Not just your grandpa’s mainframe
Stephen Kinder 110000HUHT firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  mainframe systems_of_record mainframe50 openstack_adaptors windows system_z linux
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Most of you probably know that the IBM mainframe turned 50 this year. IBM recently hosted a NYC event centered on the theme Engines of Progress to celebrate the mainframe’s birthday. There have been many retrospectives in the formal press and on blogs over the past month chronicling the incredible story of the mainframe.
Given its age, I guess it is understandable that some folks still think of a mainframe as a behemoth that fills up cavernous rooms. After all, it has been portrayed in movies time and time again in ways not all that dissimilar to this wonderful time capsule:
Folks are captivated by the flashing lights and old reel tape drives, and as the picture seems to indicate, you can’t have a mainframe without being attached to a refrigerator-sized, reel-to-reel, vacuum-assisted tape drive. It’s simply cinematic magic!
The 50-year-old platform hosts many of the long-lived applications that touch us all—from airline reservation systems to credit card processing and banking transaction systems. Our grandpas’ lives, and for that matter, all of our lives were changed forever by the stodgy old mainframe. There are many reasons that the mainframe is the platform of choice for these mission-critical applications but I would probably sum it in a few key points. The mainframe is:
This is an incomplete list to be sure, but you might have already had an idea that the mainframe can do these things. It is probably true that if that were all the mainframe did, grandpa’s mainframe would still be the most dominate commercial platform for complex systems of record applications on the planet. Your grandpa’s mainframe has a uniform, and it wears a suit and blue tie.
Green, open, modern
She is a green and mean processing machine, and she not only speaks the language of your grandpa’s mainframe but she has also grown with the Generation X and Y crowd of programmers and understands their credo: openness.
What? The mainframe is open? Did you know one of the fastest growing markets for new mainframe purchases is from customers running nothing but Linux on them? Not only do the lucky programmers get to leverage running Linux on the fastest processors in the industry (5.5gHz) but they also get to tie it to the most sophisticated input/output (I/O) subsystem as well, and that leaves the processors free to do other work. This means their Linux apps scream on the mainframe.
Many of the customers that run Linux on the mainframe leverage a hypervisor called z/VM. Did you know that IBM has developed OpenStack adaptors to z/VM? OpenStack adaptors allow modern cloud software to work with resources on the mainframe just like any other platform.
And, did you know that young programmers worldwide are learning the mainframe through innovative engagement programs like the “IBM Master the Mainframe” contest? This was truly a worldwide affair with the first, second and third place winners hailing from Taiwan, South Africa and the United Kingdom respectively.
One last tickler just to pique your curiosity and maybe surprise you: did you know that the mainframe can run Windows? Seriously. Today’s mainframe is truly a system of systems.
There certainly is much, much more material that could be said to drive home the case, but I hope that it is at least clear to you that today’s mainframe can not only wear your grandpa’s suit and tie but also be right at home in recycled clothing and sandals— bridging the gap between generations. It’s a true engine of progress.
What do you think about the evolution of the mainframe? Feel free to leave a comment or connect with me on Twitter @StephenKinder.