Mainframes: Breaking Through the Cloud and Mobility Era

Mainframes are not going anywhere — they are here to stay. But the talent pool of proficient programmers is shrinking.

The Prime Years

Before Cloud technologies appeared on the horizon, there was the “Big Iron” that revolutionized businesses during the second half of the 20th century.

The Third Industrial Revolution or the Rise of Electronics gave birth to mainframe computers, which can rightfully be regarded as one of the greatest inventions in world history. Mainframes redefined storage, speed, and performance as it was reliable, available (99.999%), and scalable. However, robust security was its unique selling point, which was needed by financial, retail, healthcare, insurance and other security-avid organizations. That’s why mainframe systems are at the heart of almost every critical transaction that ordinary people rely on every day, which include bank wire transfers & ATM transactions, flight bookings, and millions of payments at retail outlets around the world.

The trials and innovations for mainframes started in the 1940s. However, it was the System/360 mainframe developed in 1960s that paved the way for the ensuing computer revolution. System 360 allowed advanced levels of computation and compatibility that helped NASA to land astronauts on the Moon1.

Are Mainframes Dead?

Just as mainframes challenged older technologies of the past, today’s modern computing applications are trying to steal the spotlight. The main selling point of these newer technologies is their ability to cater to modern market demands. There have been campaigns to “rip and replace” legacy technologies (including mainframe computers) with newer technologies such as cloud and mobile computing that offer greater speed, scalability, flexibility, and portability while compromising security.

Mobility has been around since the 1990s, but it was not until the 2000s that it became ubiquitous — thanks to the proliferation of smart devices. More and more employees and customers, particularly those who belong to the younger generations, wanted to transact and stay connected in real-time and without the limits of time and place. Mobility, and now with the aid of the Cloud, helped businesses make this possible.

The Cloud was put on the limelight during the early 2000s and the interest has been growing since then. The Cloud opened up various technological reakthroughs that empowered commercial businesses to cater to the omnichannel needs of today’s customers. Amidst the PC revolution of the 1990s, however, IBM introduced the System/390 family, which became the first mainframe to break the 1,000 million instructions per second (MIPS) mark. And in 2000, IBM started to roll out its eServer zSeries that offers zero downtime and 64-bit z/Architecture (against the 31-bit used in S/390).