View all newsletters
Receive our newsletter - data, insights and analysis delivered to you
  1. Technology
May 12, 2014updated 22 Sep 2016 11:24am


CBR helps mark 50 years of the mainframe by looking ahead.

By CBR Staff Writer

When you are talking about cloud, big data and mobile applications, the mainframe may not be the first thing that comes to mind, but maybe it should be. CBR helps mark 50 years of the mainframe by looking ahead.

April 2014 marked the 50-year anniversary of what’s proven to be the most powerful, scalable and reliable computing platform of them all: the IBM mainframe.

It was unveiled in April 1964 as the System/360. Today it is known as System z.

But ask IBM, the creator of that revolutionary product five decades ago, if it is planning to focus on any anniversaries connected to this major achievement and the answer is clear. While the tremendous impact of ‘big iron’ on the world of data processing is to be celebrated, the emphasis is on the future, not the past.

Deon Newman, VP, System z marketing, tells CBR: "The mainframe is an incredibly modern system. It has continuously evolved, as we completely renew it every two years. It’s actually only ever as old as the latest release.

"Today’s mainframe is built for a modern world of cloud, big data and mobile applications, and it remains relevant to all organisations, for all sorts of applications," he adds.

At the same time, much of the modern world – both in business and in lifestyle terms – simply wouldn’t be there without the mainframe.

Content from our partners
Scan and deliver
GenAI cybersecurity: "A super-human analyst, with a brain the size of a planet."
Cloud, AI, and cyber security – highlights from DTX Manchester

From day one, the mainframe platform has been offering organisations the opportunity to access a reusable, flexible and constantly-upgraded technology base. It is worth remembering that prior to 1964, computers were ‘one-shot’ devices. You bought one if you could afford it, wrote some code to perform a job or task, then junked it as it couldn’t grow beyond that initial spec.

What do we mean by ‘much of the modern world’? Think core banking, insurance, transportation, government. Many of the essential features of life in 2014 – from taking your cash out of an ATM anywhere on the planet to booking an online reservation or buying something on the web- would not have been possible without System z.

Newman adds: "The mainframe is also there getting the next generation of applications started too. Take mobile, it’s all about trusted service, with unmatched scalability, security and availability, that’s why customers are using their System z infrastructure as the base."

Analytics is another key area. With 80% of the world’s corporate data residing or originating on mainframes, why risk having to move that data, with the resulting networking costs, in order to run analytics when you can apply analytics to that core data there on the mainframe in real-time? Being able to gain instant insights within the current business transaction is what drives competitive advantage.

Ongoing relevance and continuous contribution

The focus on the future may come as some surprise to those who have written off the mainframe. And, of course, the mainframe has been written off more than once in its 50 year life. From the minicomputer revolution of the 1970s to the Unix wars of the 1980s and 1990s, to the dominance of Wintel in the new millennium, pundits have loved to knock IBM’s mainframe for being too costly or too proprietary.

IBM says it can understand why such accusations keep cropping up, but rejects the criticism nonetheless. "In terms of customer deployments, our System z business is not just stable, it’s growing " Steven Dickens, an IBM Cloud Advocate, told CBR.

"You can see it used in the core suites of the major UK banks, financial services companies, retailers and government departments. That traditional engagement continues – mainly because customers know there really isn’t anything else fit for the purposes they have in mind.

"People continue to find new and valuable things to do with mainframes. We are seeing huge interest at the moment, for example, in software license consolidation, where organisations are looking to simplify their infrastructure and reduce cost by virtualising with System z. When I talk to a customer about what their real needs are, they don’t look at me in shock when I tell them what a mainframe can do to help with those needs. I get a look of real interest instead."

Read our exclusive E-zine and discover more about System Z…the platform for the modern world here.

Mainframe = reliable public cloud?

So if the 50-year landmark isn’t a time for looking back, it is a time for understanding the ongoing relevance of the evolving System/360-System/390-System z applications platform.

For Dickens, demand among senior IT professionals and business decision makers has rarely been stronger. "In many ways, the industry is swinging back to a mindset where the mainframe is the most appropriate platform."

Dickens believes that the promise of the cloud – a consolidation and convergence of IT resources into one bigger central facility – plays directly to the benefits of mainframe computing.

"If you’re looking to that central computing resource for secure, reliable, scalable support for mission-critical applications, I think you start to realise that the mainframe has the strengths that you need" Dickens explains.

"What’s really exciting to the many cloud service firms that have started to talk to us is the potential to start delivering a second wave of much more important applications, via cloud, backed up by the mainframe.

"In fact, I have just had a meeting with just such a company that sees the high transaction rates, high availability and high level of service the mainframe provides as the only option it really has to back up the public cloud business service it wants to launch."

The debate is no longer about the need to jettison ‘big tin’. Instead, it is about reframing the conversation about what the real needs of information technology in 2014 – and beyond – will be.

If you are looking for a platform that can deliver truly competitive cost of ownership for you, deliver real five nines availability, can scale as much as you want and which offers real ease of management, then the System z may well be the most appropriate solution to consider.

So where does the System z platform sit today? What role does it have within enterprise IT?

For Deon Newman the answer is clear. It continues, he says, to protect investments and to power the very latest business-critical applications. "When we launched the System/360, IBM’s [chairman and CEO] Thomas J Watson predicted that there would be a revolution in terms of computing in all sorts of fields – from business to science to government. That’s all come true," Newman says.

But what he also said was the mainframe was about protecting customer investments – those applications written for the System/360 50 years ago could still run today on System z.

DB2, Linux, Java on the mainframe, CICS – they have all played major, central roles, meanwhile, in the rise and stability of ecommerce. And it will be the power behind the next generation of cloud apps that are going to be a lot less like ‘Candy Crush’ and a lot more robust, powered by the kind of deep analytical insights you can get from this level of server.

So how should we look at the mainframe, 50 years on? It’s a lot less about a big birthday cake than about how essential this platform is to all of our lives – and the absolute commitment from IBM that it will continue to be.

System z Facts And Figures

* There are 59,000 Google searches performed per second all over the globe. Impressive – until you hear that IBM’s CICS transaction monitoring engine powers 1.1 million. In fact, the mainframe is reckoned to process 30 billion global business transactions every day.
* That number includes $6 trillion worth of credit card transactions per year.
* 80% of all the world’s corporate data resides in, or originates from, mainframes.
* The investment IBM put into getting the mainframe off the ground: $5bn in 1964 – equivalent to $37bn now.
* The System z of 2014 has 780,000 times more processing power than System/360, the first mainframe of 1964.
* 40% of all System z clients run Linux on the system.
* 92 of the world’s biggest 100 banks are IBM mainframe customers.
* To renew the mainframe every two years or so costs IBM at least $1bn in R&D – a research effort that is a big part of the 6,000 patents it racks up on average per year.


Get more interesting data about the mainframe’s achievements as an IT platform at

To help with our understanding of how you and your organisation see the potential of the Mainframe please take a moment to fill in our survey here.




Websites in our network
Select and enter your corporate email address Tech Monitor's research, insight and analysis examines the frontiers of digital transformation to help tech leaders navigate the future. Our Changelog newsletter delivers our best work to your inbox every week.
  • CIO
  • CTO
  • CISO
  • CSO
  • CFO
  • CDO
  • CEO
  • Architect Founder
  • MD
  • Director
  • Manager
  • Other
Visit our privacy policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications. Our services are intended for corporate subscribers and you warrant that the email address submitted is your corporate email address.