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Technology / AI and automation


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.

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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.

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."

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CBR Staff Writer

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