduring advantage in the old technology that is not entirely supplanted by the new.

This is what keeps a lot of "old" technology going. Over the past 30 years, I've seen the predicted demises of printed books, keyboard-entry word processing, land-line phone systems, and so on. Yet, each of them seems to still be chugging along. e-books are here, but, as it turns out they have lacks when it comes to the readability and portability, as well as being usable in many environments. Keyboard entry word processing was supposed to have been supplanted long since by voice recognition technology, which is another technology which always seems to be "5 or 10 years away". Cell phones were supposed to supplant all land-line phones, but it turns out there are places you can't get a signal, and you can also do a lot of other things with that land line that you can't do with a cell. Each of these supposed supplantive technologies turned out to have issues that the "old" tech didn't have. It doesn't mean that the new wasn't useful, but in terms of supplanting the old, it didn't happen.

Just like analog television (0, Flamebait)

holden caufield (111364) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872046)

oh, wait, that's a perfectly functional technology that is being made obsolete by greed. I guess not all working things are good.

Re:Just like analog television (2, Informative)

eldepeche (854916) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872368)

Digital TV does everything analog TV does, except it can provide better video and sound quality and multiple streams in the same amount of EM spectrum.

It Just Works (1)

WiiVault (1039946) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872062)

The title says it all. People stick with old tech because it works well and suits their purposes. Mainframes have a great use to folks that need a reliable system with good support. Don't fix it if it ain't broken.

Real Old Technology (2, Insightful)

tonyreadsnews (1134939) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872086)

I keep waiting for people to stop using the wheel and come up with a more efficient solution. It can't last forever, ya know...

Re:Real Old Technology (2, Funny)

Admiral_Grinder (830562) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872260)

Why bother, somebody is just going to reinvent later on.

"It's the maths stupid" (1)

Colin Smith (2679) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872088)

IBM understand the mathematics of computing. They know what has to be made to work in order to make the mathematics work for you, not against you.

Systems (all systems, not just computers) have built in mathematics, if you choose one type of system over another without understanding those maths it can cost you a serious bundle. The evidence I've seen in the IT industry generally is that most developers and systems engineers don't understand those maths... Or at least, they don't understand how it applies to reality.
 

no built in obsolescence (5, Interesting)

apodyopsis (1048476) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872122)

I used to make CD players for one of the tech giants, as such I was in China alot. When I say "make" I'll be more specific - I wrote the firmware.

I remember vividly a conversation with one of the chinese project managers. I was discussing the build quality of a new CD player for the US markets. It had that brown cardboard like PCB that the racks leap off if you wave a soldering iron in the general vicinity. The PCBS, the unit front, the enfire casework was glued together with a hot glue gun. The radio tuning circuit was wire wrapped around a pencil and then "frozen" in place with dripped wax whilst the software was expected to adapt to mask any tolerance issues. The manager and his team gave it a projected life span of 18 months, then the consumer would be back to buy another, he was really enthusiastic about the repeat business.

*That* is why old tech survives because it was built to last, not with built in obsolescence. And no, I never brought a CD player from my employer ever again.

Re:no built in obsolescence (2, Insightful)

jagilbertvt (447707) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872416)

I imagine you no longer work for them because they went out of business because of such shoddy products. I know I generally don't buy products from the same manufacturer if the first one fails in a short time period. I certainly hope others have the same sense..

Though, most likely they're still in business selling cheap/shoddy products to OEMs.

Where's the obvious tag? (1)

stokessd (89903) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872150)

This should clearly be tagged: getoffmylawn

Sheldon

New ways to do old things (4, Interesting)

bugs2squash (1132591) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872152)

I keep seeing new ways to do the same old things; perform a credit transaction, store a health record, track inventory etc. Many of these requirements have changed little for decades if not centuries, and new requirements like enhanced security are easily accomodated in a centralized environment.

The original systems created to satisfy these requirements were lightweight and efficient to run on the machinery of the time and easily managed by virtue of being centralized. By contrast, many new solutions are bloated and hard to manage because of their de-centralised nature and the need to use whatever networking protocol was simplest to implement regardless of its suitability for the task. God forbid that anyone has to look at a terminal font to get information from a system - if it's not in Times new Roman then it's just not proper information.

The sole purpose for the replacement of the older systems seems to have been "because we wanted a GUI" to make it un-neccessary to train our users or because companies thought that they could axe experienced network admins and terminal equipment that they perceived to be 'locking them' to a vendor. Now I see that in many cases the management of large systems has been "de-skilled" and involves such a cocktail of technologies that nobody knows quite how it all hangs together (least of all how secure it all is).

Best just throw in more resources to make the IT problem go away, at least it's spread over several bills so it seems easier to pay for...

creators newclear powered planet/population rescue (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22872174)

initiative/mandate may bring us back from the brink of deep doo. & that's only if we pay attention (which is very cost effective), & can lead to contact with other like-minded survivors. let yOUR conscience be yOUR guide. you can be more helpful than you might have imagined. there are still some choices. if they do not suit you, consider the likely results of continuing to follow the corepirate nazi hypenosys story LIEn, whereas anything of relevance is replaced almost instantly with pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking propaganda or 'celebrity' trivia 'foam'. meanwhile; don't forget to get a little more oxygen on yOUR brain, & look up in the sky from time to time, starting early in the day. there's lots going on up there.

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20071229/ap_on_sc/ye_climate_records;_ylt=A0WTcVgednZHP2gB9wms0NUE [yahoo.com]
http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20080108/ts_alt_afp/ushealthfrancemortality;_ylt=A9G_RngbRIVHsYAAfCas0NUE [yahoo.com]
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/31/opinion/31mon1.html?em&ex=1199336400&en=c4b5414371631707&ei=5087%0A [nytimes.com]

is it time to get real yet? A LOT of energy is being squandered in attempts to keep US in the dark. in the end (give or take a few 1000 years), the creators will prevail (world without end, etc...), as it has always been. the process of gaining yOUR release from the current hostage situation may not be what you might think it is. butt of course, most of US don't know, or care what a precarious/fatal situation we're in. for example; the insidious attempts by the felonious corepirate nazi execrable to block the suns' light, interfering with a requirement (sunlight) for us to stay healthy/alive. it's likely not good for yOUR health/memories 'else they'd be bragging about it? we're intending for the whoreabully deceptive (they'll do ANYTHING for a bit more monIE/power) felons to give up/fail even further, in attempting to control the 'weather', as well as a # of other things/events.

http://video.google.com/videosearch?hl=en&q=video+cloud+spraying [google.com]

dictator style micro management has never worked (for very long). it's an illness. tie that with life0cidal aggression & softwar gangster style bullying, & what do we have? a greed/fear/ego based recipe for disaster. meanwhile, you can help to stop the bleeding (loss of life & limb);

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/28/vermont.banning.bush.ap/index.html [cnn.com]

the bleeding must be stopped before any healing can begin. jailing a couple of corepirate nazi hired goons would send a clear message to the rest of the world from US. any truthful look at the 'scorecard' would reveal that we are a society in decline/deep doo-doo, despite all of the scriptdead pr ?firm? generated drum beating & flag waving propaganda that we are constantly bombarded with. is it time to get real yet? please consider carefully ALL of yOUR other 'options'. the creators will prevail. as it has always been.

corepirate nazi execrable costs outweigh benefits
(Score:-)mynuts won, the king is a fink)
by ourselves on everyday 24/7

as there are no benefits, just more&more death/debt & disruption. fortunately there's an 'army' of light bringers, coming yOUR way. the little ones/innocents must/will be protected. after the big flash, ALL of yOUR imaginary 'borders' may blur a bit? for each of the creators' innocents harmed in any way, there is a debt that must/will be repaid by you/us, as the perpetrators/minions of unprecedented evile, will not be available. 'vote' with (what's left in) yOUR wallet, & by your behaviors. help bring an end to unprecedented evile's manifestation through yOUR owned felonious corepirate nazi glowbull warmongering execrable. some of US should consider ourselves somewhat fortunate to be among those scheduled to survive after the big flash/implementation of the creators' wwwildly popular planet/population rescue initiative/mandate. it's right in the manual, 'world without end', etc.... as we all ?know?, change is inevitable, & denying/ignoring gravity, logic, morality, etc..., is only possible, on a temporary basis. concern about the course of events that will occur should the life0cidal execrable fail to be intervened upon is in order. 'do not be dismayed' (also from the manual). however, it's ok/recommended, to not attempt to live under/accept, fauxking nazi felon greed/fear/ego based pr ?firm? scriptdead mindphuking hypenosys.

consult with/trust in yOUR creators. providing more than enough of everything for everyone (without any distracting/spiritdead personal gain motives), whilst badtolling unprecedented evile, using an unlimited supply of newclear power, since/until forever. see you there?

"If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land."

meanwhile, the life0cidal philistines continue on their path of death, debt, & disruption for most of US. gov. bush denies health care for the little ones;

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/10/03/bush.veto/index.html [cnn.com]

whilst demanding/extorting billions to paint more targets on the bigger kids;

http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/12/12/bush.war.funding/index.html [cnn.com]

& pretending that it isn't happening here;

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/us_and_americas/article3086937.ece [timesonline.co.uk]
all is not lost/forgotten/forgiven

(yOUR elected) president al gore (deciding not to wait for the much anticipated 'lonesome al answers yOUR questions' interview here on /.) continues to attempt to shed some light on yOUR foibles. talk about reverse polarity;

http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/environment/article3046116.ece [timesonline.co.uk]

New isn't always better (1)

hyades1 (1149581) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872182)

I'm no dinosaur, but I'm old enough to appreciate some of the advantages of old tech. Example: While I value the portability of mp3's (my PDA has a bunch of them on it), I'm somewhat sad that a lot of younger people seem to think they can compete with what I hear when I get home and crank up my 30-year-old, high-end stereo system. A lot of today's music is so squashed down and distorted to get the high volume levels that even really good tunes wind up sounding like crap. And how many of those mp3 files have little micro-skips in them? Believe me, plugging them into a good system won't make them sound any better.

Once you've heard a song mixed properly, with the loudness supplied my a big, honking amp, you find it very hard even to put up with some radio stations and CD's. I'm far from alone in this opinion, and I'm confident there will be a ready market for big systems and, yes, even turntables, for a long time to come.

Re:New isn't always better (1)

eldepeche (854916) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872394)

Uh, the loudness war and the resulting lack of dynamic range has nothing to do with MP3. It is possible to take a properly mixed analog recording and compress it into a small MP3 file.

Institutional Interia (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#22872218)

Mainframes are still around because of institutional inertia... they've been running the same software for 25 years, so why change now? Sure the hardware might be new and maybe the OS does cool things like virtualize Linux but why change things?

Makes it much easier to retire from an IT job with 20, 30, or even 40 years of service! I mean Penn State has been running the same backend for its student and business services for 25 years!

Of course, any new employees who don't know COBOL, PL/1, or Smalltalk are kinda screwed.

EMA

Fortran still kicks! (1)

G3ckoG33k (647276) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872274)

Fortran was introduced in the early fifties, but is still alive and kicking. Fortran 2003 even has object orientation. I think that Fortran is a good example as it shows that "old tech" can survive if it is allowed to improve, i.e. transform into "new tech". So, could it be more of a naming problem and that we don't have any "old tech" around after all?

A lot of business programs are still in COBOL (1)

Orion Blastar (457579) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872306)

so we still need mainframes. IBM JCL lives forever as well.

Fewer points of failure (2, Interesting)

esocid (946821) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872322)

Coming from a person who has worked a lot on cars, I would prefer to work on an older car any day. Why? Simply put, there are fewer points of failure. When your car doesn't run right, what do you check? In older models you have things to check which are mostly mechanical. In newer models you have some mechanical and some electronic, which leaves a lot of things to investigate and can end up being a humongous hassle. (*begin short rant* for example what idiot thought it was a good idea to electronic fuel pumps inside the gas tank whereas mechanical fuel pumps are connected to the engine *end short rant*) There may be small variations in advancements in the mechanical parts, but those are tried and true and have been implemented since probably the 50s. The tried and true old technology is relatively more simple than the newer technology and easier to fix as long as it can serve the same function. This may be slightly different for older electronic technology, but I would figure that the comparison to cars would work just fine.

Re:Fewer points of failure (2, Interesting)

stokessd (89903) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872468)

A portion of the nightmare of newer cars is the EPA and manufacturer locking you out of the control system. You as a consumer have very little visibility into the ECU. It's like trying to fix an old car and only being allowed to raise the hood 6 inches to work.

I've got an aftermarket ECU on my hobby car and it allows me to see exactly what's going in in terms of engine management and current performance. It's got real-time feedback of emissions fueling and timing. I can data log them all as well as control them all with 3D maps. The system is more complex than a purely mechanical engine, but it also provides tools to let me measure and control the operating conditions of the engine more than I ever was able to in the pure mechanical days. It also detects pre-ignition and can adjust timing on the fly.

So it's not necessarily the technology that is screwing you in fixing a new car, but the political decisions surrounding that technology.

The other problem with new cars is that the disposable mentality in consumer electronics is slowly permeating into the car world. Thank navigation systems, CD players etc. Sure the newer engines may be good for 200K+ miles but that $30 car stereo or nav system certainly isn't.

Sheldon

Best quote from the article (1)

Paolomania (160098) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872356)

"The mainframe survived its near-death experience and continues to thrive because customers didn't care about the underlying technology,"

That is the answer right there. Not every user is irrationally neophilic. If a technology is the best choice either in function or in cost with respect to the needs of some user, then it will continue to be used.

NY Times misses boat again (4, Insightful)

br00tus (528477) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872374)

Gawker.com regularly makes fun of how the New York Times approaches a question the reporter knows little about and comes away with a convoluted answer. The article asks "Why Old Technologies Are Still Kicking". The best answer they come up with is "there must be some enduring advantage in the old technology that is not entirely supplanted by the new". There is an enduring advantage, although they don't go into what it is, and put it in a misleading way actually. It's cheap. Some of these companies have been putting business logic and programs into these systems since the 1950s. The cost of moving them from 370 to 390 to zSeries is minimal, as is replacing parts that break down etc. And it works. Sometimes better than modern machines - some of these machines have uptime of decades. High availability is not a new concept for them.


What would be the cost of hiring on top of the existing mainframe admins and developers a team to migrate this stuff to Windows or UNIX? Remember some of this code is written by people who not only have left the company but may have died. Then you have to hire new developers and administrators for the UNIX/Windows systems. Change always creates the potential for problems, so expect a higher percentage of disruptions to the business as you're doling out all this money. If IBM is making it easy for you to keep what you have going, and also allows Linux, web etc. capability, why spend all that money to transition? The answer is that a lot of times companies don't. I worked at a Fortune 100 company that still had plenty of IBM mainframes. They even had a lot of their printing handled by the mainframes, although there were Windows and UNIX gateways into the print queue.

It's not 'Old Tech' (3, Insightful)

kick_in_the_eye (539123) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872426)

PC's have been around for over 25 years. Is that not old? They constantly evolve.

Mainframes constantly evolve.

Mainframes went 64 bit before the PC ever did. Virtualisation is just gaining ground on the PC.

Mainframes have had that for decades with Domains and LPAR's.

Whats old technology, a PC server farm with dedicated server per app, and maybe 10 concurrent users, or a mainframe running many applications with thousands of users, and terrabytes of i/o throughput.

CPU (1)

Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872534)

If you ask me, mainframes were more about I/O rates than raw number crunching in the processor. For every NASA-type application, there were a hundred large companies that needed payroll and bookkeeping operations.

The thing that's really killing the mainframe isn't the desktop's increased CPU power, but rather the desktop's cheaper, very fast I/O. Hence you no longer need the mainframe's specialized hardware pipelining everything from disc to RAM to register, with massive vector operands to boot.

A Trash-80 could run the calculations necessary to process paychecks for the whole US, or GM's parts inventory, in a reasonable amount of time if it could just get the data I/O fast enough.

can we know put alsop on ignore ? (2, Interesting)

cinnamon colbert (732724) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872544)

be interesting to find out how often the guy is this wrong.
I still remember from the old whole earth catalog, how they recommended these super expensive foam swords - sort of a pre yuppie yuppism.

It all depends what you're trying to do. (1)

Gordonjcp (186804) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872570)

There are cases where lots of little computers make sense, and there are cases where one big computer makes sense.

Imagine if every apartment in your block had its own self-contained waste water system - a complete individual sewage processing plant for every house. It makes no sense at all, so you have mains drainage and a big sewage processing plant somewhere out of town (hopefully). Now imagine a rural area where houses are miles apart. How do you deal with waste water? A septic tank - a complete individual sewage processing plant, for every house. It makes no sense to lay mains drainage there.

It's a shit analogy, I know.

whatever runs old software (1)

peter303 (12292) | more than 6 years ago | (#22872604)

COBOL for business and FORTRAN for science.
These are half-century-old languages (though updated to ObjectOriented).
Some source codes havent been touched in decades.
Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?