Do mainframe computers still exist?

Mango the Fruitarian September 2, 2010
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I’m getting a little nostalgic here, as I used to work on large IBM mainframes. 370/115 being the first back in the mid 70s, then 4341s, 4381, and a 3090 or 2 toward the end of the 1980s. They ran DOS/VS(E) and VM/CMS & MVS.

Toward the end of my career, we had IBM PC/RTs using the latest RISC technology, and I envisioned mainframes one day being a thing of the past. I also worked on Digital Vax machines, Primes and several other brands.

My question is, does anything like this still exist? Nowadays, my laptop is 10,000 times faster & smaller than the top of the range back in those days, and likely 10000 times more capacity, too.

If they still exist, how have they evolved, and are they still so much more incredibly fast than PCs? Or commercially, what advantages do they have over networks of modern laptops or PCs?

  1. WA3ERQ
    February 5, 2011 at 6:25 am

    Mango, I've always thought the same after growing up learning Basic, then COBOL/JECL using keypunch cards then going to Computer Learning Center for Operations on an IBM-360/370 using tape drives and the HUGE Winchester drives where we had to change the platters. From what a close friend told me and one of the other responders to this thread, is that several programs were written for mainframes and it would be too expensive to rewrite them for PC's/networks. Also, the bus speeds of a PC are far from a mainframe and I believe this is one of the many advantages of the mainframe. I think you will agree that having a TB of storage was extreme.

    • Brentirving67
      June 20, 2011 at 11:22 am

      Google exists. Just type cray computers into your Google search bar and you will see they still sell mainframe computers, running a Cray/Linux environment.

  2. Fred
    December 28, 2010 at 7:56 pm

    Linux on zSeries hardware is slow, painful to administer, buggy, and at least 10 years behind AIX or Solaris. IBM mainframers live in batch processing land and believe the through put they get from zOS and CP's equates equally to Linux guests running under zVM on IFL's. I can tell you without a doubt that is NOT true. IBM is lying when they tell you the zSeries IFL's are super computer performers. Do not believe it.

  3. MikeH
    September 17, 2010 at 8:23 pm

    As stated before IBM now has the zSeries 'mainframes'. They are much smaller than before and consume way less power. They are much more capable now and can run Java and C on them, can host Web apps as well legacy systems. Their strength is the massive scalability and unbridled raw processing power. They can process tens of thousands of transactions per second; they can grind through and update databases with many millions of records v quickly and they have redundant hardware giving them the magic 999.99% reliability (equates to 5 minutes downtime per year). This means they virtually NEVER fail. The only time they are 'down' is when the engineers bring them down for maintenance. Eat your heart out Windows !!

  4. Oron Joffe
    September 17, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Mango, you asked about Cray. Yes, they still exist (, still make supercomputers and in fact I saw an item in the news just a couple of days ago saying they have just announced a new system which, guess what, is the fastest in the world. They achieve the high performance essentially by clustering hundreds or thousands of processors.

  5. Rajensen088
    September 17, 2010 at 4:31 pm

    I started in IT in the 1960's working with an old Honeywell system with punched cards, three tape drives minimal storage capabilites and an enormous memory capacity of 8K. We wrote all our programs in Cobol. The last mainframe I worked on was an IBM 370 series programmed in Easytrieve, some Cobol and mostly CSP. I retired after the company I worked for was taken over in a corporate merger. Last I heard the mainframe was still there as the legacy programs were still being rewritten in C++ in an effort to make the dinosaur extinct. The problem is that the vast library of softare with all its complexities are difficult to transition out of and the scheduled date of extinction was at least five years over the estimated extinction date and way over budget. Ahh the memories

  6. Martyn
    September 17, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Mainframes are so robust that one of several I use has not been rebooted for more than 3 years despite a hard disk cabinnet power supply catching fire. The mainframe simply complained that some disk storage was not responding and with the fire put out and a new power supply plugged in everything was back to normal without any loss of data. Obviously it does not use a UNIX based OS.

    • Anonymous
      February 14, 2011 at 7:54 pm

      Yes they do, Unix was designed for smaller Mainframes. Unix is now a standard for larger computers systems.

  7. Draano
    September 13, 2010 at 1:10 pm

    IMHO, the distributed environment is still way behind the mainframe from a corporate computing perspective. Here's a nice doc that sums up some of the advantages:
    Further, Gartner Group, a widely respected research firm, still gives the TCO edge to the so-called dinosaurs:

    That said, it's hard for the big-iron folks in the US to find work, as much of the support for US firms is being done in less expensive locales, e.g., Brazil, Argentina, Ireland, Kiev, Singapore and India.

  8. Aa A
    September 11, 2010 at 3:41 pm

    Yes, the Mainframes still do exist. Good News is that you cannot eliminate Mainframes from existing. Reason being Mainframes are the Systems on which almost every Company is managing all of its daily transactions which are huge in number. Also, that's the only available system which can manage it cost effectively with astonishing performances. There do not exist anything which can replace Mainframes. For more information on Mainframes you can refer wikipedia's pages.

  9. metahawk
    September 6, 2010 at 3:56 pm

    When I left a large UK high street bank 5 years ago they still used a Hitachi/IBM mainframe using JES2/3 under MVS. They also had a System 36 running. That should bring back a few memories!!

  10. Maxfoll
    September 6, 2010 at 3:10 pm

    Hello, I live in Rome, Italy, 30 years in EDP, beginning as Mainframe HW technician.
    It's not only a matter of foundation or legacy code..
    The Mainframe environment is free of hackers, virus etc., and its O.S. is much too stable and reliable than any other (you can run a Mainframe for YEARS without having to reboot it.. UNIX/Linux simply can't, not to mention Windows..). Yes you can have your 'HomeBanking' that is server-based, but your money are riskless checked and computed by a Mainframe (I don't know any bank who don't run a Mainframe for official data, at least here in Italy). The same for any Agency, Corporate, Governative office who have (real) critical data or processing whose security is of primary importance. Moreover present Mainframe are since long no more as big as one can see in old movies.. they also took advantage from miniaturization and integration, using monolithic CPU's like PC's and Servers. Probably the word 'end' for Mainframes will be written when other Platform/O.S. will became as stable and reliable than Mainframe has proven to be in the last five decades.

    • Anonymous
      September 6, 2010 at 8:29 pm

      Most mainframes use a variant of UNIX, which is vary vulnerable to being hacked and to Viruses/Malware. The first computers to get hacked were mainframe computers. The Creaper virus was writen in the 70's to prove this fact.

      • Maxfoll
        March 3, 2011 at 5:28 pm

        As much as I know, IBM's z/OS, that is the OS for larger Mainframes, is not UNIX-based. The same for others, e. g. Fujitsu OSD (formerly Siemens BS2000) , that I know very well. Obviously every code is potentially hackerable, but the overwhelming majority of hackers in the world are Windows or Unix/Linux addicted. Very few, if any, true reports about Mainframe-related frauds (maybe the 'zwarma' bank round-off of the 70's.. not yet assured if true or legend!)
        The absolute reliability of the couple Mainframe-OS is undeniable.. I think this aspect, together with some difficulties in code migration, are some of the reason so Mainframes are still between us.

  11. Charloub
    September 4, 2010 at 12:04 am

    Gosh - My husband used to work for Honeywell - back in the day of raised flooring, special air conditioning and punch cards. I have more power on my desktop then he had in a full computer room then.

    • Flyrv9
      February 27, 2011 at 10:33 pm

      I also used to work for Honeywell in Phoenix AZ where they built Mainframes. I worked there from 1980 - 89 as a Large Systems Field Engineer. I worked on several mainframe models and all the associated peripherals.

  12. Misitio
    September 3, 2010 at 11:11 pm

    I'm not a programmer and my wasn't in the IT sector. As a power user and manager, I was however part of the team that automated our unemployed program in Alaska. We still use a mainframe along with servers and everything in between. For many of us, we've of the opinion that, for the most part, data is considered more secured in a mainframe database. Mainframe languages and the tools to test the programming have evolved so skilled mainframe programmers who also have web skills are hard to find.

  13. Mango Wodzak
    September 3, 2010 at 10:22 pm

    So does that mean all those operating systems I remember so nostalgically are gone too? the VM/CMS and 370 Assembler of IBM mainframe fame? and what about the supercomputers of days gone by? the Crays and such? I recall when they were the fastest computers in the world, with speeds measured in megaflops.. do such specifically number crunching machines still exist, or have modern pcs put them to shame? do machines ever get classified in terms of megaflops anymore?

    • Richard Carpenter
      September 6, 2010 at 1:18 am

      VM/CMS has evolved in to z/VM. Also one of the worlds faster computers, if not the fastest, The ORNL Juagar --

      These machines are measured in Petaflops today

  14. Ed Patience
    September 3, 2010 at 10:10 pm

    Take a look at Mainframes are alive and well. Way too much investment in VSE or MVS based apps for them to disappear.

    And while IBM gets the bulk of its revenue from services, "Big Iron" still commands a good portion of its revenue stream.

  15. Agro42
    September 3, 2010 at 10:09 pm

    We're still using a mainframe at the Clark County School District (Las Vegas) where I work. We have a mixed environment with Windows and Netware servers, a Sun Server, many pcs and all sorts of other tech. We "can't" migrate off the frame easily due to the decades worth of legacy systems and data that are still on there. The Sun server is where the frame code is slowly migrating to, but this process has been going on for some years now.
    It's difficult to compare speeds between the frame and the servers or the pcs since for the most part, they run different kinds of apps, but since the big iron tech has stayed relatively static for at least the past decade while servers and pcs are following Moore's Law, I'd guess that the speed advantage for the frame is pretty much gone by now.
    The only advantage the frame has here over the servers and pcs is that none of our servers or pcs will open for reading or editing a 2gb text file. No problem on the frame side though.

    • Anonymous
      September 6, 2010 at 1:32 am

      Agro42, You need to be very careful about the info you give about your employer. It is a huge security risk, hackers use the kind of info you have given to footprint the network.

  16. Dfreeman
    September 3, 2010 at 9:53 pm

    Ladies and Gentlemen,
    Mainframes are still alive and kicking! They are still in operation in government, banking and telecommunications operations. One of the main reasons being they are still around is that most of the applications that are still in use today are written in foundation and legacy code. (ie. fortran, cobol, etc.. I'm showing my age here!)
    These mainframes will possibly be extinct in another 10 to 20 years. Only companies that have started in the last 15 to 20 years are not or no longer using mainframes.
    So, yes the big, noisy, temperamental metal bears are still around.

  17. Kendall Kinnear
    September 3, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    IBM sells several mainframes a year in the zSeries line running z/OS (which is an evolution of the operating systems you mentioned) and Linux. Most of these mainframes are running hundreds if not thousands of virtual servers. Josh mentioned several advantages. Another advantage is improved utilization of resources such as memory and processor. Many network servers are running at under 20% utilization which is a waste of money.

  18. Anonymous
    September 3, 2010 at 7:37 pm

    Yes they are, IBM is still selling Mainframes servers. A lot of companies still use a central mainframes for data processing, etc. IBM zEnterprise Systems:

    They are extremly fast, and can painfully outpreform a PC. The advantage of a mainframe over a cluster (computers networked together processing one task) is maintence. That said a huge Cluster of Linux/Unix machines will outpreform a Mainframe. That said, alot of the supercomputers today are Linux/Unix Clusters.

  19. Josh Fox
    September 3, 2010 at 5:07 am

    I thick mainframes have been replaced with rack mounted servers by now, or at least I haven't seen or heard of them being in use or available for sale. As far as the advantages over networked desktops, most hardware used in these servers are built for capacity, reliability, and performance. They're designed specifically for always-on usage and heavier than normal loads. Although, as far as storage space, you'll find the same as you would on desktop PCs, just more reliable.

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