Mainframe; the new and the old

Mainframe; the new and the oldCost effective services - mainframe

What is mainframe?

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It is a style of computing.

Mainframe; a term that was used to describe the physical characteristics of early systems but is now a style of operation, applications and operating system facilities.

In the present era, the term mainframe has taken a backseat and manufacturers now call commercial use computers as a server; and mainframe is the largest type of server available today. Here, the term mainframe refers to the computers that  can support thousands of applications and devices to serve thousands of users simultaneously.

Businesses are proliferating and so is their requirement for servers. Transaction servers, database servers, e-mail servers and Web servers are all a need of the hour. To perform server functions, the hardware required is that of a cluster of rack mounted personal computers or the most powerful mainframes that have been manufactured.

In any corporation’s data processing centre, a mainframe is the central data repository or hub that is linked to users through less powerful devices such as workstations or terminals. The use of mainframe in corporates implies that there is a centralized form of computing rather than a distributed form. Centralizing the data in a single mainframe repository saves customers from having to manage updates to more than one copy of their business data, which increases the likelihood that the data is current.

There no longer remains a clear distinction between centralized and distributed computing because smaller machines are gaining processing power and mainframes become ever more flexible and multipurpose. Market pressure demands that the businesses today rapidly reevaluate their IT strategies to find better ways of supporting a changing marketplace. Consequently, mainframes are now frequently used in combination with smaller servers in a variety of configurations. The ability to dynamically reconfigure a mainframe’s hardware and software resources (such as processors, memory, and device connections), while applications continue running, further underscores the flexible, evolving nature of the modern mainframe.

Who uses mainframes and why do they do it?

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So where is mainframe used? Well, all of us at some point or the other have used mainframe. The simplest example is the use of an automated teller machine(ATM). Haven’t we all used it so frequently?

Mainframe computers now play a central role in the day to day operations of many of the world’s corporations. Various forms of computing are used extensively in some or the other forms of business in various capacities. On the other hand, mainframe has occupied a space in today’s world of e business. Mainframe remains the foundation of all modern businesses like banking, finance, health care, insurance, utilities, government, and a multitude of other public and private enterprises, the mainframe computer continues to be the foundation of modern business.

The mainframe technology is much popular and has come a long way because of its ability of being stable. The system is steady because of the careful technological advances that have been made since the introduction of the System/360™ in 1964. Other than mainframe, there is no computer architecture that claims a continuous and evolutionary improvement while maintaining compatibility with previous releases.

Owing to these design strengths, the mainframe is used by IT organizations to host the most important, mission-critical applications. Applications such as customer order processing, financial transactions, production and inventory control, payroll etc are steadily handled by mainframe.

Mainframe has a common impression that its user interface is the 80×24-character “green screen” terminal, named for the old cathode ray tube (CRT) monitors from years ago that glowed green. On the contrary, mainframe interfaces nowadays look similar to that of personal computers or UNIX® systems. When a business application is accessed through a Web browser, there is often a mainframe computer performing crucial functions behind the scenes.

Mainframe strengths: Reliability, availability, and serviceability

The computer system has three important factors in data processing; i.e reliability, availability, and serviceability (or “RAS”). If a particular system exhibits RAS characteristics, it means that the design places have a high priority on the system in service at all times. Ideally, RAS is a central design feature of all aspects of a computer system, including the applications.

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RAS has become a universally accepted term for a collection of characters of hardware and software that are prized by mainframe users. The terms can be defined as follows:

  • Reliability

A system using mainframe has extensive self-checking and self-recovery capabilities for its hardware. The reliability is achieved by testing and making quick updates for the detected problems.

  • Availability

The system can recover from a failed component without making an impact to the rest of the running system. This is also related to hardware recovery (automatic replacement of failed elements with spares) and software recovery.

  • Serviceability

The system is self sufficient to determine why a failure occurred. Due to this feature, the hardware and software elements can be replaced without impacting the operational system much.

Mainframes in our midst: You use one every day

For the general public, the mainframe systems are largely invisible. Other forms of computing services attract more attention, at least in terms of visibility and public awareness. But we all are mainframe users, weather we realise it or not.

There are many mainframe service providers like SPM GlobalTech, TCS etc. that are responsible for providing mainframe maintenance and services.

Many banks still use mainframe because when it comes to high-speed transaction processing, there is no comparison to mainframes for its speed, the volume of transactions they can handle, and cost-effectiveness. Banks are a public place and they look for mainframe maintenance services at low cost, which these above mentioned companies provide.

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The Z/OS operating system

Mainframes work on the z/OS®. This operating system is known for its ability to cater to thousands of users at the same time and process large workloads in a safe, secure and reliable manner. It is ideal for mainframe because of its multiprogramming and multiprocessing properties. The OS is able to access and manage enormous amounts of virtual and physical storage as well as I/O operations; hence an ideal OS for running mainframe workloads.

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