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- Major Northeast University

Do mainframes still matter? They network the Enterprise.

With Cloud computing a hot topic, do mainframes still matter to Enterprise IT departments? You bet.

If you ask the average person on the street about mainframe computing, you know what you’re generally going to get: Either a blank stare, or a description of a room-filling behemoth from fifty years ago. In fact, with the rise over the past decade of distributed computing and the recent surge in popularity of Cloud computing as a hot topic, it’s perhaps easy to understand why many people perceive mainframes going the way of the dinosaur. When it comes to the needs of Enterprise-level business, however, mainframes do indeed still matter — and here’s three reasons why.

1. Ultra-High Scalability

Increasing numbers of people are online, at increasing speeds, using increasing bandwidth to make increased requests of the Enterprise — credit card giant Visa, for example, handles 145,000 transactions EVERY SINGLE SECOND. It’s imperative that governments, universities, and commercial businesses of all sizes be able to keep up with this growth in demand — and the number of smaller servers that would be required to do it just aren’t feasible. On the other hand, one modern mainframe can not only run its own environment, but also virtualize hundreds or even thousands of more pedestrian servers — all at the same time. Think about that for a second. Have an explosive growth in user activity? Which feels more scalable to you — adding another thousand individual boxes, or one more mainframe?

There are also technical considerations that make the mainframe a more scalable platform. Although every machine is a little different based on the needs of the company ordering it, it’s safe to say that mainframes have many, many more CPUs running simultaneously than do smaller boxes, as well as much more available memory. What this means in scalability terms is that the mainframe has power where it needs it, when it needs it, with much fewer complications than trying to move workloads around thousands of smaller servers.

2. High Security

Modern mainframes have security built into them from the ground up, both in the operating system and through cryptographic hardware acceleration. That kind of security is necessary when you consider the primary users of mainframe technologies: Governments, universities, and large-scale enterprises like banks, insurance companies, etc. — all of whom have a critical requirement to keep user and internal data protected at once protected but also highly retrievable. At the kind of high-demand loads we talked about in the first point, you’ll begin to see the daunting nature of that task when you realize, for example, that all of those hundreds of thousands of requests that VISA processes every second have to be both encrypted and decrypted in real time — i.e., at a speed that won’t be noticeable to those hundreds of thousands of simultaneous users. It’s a task that the lower-powered servers aren’t quite up to — but one which built-in hardware acceleration of the encrpytion and decryption processes help the mainframe excel at.

Compounding the need for the kinds of highly-secure systems that mainframes represent are the very nature of the entities that are likely to use it — that is, the governments, universities and large corporations we mentioned earlier. Because of their size and the nature of the data that they store and process, these entities are ever in the crosshairs when it comes to hackers deciding who they’d like to target. Because of that constant targeting, and the sensitive nature of the data they protect, once again it’s up to the advanced security features of mainframes to carry the day.

3. Highly Maintainable

This almost follows from our first premise. If you were the head of an IT department tasked with maintaining servers for your large company, which would you prefer: To maintain thousands of smaller servers, or to maintain the one mainframe system that does the same amount of work? The answer, of course, is to maintain just the one server. Along with that comes a host of attendant benefits. You’ll need less staff to maintain just the mainframe, of course, which saves your company money right off the bat. But one mainframe also takes up far less physical space than a thousand smaller servers, of course, and also uses less power — making its footprint both physically and environmentally smaller than that host of smaller servers. You’ll also have less to monitor for potential problems, as well as easier access to performance statistics showing you where your system is fine and where it might need a little help.

Of course, there are many other reasons why Enterprise-level IT shops still prefer the mainframe, and will for a long time. There are also tools available for mainframe operators and administrators to make managing their system a whole lot easier — tools like ERQ, which eases user management on the mainframe. IF you’re curious about ERQ or any other software for the Enterprise, get ahold of us and we’ll help you take it for a free trial.

Because yes, mainframes still matter — and so does managing them.

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