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IBM Hardware IT

The Mainframe World Is Alive, Even For Those Under 40 361

Posted by timothy
from the onions-on-belts-and-snowshoe-flippers dept.
willdavid writes with a link to a report by Jeff Gould at Interop Systems, about the definitely-still-around world of mainframe computing, from which he extracts: "Last week I had the occasion to visit SHARE, the premier mainframe conference, which was held in San Jose just down the road from where I live. Based on what I saw, there is one thing I can tell you for sure, and that is that Cobol is not dead. And neither is the mainframe. When I mentioned to one of my friends that I had been to SHARE, he joked that it must have looked like an AARP convention. But this turned out not to be so. While there were certainly a few 60-somethings strolling around the halls, the under 40 generation was also well represented. What struck me the most was not the advanced age of the people but the relative youth of a lot of the software being discussed." However, it's not all fountain of youth there, either. (Thanks, BDPrime.)
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The Mainframe World Is Alive, Even For Those Under 40

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  • The good ole days (Score:3, Interesting)

    by webnut77 (1326189) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:14PM (#24697505)
    I spent 20+ years as a mainframe systems programmer. VM/VSE. Since then, I've learned Linux et. al. Man would I love to install Linux in a virtual machine. I'll bet it could fly.
  • by neokushan (932374) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:21PM (#24697551)

    Can somebody please explain to me what the hell a "mainframe" is/was for and why it might be dead?
    According to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org], Mainframes are a bit like supercomputers but better suited to tasks where there's a LOT of input/output data, but not a lot of calculation involved. Payrolls and such.
    As far as I'm aware, those tasks still exist today, probably moreso than in the 1970's and 1980's, so why would the Mainframe be dying out? Have regular desktop/server processors advanced faster than demand for this data calculation and thus are now simply adequate or is this article just a bit of FUD to make 'ol timmy look like he's doing his job?

    FYI: I'm most certainly under 40. In fact, I'm barely more than half that age, so excuse my ignorance on the subject; the only times I've really heard the term "mainframe" used is in Films, Games and cheap 80's TV shows. And slashdot.

  • by betterunixthanunix (980855) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:00PM (#24698003)
    Yes. We have at least two functioning mainframes at my university, and they look like strangely shaped refrigerators -- single refrigerators. The only other mainframe I saw in person was the Red Hat Summit this year, and it was open; inside, it looked like a bizarre rack where the internal wires from the servers were all exposed. Modern mainframes are not the same "big iron" equipment from the 1960s...
  • by sycodon (149926) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:06PM (#24698033)

    There are some things COBOL will do better than any other language.

    First, it can run through millions and millions of records very quickly. I expect that most payroll systems are done in COBOL. I can't imagine anyone doing it one in C or Java.

    The language may be simple but I have not seen any other language that can slice and dice data as easily. But you have to be careful because the type checking is done at 3am when they are running production jobs!

  • by fartrader (323244) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:27PM (#24698241)

    Basically the mainframe and the software it hosts really make the cash for most enterprises - and as a consequence any sensible management are loathe to replace it with something "newer", even if the systems in question are horrible spaghetti nightmares that no-one really understands, and maintaining them is a process of trial and error. Replacement would simply be "cleaning the inside of a tin can", no obvious shareholder value at all in change for changes sake.

    Also technology vendors have finally woken up to the fact that the mainframe isnt a dinosaur on the verge of extinction - for example making CICS transactions web-service enabled has made COBOL code just as capable of participating in a service-oriented architecture as a set of AXIS hosted java classes.

  • by ryanisflyboy (202507) * on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:51PM (#24698531) Homepage Journal

    Perhaps you are not familiar with what a modern day large server is capable of. The cost/benefit of larger systems doesn't work in every case, but in many cases it does. Not every application is suited to run on a cluster of low cost x86 systems.

    My favorite large server is the HP superdome. Check out some of the specs:

    - Up to 128 core.
    - Up to 2TB of RAM, usually you'd mirror this, so 1TB usable realistically.
    - Up to 192 PCI-X slots.
    - 12 power supplies.
    - 18 fans.
    - Partition the system up to 16 different ways.
    - Up to 32 GB/s IO bandwidth.
    - 273.1 GB/s memory bandwidth.
    - Cost, starts around $1,000,000 (last I asked).
    - Jump the CPU/RAM/IO around to different partitions as needed, without rebooting anything.

    The thing about this that is unlike your typical entry level x86 Enterprise server - EVERYTHING is hot swap. And I mean everything. CPUs, RAM, IO. Very few pieces require a complete shutdown to service.

    My favorite mainframe story: "A guy called to ask what procedure he should follow to reboot his mainframe. Tech support told him to just follow the same procedure he did last time. The guy responded, "but only knows how to do that." And so, tech support said "well, get him to do it." At which point the guy remarked: "Well, the problem is he quit 6 years ago."

    Yeah. When you need _UPTIME_ it is hard to do better.

  • Mod parent up (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Alpha830RulZ (939527) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @09:27PM (#24698885)

    Mod parent up - he's on the mark. There's a lot of stuff out there for which the source is gone, but it still does the job. Witness the State of California's payroll system we were discussing a bit back.

  • Re:Need... (Score:3, Interesting)

    by nbvb (32836) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @09:39PM (#24699013) Journal

    The last UNIX system I built was handling over 130,000 transactions PER SECOND.

    HP Superdome + Itanium = incredibly fast.

  • Re:Nuclear and Steam (Score:4, Interesting)

    by pipingguy (566974) * on Thursday August 21, 2008 @11:19PM (#24700051) Homepage
    You might enjoy this link:

    http://www.kirsner.org/pages/jackSteam/jackSteamTextAlt.html [kirsner.org]
  • by Borg Bucolic (1342221) on Friday August 22, 2008 @12:12AM (#24700561)

    Can somebody please explain to me what the hell a "mainframe" is/was for and why it might be dead?

    Seriously? In the infancy of computers, there were no IC chips. The CPU (and software) were hard wired out of transistors, vacuum tubes, or even relays depending on the time period. The were large enough to require gymnasiums to put them in, required lots of power, generated heat, and required many people to keep them working. There were no screens, or keyboards per se. Much of the data was punched into cards (remember hanging chads?).

    Smaller external components were mounted in equipment racks (metal frames). The larger CPU was the largest, most central component, often referred to as the main frame. Many still exist, only they are a lot smaller now and still mounted in equipment racks.

    The last one I saw was an IBM used in a plant. It had around 1000 RS244 serial ports to talk to all the equipment and terminals. It used AIX as its operating system. On the floor, was an old IBM 3240 (I think) to be used as a backup just in case. Seeing a 17" hard drive again was a trip.

  • by Chris Snook (872473) on Friday August 22, 2008 @02:27AM (#24701535)

    Actually, a modern mainframe CPU has about the MIPS of a PII. Their strength is in reliability and I/O capacity. They use (very expensive) accelerators for CPU-intensive tasks. If you want to run Vista on one of these things, you'd need to spend a quarter million dollars on a video card.

    Of course, that video card would be able to render 64 desktops simultaneously, and if it started to overheat, it would email the vendor, who would send you a replacement overnight, and you could replace it without downtime.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 22, 2008 @03:34AM (#24701955)

    Next time you swipe a credit card, and within a few seconds you're approved for your transaction, including determining if you're purchasing something within a common pattern of recent purchases. How many x86 boxes would you need to manage this?

    I would guess 20ish, minimum, not counting all the network services, monitoring and support systems the mainframe world isn't even aware of.
    Double that if counting offsite.

    NO, I'm not defending the "lots of cheap PCs are just like RAID" philosophy, just letting you know there are small fish in the payment industry too. They can and will simply shrug off three hours of unexpected, total OLTP downtime too.

    I'm not proud of it at all, but yes, they exist. Having worked adjacent to a mainframe environment in a previous job, I see the direction we need to go. The thing to understand though, is that the open systems world is chock FULL of people who prefer to put things together themselves.
    It's like convincing a man who changes his own oil to drag his car up to Prompto Lube. Pride acts as a one way filter, and the open systems side is just bloated right now.

    On a smaller level, in the open systems world, I think the same problem, pride, and ideology is fueling the Linux market. Don't take that the wrong way. Linux isn't a problem, it's the lack of intellectually honest people that can't admit "in this case, Solaris/Windows/Mac/AIX... IS the best solution", or "if we keep growing, we SHOULD start looking at a mainframe"

    All about pride :\
    I miss the days of using Linux because it was open source, not to support open source.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 22, 2008 @04:01AM (#24702063)

    I came across this while working on a Mainframe 'Linux' project

    It's a very fair assessment in my opinion

    http://blogs.sun.com/jsavit/entry/once_again_mainframe_linux_vs

  • by RockWolf (806901) on Friday August 22, 2008 @06:22AM (#24702787)

    No, it's just a good example. They're not the only ones who do it that way.

    No, it's just a good example in their field. As others have said, that model is great for distributed computing where each transaction is non-mission-critical. Not all industries and applications have that luxury; banking is the obvious one.

  • by thepacketmaster (574632) on Friday August 22, 2008 @06:39AM (#24702877) Homepage Journal
    I never thought I'd be working with mainframes, feeling the same as most, that it is a old, antiquated technology. After making the transition from servers in the mainframe world, I can tell you that it's not. While mainframes may not have processing power to rival super computers, they are the king of IO, and extremely stable. For my industry that is why mainframes won't go away. Processing millions of physical items every night, where down time of minutes is catastrophic, a mainframe is the only way to go...

    I still miss having my Unix command line thought!

    And I'm 34.

  • by RAMMS+EIN (578166) on Friday August 22, 2008 @06:47AM (#24702905) Homepage Journal

    It's very impressive that all the hardware is hot-swappable. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean you will never have downtime. You need the right software for that, too. It either needs to be hot-updatable, or you need redundancy. Redundancy is the more realistic...and if you have that, anyway, why do you still need 99.999999% uptime hardware? In the end, your uptime is determined by the weakest link.

  • by Chris Snook (872473) on Friday August 22, 2008 @10:25AM (#24705263)

    Not all clock cycles are created equal. The z10 burns an awful lot of them doing various mainframey things behind the scenes. I've built kernels on a 2-cpu z9 guest, and it crawls compared to my dual-core desktop, but that's not what you buy a mainframe for. You buy it for all those things it does behind the scenes without you ever having to think about them, so your mission-critical database never goes down and never flips a single bit, even if CPUs, DIMMs, or whole logic boards fail.

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