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Back to the Future: Why the Cloud Won’t Replace the Mainframe


This week marks the 50th birthday of the venerable mainframe, a milestone that many thought the computing platform would never reach. In a world where nimble new technology innovations appear almost daily, it would seem like the big, bulky mainframe wouldn’t be able to keep up.

The mainframe is not nearly as trendy as today’s hot topics like Big Data or the cloud, but it continues to serve as the central nervous system of major industries like finance and healthcare, which is something the public cloud has yet to achieve. Over the years, the mainframe has adapted with each new wave of technology to maintain its place at the center of many computing environments. At the same time today’s mainstream virtualization and security approaches have been part of the mainframe platform for decades. Despite its nickname, “the dinosaur,” the mainframe has come a long way since the days of apps written in COBOL – and it’s far from being extinct.

The first modern mainframe, the IBM 360, was launched in April 1964. It could perform 229,000 calculations per second; an innovation that helped put man on the moon. From there the mainframe became mainstream among enterprises as businesses started using the platform to run critical applications and complete transactions.

In the mid-1980s new technologies started gaining power and threatening the mainframe’s existence. Mid-range systems such as SUN’s RISC processor emerged and claimed they could out-compute the mainframe, and enterprise networking evolved into PCs and servers that could be connected together and act as one. As PCs gained popularity many thought the mainframe would become irrelevant. In fact, in 1994 former journalist Stewart Alsop Jr. predicted the last mainframe would be unplugged by March 15, 1996. The 1990s also brought client/server computing, which provided PCs with access to larger back-end systems, an innovation that seemed like it would put another nail in the mainframe’s coffin.

Despite the technology industry’s doubts, the mainframe continued to evolve and thrive. Amidst the PC revolution IBM introduced the System/390 family, which became the first mainframe to break the 1,000 million instructions per second (MIPS) barrier, and mainframe computing capacity increased by more than 30 percent annually after 1992. As mid-range systems chained together more servers, IBM continued to increase the mainframe’s MIPS power.

The cloud computing revolution is the latest disruptive technology predicted to kill off the mainframe. More and more businesses are shifting their work to cloud-based infrastructures that offer increased collaboration and access to data practically anywhere. So where does the massive mainframe fit into a sleek cloud computing environment?

It turns out there’s plenty of room for the mainframe in the modern hybrid cloud architecture. Mainframes offer all of the components needed to run a private cloud environment: lots of memory, massive amounts of storage and the ability to virtualize workloads.

For enterprises, a mainframe is probably more cost-efficient than a modern cloud provider because it handles large workloads so efficiently. More importantly, many enterprises already run their business applications on a mainframe and rewriting those applications for the cloud would be incredibly complicated.

But what makes the mainframe truly invaluable is its superior computing abilities. It offers better control when running workloads and it can manage workloads over a set of distributed systems far better than mid-range systems. And when it comes to scaling and managing vector processing nothing beats the mainframe.

Today more than 10,000 mainframes still run hundreds of thousands of enterprise apps for business, finance and administrative systems and that’s unlikely to change any time soon. When trendy technology innovators write off the mainframe’s importance, consider this: Ninety-six of the world’s top 100 banks and nine out of ten of the world’s biggest insurance companies still depend on mainframes. Why? Because the mainframe is predictable, reliable and scalable — characteristics that have helped it hold its own against more trendy technology for the past 50 years, and will help it remain relevant for the next 50.

We put together an infographic illustrating the mainframe’s major milestones thus far. Share your thoughts: Is the mainframe here to stay?

Tom Bice is the vice president of product marketing and product management for Attachmate.

From : http://goo.gl/CIkOWK