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Can the mainframe remain relevant in the cloud and mobile era?

1/04/2014 by


The CICS (Customer Information Control System) application server, which runs on the IBM mainframe, processes 1.1m transactions per second, significantly more than the number of Google searches. Yet the mainframe has remained largely unfashionable.

On 7 April 1964, IBM unveiled its first mainframe, the System/360. Today, 80% of the world’s corporate data is still managed by mainframes.

IBM Hursley laboratory director Rob Lamb says: “There are 6,900 tweets, 30,000 Facebook likes and 60,000 Google searches per second.” The mainframe CICS runs 1.1m transactions per second, which equates to 10bn per day.

These numbers illustrate the prevalence of the IBM mainframe, which for the last half a century has been the technological workhorse enabling government policy and business processes.

It has also kept up with the times, supporting modern programming environments based on Java and C++. More than a quarter of the mainframe processing capacity that IBM ships is used to run Linux. In fact, server consolidation has been one of the big drivers for the mainframe, especially given that the latest zEnterprise mainframe can run 100,000 virtual Linux servers.

Lamb says: “We have perpetually managed to continue to reduce the cost of computing associated with running the mainframe.”

The modern zEnterprise is about the size of a large American fridge. Behind the two sleek black doors sit four processing units configured with a total of 3Tbytes of shared RAM, two laptop workstations for admin use, UPSs and networking. Only the SAN is external. There are multiple levels of redundancy and the mainframe can be configured while it is running.

A platform for modern times

Lamb says the mainframe has kept up with shifts in computing paradigms and application systems, such as the move to the web and mobile technology. “The platform is continually reinventing itself to remain relevant for cloud and mobile computing and to be able to run the most popular application server packages,” he says.

This means the mainframe is behind much of the technology in modern society. Lamb adds: “If you are using a mobile application today that runs a transaction to check your bank balance or transfer money from one account to another, there is a four in five chance that there is a mainframe behind that transaction.”

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