In information technology, the challenge with new technologies such as the cloud is always central, but there is a protagonist of the past that continues to remain on the scene: the mainframe. Anyone who is a little familiar with computer terminology will have heard of these computers and those who lived between the 70s and 90s will remember them for their enormous size. But what is a mainframe today? Are they really a technology of the past that will soon go by the wayside?
A jump into the past
On April 7, 1964, the first mainframe as we know it today was released: the IBM System / 360, a family of computers that marked the history of the evolution of the modern computer . The first mainframes were particularly bulky and the computational power was comparable to that of a calculator today. Despite this they were revolutionary for that historical period and from those first computers the transformation towards the current digital age took place.
However, mainframe technology has been put to the test countless times with the advent of new systems. In the 90s, the introduction of the Internet, alongside the massive development of more compact Personal Computers with decent computing capacity, was a first step in the battle against mainframes. Some even went so far as to hypothesize the end of their use in 1996 but this was not the case.
In fact, IBM continued to increase on the one hand the computing power of its systems, on the other hand the integration with new technologies and different environments. The latest news, in terms of time, is undoubtedly the cloud revolution that is attempting to change the way we think about information processing. Nonetheless , mainframes still represent a large chunk of business systems for various reasons, some of a historical and economic nature, others of a strategic nature.
Mainframe or cloud: why choose it
Financial research estimates that ninety-six of the world's top 100 banks still rely on a mainframe architecture. Why? Because they are extremely reliable, scalable and customizable systems. Also, remember that many of the programs made in the 1980s and 1990s can still be run on modern systems. IBM, in fact, has maintained a decidedly unconventional approach ensuring full compatibility of programming in COBOL, the main language in these systems. An integration with legacy applications that has lasted for over 50 years and which is unique in the extremely ephemeral landscape of computing.
However, alongside COBOL, mainframes have opened up to a thousand other new technologies, effectively integrating Linux, Java, Docker, MongoDB, blockchains and access to cloud infrastructure. For this reason they are extremely flexible and adaptable to any business need because on the one hand they allow to continue to operate almost all historical applications without major changes, while on the other they allow development towards other channels that are still unexplored.
Security is at home
In such uncertain times, companies want to keep their data safe and their internally developed applications protected. According to a recent analysis by Solitaire Interglobal , mainframes require workforce efforts of less than 69% to ensure the same level of security obtained with other technologies. Similarly, however, they are eight times more secure than other approaches, such as the cloud . Furthermore, the possibility of working with data locally without accessing the network and immediately using cryptographic co-processors increase its great potential.
But security is also evaluated from other points of view: in fact, mainframes are extremely redundant so that it is almost impossible to take them off-line. There are also advantages in terms of availability, that is the system's ability to meet requests, which today is equal to 99.999%. IBM has invested heavily in reliability making them absolutely the best in their category: modern Z systems are designed to work without virtually any failure for about 40 years, continuously . Numbers that arouse astonishment but which give an image of great solidity, alongside the possibility of developing new strategies.
In essence, these giants of the past continue to remain central to our lives and virtually every one of us will have had to deal with them at least once. In fact, behind the colorful guise of internet banking, behind ATMs, POS or registry programs, mainframes are hidden. They work reliably every day, grinding into billions of operations and transactions. They guarantee ordinary operations in every context and are transformed according to the new requests of customers and companies. Who knows if we will find ourselves talking about them again in a few years or if they will really be outclassed by something else, perhaps not yet invented.
The article Mainframe vs Cloud: will they win the MIPS challenge? comes from Tech CuE | Close-up Engineering .