During our second seminar of the semester, we spent some time discussing mainframes (a.k.a. “big irons”). To be honest, I was quite confused during this part of the seminar and for that reason have decided to use this blog post as an opportunity to research and explain what, in fact, a mainframe actually is.
According to the IBM (i.e. International Business Machines) knowledge center, the term “mainframe” used to refer only to an early physical computer. These early machines used to take up as much space as a room and required their own air conditioning systems. As opposed to supercomputers, which are meant to process large quantities of data and are ideal for things like medical research and weather forecasting, mainframes are designed to process high volumes of simpler transactions. Nowadays, though, “mainframe” can also refer to “a style of operation, applications, and operating system facilities” (“What is a Mainframe?”). From what I gather, this means that systems that serve similar purposes to the original, huge mainframe computers can also be referred to as mainframes; that is, the same operations that used to require mammoth IBM operating systems can now be executed on smaller devices.
But what are these operations, exactly? Today, mainframes are often used to process high volumes of transactions, especially ones that must be done securely. Mainframes are extremely reliable, as they have many built-in redundancies and are designed to support a lot of I/O (input/output); specifically, the modern IBM mainframe can have upwards of 160 I/O cards. Mainframes are used by most major banks in the United States, retailers, and airline ticketing systems. And you’ve likely used a mainframe yourself, whether or not you knew it! When you withdraw money from an ATM, you use a mainframe to access your bank account. It’s the same if you are checking your account through a web browser like Safari or Google Chrome. Other major uses for mainframes include managing large amounts (e.g. terabytes) of data in databases and supporting thousands of users and apps utilizing certain resources simultaneously (“Who uses mainframes”).
Check out the video from Techquickie below for more details!
Alba, Davey. “Why on Earth Is IBM Still Making Mainframes?” Wired, Conde Nast, 13 Jan. 2015. <www.wired.com/2015/01/z13-mainframe/>
“What is a Mainframe? It’s a Style of Computing.” IBM Knowledge Center, IBM, 2010. <www.ibm.com/support/knowledgecenter/zosbasics/com.ibm.zos.zmainframe/zconc_whatismainframe.htm>
“Who Uses Mainframes and Why Do They Do It?” IBM Knowledge Center, IBM, 2010. <www.ibm.com/support/knowledgecenter/zosbasics/com.ibm.zos.zmainframe/zconc_whousesmf.htm>