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IBM Hardware IT

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

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.
  • Not surprising.... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:20PM (#24697549)

    The ol' yellow number 2 pencil is still around as well, as is shoe-making, wine-barrel repair, and of course the oldest tool in the book ... the tool.

    Like humans all technologies find their place in the universe. Mainframes have their advantages, just would not want one sitting on my lap.

    • by Kjella ( 173770 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:56PM (#24697957) Homepage

      Mainframes have their advantages, just would not want one sitting on my lap.

      Somewhere in there is a joke about fembots and the Crushinator, but I'm too lazy to find it.

    • by StormShaman ( 603879 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:20PM (#24698159)

      I think you'll find the tool is a class, not an object.

    • 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.

  • 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 pilgrim23 ( 716938 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:41PM (#24697809)

      Main Frame means a IBM System 360 370 3033 3081 3084 3090 or whatever the heck they use now and comparables like the CDC 6600 or 7600, the Sperry Univac, the Burroughs and a few others.

      I know the Itty Bitty Machine Company's products best though I have worked everythign from Amydal to PRIME to WANG.

      antecdote. 1st chat I ever did was via a master operator console to a RJE (Remote Job Entry) it started out: $DMR1,'HOW BOUT LUNCH?',LOG=N and ended with some well remembered pleasure.

    • by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:57PM (#24697969)
      People were saying mainframes would die because of things like cluster servers, desktop computing, etc. The idea was that cheap commodity servers could replace mainframes for back end tasks, without the expense (an IBM mainframe, last I checked, cost $100k per year just to own, plus the salaries of the mainframe operators), and that commodity desktops could replace mainframes with thin client connections for typical office applications. While the latter is certainly true, the former is not -- it turns out that operating hundreds of commodity servers actually costs a lot, and for many institutions with HUGE server needs, mainframes wind up being a lot less expensive in the long run. The costs of commodity hardware come from things like cooling needs, power needs (including the power needed to run large air conditioners), the increased number of administrators needed to maintain that many systems, and a few other factors, which together wind up exceeding $100k (or $1M for the largest mainframes) by a wide margin.
    • 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

      Pretty much.

      Additionally, we've figured out how to network a bunch of regular desktop/server machines to do the job of a mainframe -- and to partition our data among a bunch of smaller machines.

      After all...

      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.

      Is there ever a time when you actually need to look at the payroll at once?

      And if you said "yes", there's a fair chance you're wrong -- there's very likely some small subset of the payroll, that just happens to be spread across all records (for example, the sum of all values in a particular column) -- so techniques like map/reduce can still parallize that task.

      I'm going to guess there's not a single mainframe at Google. And I'm also going to guess that Google's cluster could easily handle the tasks you've proposed. The only question would be whether two mainframes would be cheaper -- two, of course, because you need redundancy.

    • by jhines ( 82154 ) <john@jhines.org> on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:31PM (#24698293) Homepage

      You have to think back to old style computing. If you wanted a peripheral, you need a controller card. Then some place to plug it into (bus). Mainframes had enormous expansion capabilities, if you needed another item and it wouldn't fit, you could get expansion cabinets with additional buses which would hold additional controllers.

      Typical mainframes would have a couple of dozen hard drives, of which a 14" multi-platter drive would have 300 Mb or so. A dozen tape drives or so, a couple of line printers, IO cards for terminals, stacks of memory cards, etc. Thats a lot of controller cards that need to be plugged in.

    • by merreborn ( 853723 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @09:23PM (#24698863) Journal

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

      On a raw price per processor basis, commodity hardware is several orders of magnitude cheaper than mainframes.

      Say you have a million dollar budget. You can buy 1 low end mainframe, or 50-100 high-end commodity servers at $10-20k each. The commodity servers will have far more number crunching power, as a whole. Your average novice engineer is more familiar with the software and hardware, since it's not much different from their workstations. And you can build up slowly, buying servers a handful at a time, as needed. With a mainframe, your initial outlay for a starting business is much larger. And scaling up a single mainframe gets exponentially more expensive; the price buying more commodity servers stays constant, meaning a linear cost of scaling.

      At least, that's the theory. There is some practical examples of it at work -- every big website is run on commodity hardware; digg, slashdot, yahoo, google, facebook... None of 'em are running on mainframes, but their clusters handle incredibly large workloads.

      If money is no object (e.g., you're Exxon, or a credit card company), mainframes are a lot more appealing.

      If you want to start the next big .com in your garage, mainframes are out of the question.

      • by BBCWatcher ( 900486 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @12:19AM (#24700635)

        And scaling up a single mainframe gets exponentially more expensive; the price buying more commodity servers stays constant, meaning a linear cost of scaling.

        Why do IT people (I'm assuming) make such lousy economists?

        Think about it for just half a second. If you want to double the transactional capacity ("throughput") of your mainframe, you turn on more processor(s) inside the same box. (It's almost always inside the same box. A single mainframe can have massive capacity.) And you only do so when the mainframe is 100% busy for sustained periods, which it gracefully handles by the way without choking. You have zero reconfiguration to do to hardware, software, or applications: it's "on tap." (In fact, the machine itself can provision itself nowadays.) This is very cheap: doubling costs way, way less than the initial allocation. Also, up to 32 machines can share memory and operate as one, so if you are unusual and hit a single machine limit, no problem. It's only past 32 that you resort to partioning, traditional clustering, etc. -- and you've still got a lot more weapons at your disposal.

        If you want to double your actual transactional capacity with highly distributed servers, you...well, it may be impossible. You better hope you have highly segmented and partitioned work for those servers to do, and that it is extremely well balanced so that it fits into little server buckets. The burden is mostly or entirely on you, the application developer, to figure that out -- and that's horribly expensive. (Because the work never is balanced, you have to install a bunch of servers that don't run continuously at near 100% busy, so you get less real-world performance out of each processor anyway.) But at the very least you have to more than double the number of boxes. And you have a lot of knobs to twist and turn to get your work settled into its new, large number of machines, so you better hope you don't need that extra capacity NOW. (Can't process those credit card transactions during a spike in demand? Sorry about that -- I guess your credit card company will just have skip collecting those millions of dollars.) And you get to hire and pay some more people to install, configure, and maintain those extra boxes. You also get to find more space in your data center (if you have it), consume more than double the power (if you have it), and run the air conditioning more than twice as hard (if you can). You pay Oracle, Microsoft, et. al. at least double, too. (That's not how mainframe softwre works: there are strong price curves, not lines.)

        Fortunately there are some IT-economists in the world who understand this stuff.

    • by ksd1337 ( 1029386 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @09:31PM (#24698913)
      The only real reason they still exist is so that people can run Vista with decent performance. *runs away at the sight of humorless mods*
      • 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 Alpha830RulZ ( 939527 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @09:38PM (#24699007)

      but better suited to tasks where there's a LOT of input/output data,

      They're still in heavy use, for just such jobs. Your phone and power bills are probably mainframe generated, but your stock brokerage statement probably isn't. Your credit card bill probably is run on a MF (my company probably does it), but most of the transactions on it probably came from Unix/Windows sources. The MF rules in sequential processing, though mostly from inertia, while Unix/Linux/Windows Server is taking over the DB side.

  • by justin_ramos ( 1335257 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:35PM (#24697729)
    I think you mean the "almost 40 generation". ;-)
  • by Darkness404 ( 1287218 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:35PM (#24697735)
    I question the need of mainframes today. Now, they are great for running legacy programs (such as payroll, etc) but other than for backwards-compatibly, what advantage does a mainframe have compared to say, a server?
    • Re:Need... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `yahoo.com'> on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:47PM (#24697875) Homepage Journal

      99.999 Up time, speed, number of transactions, precision, hot swapping, 64 CPUs, lower cost to maintain, longer life time.

      Hell, I can get a mainframe and put 30,000 Linux instance on it and use it as a cluster, or rollover servers.

      PC Servers still aren't as capable as a mainframe, not even clusters.

      • Re:Need... (Score:5, Informative)

        by daethon ( 1349241 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @11:36PM (#24700243)
        Most of the reasons have been listed by other people, but I figured I'd put them all in one place and then add a few things:

        1) Reliability: 5 9's (99.999%)
        2) Backward compatibility, there are people still running applications written 40 years ago
        3) Security: Physical (hard to move a refrigerator), Network (no external network when applications working internally), RACF, Highest level of security rating of ANY server, ever.
        4) Architecture: Redundant everything: Spare processors, spare power, spare, everything. Predictive failure/automatic fail over for individual components. Memory Bus greater than anything out there. Pipes to Storage extreme. Cryptographic processors to do SSL, etc.
        5) Scale up: 64 processors (4.4GHz), 1.5 TB of Memory, etc.
        6) Scale out: GDPS (Geographically Disperse Parallel Sysplex) up to 32 boxes?
        7) Hipervisor: Its a network in a box. Applications talking to each other use IP, not TCP/IP, so you aren't sending 35% data, 65% header when applications talk. Network is at the speed of memory. zVM has been developed for over 20 years.
        8) Power Efficiency: Compared to a server cluster + cooling + redundant power, etc.
        9) Network Simplicity: No need for a rats nest for your rack, cable simplicity in some cases from over 1000 cables down to 12. From 14 switches (which are very expensive) to 4.
        10) Management simplicity: Less staff needed to keep it up and running. Instead they are focused on adding business value
        11) Running Legacy (aka Business Critical) applications, your web presence, your portal, and a myriad of other disparate applications in one place.
        12) Create new servers in minutes without needing hardware "on standby."
        13) Compartmentalization in a single box
        14) Shared everything while still fully separate
        15) Workload manager: able to on the fly change how much resources are allocated to images AND (this is the cool thing, cause other VMs do that) give it goal times for operations. As in: Complete this task in 1/100th of a second, and it will allocate, on the fly, for that to happen, and it will guarantee it.

        I think that's enough...I'm sure I'm missing some stuff, but that should be a good compilation.

        One thing to note: I'm under 30, and didn't know that mainframes existed 5 years ago.

        Mainframes are NOT the answer to all questions. Intel is NOT the answer to all questions. Itanium, Solaris, Power, etc...none are the answer to all questions.

        Buy the right tool for the right purpose.
    • Re:Need... (Score:5, Informative)

      by malchus842 ( 741252 ) <stephen@adamsemail.net> on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:50PM (#24697903)

      Raw IO power, in our case. With the number of transactions we process per day (financial services - clearing, trade matching, reconciliation, etc) nothing beats the System-i in terms of raw IO in getting the data in, massaging it and spitting it out...and far easier to manage than a server farm, at least for our use. The same vendor that provides our software also provides a JAVA version, but it's not going to handle the 2 billion+ transactions we do in a quarter.

      And this software isn't legacy - it's relatively new and updated on a regular basis to take into account developments in the kinds of products offered.

      "Horses for courses" as my British friends like to say./p?

      • Re:Need... (Score:5, Insightful)

        by awyeah ( 70462 ) * on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:10PM (#24698081)

        That's correct. Also, look at the retail business. Merchandise management, loss prevention, warehousing and distribution... And we're not talking arcane software packages.

        Here's an example: A retail chain has payroll, merchandising, and warehousing/distribution systems, all on the mainframe. The point of sale interfaces with the mainframe as well. A store starts to run low on an item? The mainframe knows because the POS sends its inventory data constantly. The MMS then tells the warehousing system that that store needs more. A pick list is automatically printed by the warehousing system. The warehouse worker picks the item off the shelf, puts it on a conveyor belt which runs through an RFID portal, linked to the mainframe, that then routes the item to the proper truck in the dock so it gets to the correct store - automatically. The truck delivers the item to the store, and the driver enters that into a wireless device which (you guessed it!) tells the warehousing system and merchandise management system that the item has been received by the store, so the MMS always knows the inventory levels in the store. The associate sells that item, and the MMS sees that from the POS data... it also knows that this particular item pays out a spiff to the associate and sends the information directly to the payroll system, which interfaces with a company who handles payroll (like ADP), and automatically adds the spiff to their next paycheck.

        Uh oh - the chain is growing and adding new stores, with increasing volumes of data to process, and the nightly batch processing is taking too long... what to do? Call IBM, license another processor... They activate it immediately for you.

        But oh no! A disk is failing... no need to worry, because IBM already knows about it and has dispatched a technician to diagnose and replace the faulty hardware.

        New versions of this software are being released all the time, and just about every retailer with more than a few stores uses them. These systems are modern. Don't think a big room full of giant cabinets, reel-to-reel tapes and punch cards. Some of the current IBM iSeries (AS/400) models have a form factor that looks more like a PC than a mainframe.

        Show me a Windows or Linux system that can do all that, 24x7, for hundreds or thousands of stores.

        • Re:Need... (Score:4, Informative)

          by corbettw ( 214229 ) <{corbettw} {at} {yahoo.com}> on Thursday August 21, 2008 @09:48PM (#24699133) Journal

          None of the business needs you described sound like something that couldn't be done by just about any UNIX-like OS with appropriate applications (Oracle Financials, JD Edwards OneWorld, SAP). Even the hardware failures you mentioned can be handled with clustering and having cold, warm, and hot spares on hand. And just about any enterprise SAN or NAS has a phone-home feature.

          So again, what's so special about mainframes? You guys talk about the bandwidth, what kind of throughput do you get? How many megs per second? Let's put this in raw numbers, I'm honestly curious about why those systems are supposed to be so special.

      • by jsight ( 8987 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:12PM (#24698103) Homepage

        Raw IO power, in our case. With the number of transactions we process per day (financial services - clearing, trade matching, reconciliation, etc) nothing beats the System-i in terms of raw IO in getting the data in, massaging it and spitting it out...and far easier to manage than a server farm, at least for our use. The same vendor that provides our software also provides a JAVA version, but it's not going to handle the 2 billion+ transactions we do in a quarter.

        That's about 250 txns/sec. There are Java apps that do that (admittedly on very big hardware... probably including mainframes).

    • Payroll? (Score:2, Funny)

      by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:57PM (#24697967)

      I question the need of mainframes today. Now, they are great for running legacy programs (such as payroll, etc) but other than for backwards-compatibly, what advantage does a mainframe have compared to say, a server?

      Send me your Resume... if getting payed is something you consider "legacy" then I'd be happy to negotiate some legacy pay terms.

      LoL: captch is "weekend"

    • Re:Need... (Score:4, Informative)

      by Shinobi ( 19308 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:03PM (#24698015)

      Quality control, quality control, quality control, quality control
      Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy, Redundancy
      Reliability, lots of it.
      LOTS of I/O.
      Solid VM technologies that makes VMWare appear like the software equivalent of a toddler still in diapers.
      Hardware-accelerated crypto, integrated into the overall system design, and not just an add-on card, at least on fairly modern mainframes.
      Some mainframes also run dedicated hardware for CRC on data being churned through.

      Designing all that into a cluster leads to something that is just as expensive to operate, and still won't have the same reliability as a mainframe environment.

      And no, Google's model does not apply here. Google aren't working with data that must approach 100% reliability to the extent that it's possible for humans and technology to make it.

    • Re:Need... (Score:3, Insightful)

      by betterunixthanunix ( 980855 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:05PM (#24698025)
      A lower end mainframe can replace roughly 1000 commodity servers, or so I've been told. It consumes roughly 10kW of power and requires only one operator to keep it functional (well, assuming 8 hours shifts, 3 operators). Those 1000 commodity servers will be consuming ~100W a piece, so the overall power consumption will be 10 times higher than the mainframe, and will probably require at least 3 administrators on the clock at any given time (so going with non-overlapping 8 hour shifts, that's 9 administrators). The cost savings could easily justify the expense of the mainframe, assuming that you are an institution that uses 1000 or more commodity servers.
    • Re:Need... (Score:5, Informative)

      by vux984 ( 928602 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:11PM (#24698091)

      Now, they are great for running legacy programs (such as payroll, etc)

      Payroll is not a legacy application. You still get paid don't you? :)
      My point is, even if payroll were 'rewritten' it would still be a suitable mainframe application.

      what advantage does a mainframe have compared to say, a server?

      They are bigger.

      A mainframe more comparable to a server cluster or server farm than a single server.

      They feature processors dedicated to IO tasks. They are the kings of data throughput.

      They are also big on reliability. Everything is hot-swappable. Everything is redundant. Failover is automatic and processes are rarely even aware its even happened. They have stuff like io multipathing (multiple redundant buses, controllers, etc) and execution integrity -- multiple processors do the same work, the results are compared, and only if they all agree is the computation accepted, errors are thus averted and defective processors and memory can be detected (and hot-swapped), transparent to the running programs and users.

      Because they are basically an entire 'server farm' in a dedicated optimized box they also can require less space and power than a server farm of equivalent capability, which is one of their selling points.

      I doubt there are any features of a mainframe that can't be obtained by building a suitable server farm, but at some point in some cases the mainframe is markedly more cost effective.

    • by tooyoung ( 853621 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @10:45PM (#24699691)
      As was mentioned by another poster, a mainframe can run thousands of instances of Linux at a single time, with no possibility that one instance can muck with another. Furthermore, mainframes can work in seamless concert with other mainframes, even ones located half-way across the world. With this set up, you can literally blow one of the mainframes up, along with it's corresponding storage array, and the applications that are running will never even blink. For a company such as a bank, this is very advantageous. You can lose your primary data center in a fire and not miss a single transaction.
  • by JackStrife17 ( 982300 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:45PM (#24697851)

    I actually just took a job in software development on z/OS (the new hip, backwards-hat wearing mainframe operating system). Aside from the impressive clustering capabilities, we've got a lot of new and exciting stuff. (I personally am a big fan of AT-TLS) It's true that the systems are old and the interfaces archaic and painful to use, but the level of configurability and reliability these things offer is staggering. We have a few customers with 100% uptimes in the 20-year range.

    My school (Northern Illinois University) actually is one of the few left offering full mainframe tracks in their computer science department, although COBOL was the most painful programming experience of my life.

    I'd bet that my meta-group of 50 or so people has a median age of about 33, and while it is still the old dinosaurs who know the most, the definition of "dinosaur" in my personal, 15 person group is around 50 years old.

  • MILF (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:45PM (#24697853)
    Mainframe I'd Like to Fsck!
  • by PingXao ( 153057 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:48PM (#24697889)

    I was at the last winter conference in Orlando. I would guess the median age of the attendees was somewhere around 40. There's a LOT of Linux going on in the mainframe world (and COBOL has nothing to do with it). The biggest mistake IBM is currently making IMO is they've gotten into bed with Suse. There was a large group from Suse (Germany) in Orlando last February. Again IMO, Suse is an awful Linux distro. Yast is an abomination to work with on a daily basis. I think Redhat missed the boat there even though their Enterprise Linux distribution has support for System 390 hardware. Anyway, the point is that Linux is alive and well and thriving on big iron.

    In addition, one of the primary draws of Orlando is Disney World and the other nearby theme parks. The (oops, almost wrote "Teh" there) February conference was held IN Disney at the Coronado Springs (stay in the Cabanas section if you ever go there, for any reason). SHARE members vote on where to hold their meetings. If a majority of those folks were over 60 I doubt they'd continue returning to Orlando every few years.

    If you're not familiar with where and how mainframes are being used today then I suggest that YOU are the one who's out of touch with a significant sector of the computing world. Business' needs don't all revolve around iphones, ajax and youtube. Or payroll and accounting, for that matter.

  • by iplayfast ( 166447 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:56PM (#24697951)

    Back in the day, it seems to me that Sperry or Boughs (sp?) mainframes used their own communications system, which would drive N terminals off of one wire.

    In those days, PC's could emulate several terminals, one at a time. I was with a company that did just that. But the PC's of the day would be hard pressed to handle the incoming traffic from multiple terminals.

    These days with TCP/IP as the protocal to rule them all, I expect decent server would handle the same traffic as a mainframe of 20 years ago. I don't know what todays are like, but I doubt they've let them languish.

  • by jackspenn ( 682188 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @07:56PM (#24697953)
    The only reason that we still run a mainframe is because the management in place grow up around the mainframe and their underlings would be put out of work if we got rid of it. There is no reason why we couldn't be moving all of its relatively simple programs from the mainframe to a JAVA or .NET other then the fact that we have to wait for all of the current decision makers to retire or just die. The money we waste on hardware components or in turning on software features that are free in most other parts of the industry as well as the time it takes for old farts to get their head around distributed computing concepts is insane. While they spend days writing a program to do screen scraping to get an answer for management "How many people work here?" before eventually conceding they are unable to get the correct result only to have management come to me for a 2 minute powershell script to get the same information from AD. Yes we store things one way in the mainframe and again in AD or SQL Databases because the mainframe people are scared to try and cross the bridge and work with us. They freak out at anything new and worse they don't how the mainframe works. I read all about the Z/9 in an attempt to relate to those bums, I walked over to their side of the hall and in 15 minutes realized the operators don't care to learn how or why something is, they prefer to think of it as a black box. A big black box that takes up lots of room, lots of power and lots of cash. IBM mainframes exist because people who fear change are unable to get off them, not because there is anything fundamentally advantageous about them. I am planning their destruction, a VM that runs on Intel hardware but responds just like a mainframe, it is software that could be sold for nothing and then all the mainframe apps could be moved to it and IBM would be finished, dead toast. I think it is sad you have to pay and enter a code if you want to see more HD space, you cannot just plug in more SAN space, you have to buy it like you would for the Intel side and then pay IBM to let you see it. It is just a revolting way of doing IT. Mainframes are not innovative people, Mainframes are not sex or cool. Mainframes are anti-hacker, anti-explorer, anti-learning. I cannot stress how much they suck.
    • by jstott ( 212041 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:19PM (#24698147)

      I am planning their destruction, a VM that runs on Intel hardware but responds just like a mainframe, it is software that could be sold for nothing and then all the mainframe apps could be moved to it and IBM would be finished, dead toast.

      And it'll run under Vista to guarantee 24-7 reliability!

      There's a lot more to a mainframe than just software apps — reliability and massive I/O being the most obvious. Remember, this is a world where down-time is measured in millions of dollars per hour. Mainframes are specialized tools designed for specialized jobs and no PC will ever displace (regardless of what sexy VM you're trying to hype) them simply because PC's are designed for a broad consumer market and not for the 24-7 zero-downtime business world.


    • by evilgraham ( 1020325 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @10:01PM (#24699335) Homepage
      And I cannot stress how much you should be glad that your paycheck goes via a bank that runs its core systems on a mainframe instead of relying on your fuckwitted opinions as to how to implement data processing in a robust and scalable manner. Write a powershell script about that motherfucker!
    • by gillbates ( 106458 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @12:05AM (#24700507) Homepage Journal

      I am planning their destruction, a VM that runs on Intel hardware but responds just like a mainframe,

      Good luck.

      I used to work in a mainframe shop, and while the latest Intel hardware can run circles around one of the processors on a mainframe, it can't beat all 16 of them by any standard:

      1. In the first place, the mainframe has 255 escon channels for IO; the PC architecture is limited to just 16 interrupts; sure, you can daisy chain more devices to a PC, but you have to share the bandwidth. (That is, assuming you could even fit them in the server case).
      2. A mainframe has 16 redundant processors, with each processor's twin checking the results of the other (that's 32 total "cores"). If any processor goes flaky, its twin restarts the instruction and the OS calls home to IBM. A few hours later, IBM reps show up to swap out the processor while the machine is running. IOW, that 24 hour payroll run will still get done, even if the processor on which it is running catches fire in the process. When was the last time an Intel server had its processor swapped out without powering down the machine and losing all of the threads in the process?
      3. Mainframes have the option of integrated cryptographic processors to which they can offload encryption tasks; can you even get crypto hardware on a PC? Even if you could, is it standardized and well-supported?
      4. A small mainframe system is 4000 modules. To port these to a PC, using a different language, would probably take the average IS department several years. That is, assuming they have the source code for all of them, and the staff understands how they function and interact. Yes, it's doable, but for what benefit? So you and future programmers don't have to be bothered to learn COBOL, or mainframe assembler?
      5. Most of all, mainframes routinely run for years without a reboot. The average scheduled downtime for a mainframe is less than 5 minutes a year; the unscheduled downtime is practically non-existent. Considering the average PC hardware experiences a hardware failure on average once every three years, it's likely your mainframe killer PC will die before they can migrate all of the applications off the mainframe. That is, assuming they even let you take the risk...

      I'm not really a big mainframe fan, but they do have their place in the business world. Businesses don't care about MIPS or running the latest games; they want a system that works reliably with a predictable cost structure. IBM mainframes provide that.

  • by ScrewMaster ( 602015 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:14PM (#24698107)
    In spite of what some people may believe, there a whole raft of things that mainframes do exceedingly well. In spite of its having "reinvented" itself, IBM is still a big iron company, and there's a reason for that.
  • by afabbro ( 33948 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:17PM (#24698135) Homepage
    More transactions run through the world's mainframes in an hour than run through Google in a day.
  • by PPH ( 736903 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:25PM (#24698229)

    There are still places for mainframes. With virtualization, that Linux server you think you are leasing space on may actually be a slice of a mainframe.

    But COBOL? Sure, there's legacy COBOL code that needs to be maintained. But answer this question: Given a clean slate and a proposal to build a new application, how many people would choose COBOL? Anybody?

    [Sound of crickets]

    The main reason COBOL is still around, a perverse reason at that, is that it is more expensive to port an app. than it is to patch it just one more time. This isn't necessarily a fault of COBOL itself, but a by-product of a lot of old apps having been written in it before modern programming practices took hold. Well documented COBOL programs are easier and cheaper to maintain than crummy ones. The problem is: they are also easier to port. The code that gets left behind is the garbage that nobody understands (or even has complete source to anymore). The incremental patches needed to keep it running are cheaper in the short term. But they raise the economic barrier to diving into it to reverse engineer and move to a new platform.

  • 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 Abattoir ( 16282 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @08:49PM (#24698509) Homepage
    There's a *lot* of mainframes at IBM-Boulder. They were deploying brand new (at the time) z9's to replace old 360/390 and earlier zSeries. If I recall the conversation with the facility manager for that project, it was a 5 to 1 ratio of old systems to the z9's, most of which would be running Linux VM's for WebSphere deployments of various types.
  • by Tom ( 822 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @09:56PM (#24699249) Homepage Journal

    Cobol is not dead

    Can someone please have mercy and put it down for good? On the list of programming languages that really, really deserve to die, Cobol is way up top, even above visual basic.

  • by Temkin ( 112574 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @10:02PM (#24699337)

    My Dad was a mainframe operator when I was a kid. We're talking early 70's here, but he actually went all the way back to the IBM 1401. I've always had a fondness for the beasts, but no experience with them. Therein lie the problem. They're not at all commodity iron. Linux came into existence because commodity equipment became powerful enough to host such an OS. That cannot be said of z/OS. It simply doesn't run on anything I'm likely to find on sale at Fry's.

    How does one gain employable skills with untouchable hardware? (Note: I don't consider Hercules to be a solution. Where's the software?)

    • by tyen ( 17399 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @10:39PM (#24699643) Journal

      There are no Linux-equivalent options for the non-student hobbyist wanting to cut their teeth on the latest generation zSeries software. You simply cannot rent cheap mainframe time with the IBM ADCD [ibm.com] (though you could still learn a lot with just a raw z/OS subscription, there would be no compilers, no databases, no middleware, etc.). I'm not kidding or exaggerating; we just looked into this earlier this year (and if any experienced zSeries folks know differently, please post a correction here). IBM prohibits anyone from buying an ADCD subscription, then renting out time on their zSeries, at any price, with access to the ADCD. Your only option if you don't outright own a z/OS license is to pay for the IBM Remote Development Program [ibm.com] (RDP). And no, you cannot buy an RDP subscription then resell slices of it. So you can see why the minimum entry fee of more then $4,000 USD per year for RDP would put off most non-student hobbyists.

      If you are a student, you can see if your school offers zSeries courses, or look into getting a faculty sponsor for such a course in higher education campuses. IBM has programs for encouraging the training of students in zSeries technologies.

      And before anyone pipes up with "Use FLEX-ES!", the commercial x86 zSeries emulator, let me disabuse you of that notion: it is dead in the water at the moment, due to legal fallout from IBM's suit with PSI that is too convoluted to get into here. Only grandfathered commercial licenses are kept on support; no new commercial or development licenses are granted by IBM, and all old development licenses were forcibly terminated as they came up for renewal. We know this because we were one of the developer licensees.

      And before anyone else pipes up with "Just buy a used/cheap z/OS box!", let me set you straight on that notion: IBM has cracked down on z/OS licenses to refurbished hardware, to the point where we couldn't find anyone who would sell us old generation hardware with a new license of z/OS because they couldn't promise they could secure said license. And even if you could find some available hardware, the cheapest z/OS license quote we could find for the smallest old mainframe that we could locate was around $150K. At that price, you might as well go all-in for a brand-new "baby mainframe" for $250K.

      The zSeries tech is undeniably cool and fun to play with but definitely not for non-students with a beer budget, even just to learn. The Linux world could learn a heck of a lot from the mainframe world, though. My dream platform would probably be a Lisp Machine with its data management and security facilities (amongst others) leavened and matured from mainframe tech. The zSeries folks take for granted solutions that the Linux world doesn't even realize are problems to begin with, and the zSeries guys aren't ashamed to swipe tech they like from other platforms so they aren't standing still, either; it is a pretty nifty learning experience if you are willing to dispense with any preconceived notions of "obsolete mainframes".

  • Young mainframes (Score:2, Insightful)

    by roscaf ( 1282104 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @10:42PM (#24699671)
    I'm 24 and work in the banking and insurance industry. I spend most of my day looking at green text on a black screen and its not going to change anytime soon. We have two big hulking IBM zseries mainframes running batch jobs all night. We also have a good few servers running unisys, unicentre and techscheduler. I know by far I prefer OPC running on the mainframes, if something breaks its just a bit of bad code or input from inhouse. The hardware itself just never gives any trouble. The users don't care what is running on the background, we have csi's running against cics sessions so all they see is a nice little website with no clue what going on in the background and they shouldn't care anyway. Noones going to go to the expense of replacing all the cobol in the background as long as IBM keeps developing and supporting mainframes. They just work.
  • by HockeyPuck ( 141947 ) on Thursday August 21, 2008 @11:33PM (#24700195)

    Disclaimer: I manage the DASD (disk based storage) for a mainframe (z10) environment.

    We used to run a System 390 (think watercooled and took up 1/4 of our datacenter floorspace)
    We then migrated to a S390 (aircooled, the first big black box) in about 1995
    We then migrated to a z900 in 2002.

    We've just completed migrating to a z10.

    The applications continue to run on our brand new mainframe unmodified since the early 90s. Sure we've gone from Bus and Tag to ESCON to FICON (1Gb, 2Gb and now 4Gb). But the same applications are taking up significantly less power and a percentage of the mainframe than previously did.

    In the early 90s, 486dx was king. How many applications that ran on 486dx DOS systems are currently running in a VMware VM that is running MSDOS 6.22?

    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?

    Thank us mainframers.

    Btw: I'm 36, run linux at home and on the mainframe.

  • by Animats ( 122034 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @01:21AM (#24701123) Homepage

    IBM once made a desktop mainframe, the PC/370. You could run VM on it. But that was in 1985. Since then, they've avoided offering low-end mainframe compatible machines. There's no reason IBM couldn't offer a 1U server that runs zOS for $2000 or so, but they don't. Remember, most of the software was designed to run on machines well under 100 MIPS.

    As other people have pointed out, IBM-type mainframes do virtualization right. Virtualization on x86 is a hack and an afterthought, even with the newer hardware support. x86 virtualization with VT hardware creates a virtual machine that doesn't look like a bare machine with VT hardware; the virtual machine has no "ring -1". VMware actually patches code on the fly to work on older x86 hardware, which makes VMware very complex and vulnerable to bugs. The mainframe people don't have do that. On IBM-compatible mainframes, the virtual machine can look just like a real machine; you can run VM under VM under VM, and it works fine. About ten deep, it's too slow to be useful, but it works. This is good for stability.

    For historical reasons, PCs have a primitive I/O architecture. The "bus" concept came from the days when the peripherals and the memory were really on the same bus. That hasn't been true for decades now, but the architecture is still set up as if it was, with peripherals seeing physical, rather than logical addresses. In mainframes, there's an I/O MMU, memory protection between the peripherals and memory, and there's a channel architecture which standardizes how peripherals talk to the computer. PCs are still stuck in the "each peripheral has its own device register layout" era, which is why we have so much trouble with drivers. The "device register" and "bus" concepts are so deeply embedded in PC thinking that FireWire, which is really a local area network, was designed to emulate a bus with device registers.

  • by DrBuzzo ( 913503 ) on Friday August 22, 2008 @02:34AM (#24701583) Homepage
    The definition of "mainframe" is a bit hazy and has changed over the years especially from back in the days when everything was either a "mainframe" or a "terminal" and then there were "microcomputers" etc.

    I think now the word mainframe is less used in favor of something like:
    - The bigass server - The bigass server that runs all the old COBOL stuff - The bigass server that has a bunch of virtual machines running on it and also runs all the old COBOL stuff - The bigass server that runs that Z-operating system.. the one that's kinda like Unix with a bunch of virtual machines ontop of it and stuff - The bigass server that was supposed to be flexible but now we're kinda bound to IBM products because of the whole proprietary Websphere thing that we've now invested in and the fact that it uses a different operating enviornment that they also own and... well at least it still runs the COBOL stuff.
  • 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.

Beware of Programmers who carry screwdrivers. -- Leonard Brandwein