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Complete 360

After 45 years, innovation brings the mainframe full circle.

After 45 years, innovation brings the mainframe full circle.
Photography by Chip Williams

Q: Which mainframe technologies have you seen trickle down over the years?

A: I think the one that’s certainly most understood is this notion of virtualization, of being a highly shared resource among many users. A lot of younger folks remember the PC revolution, which was a single-user system. From day one the mainframe’s primary goal is being the ultimate shared resource. The notion being it would serve large customers and many users simultaneously. That design objective is still a key design objective today. The mainframe has many different applications and workloads are going on simultaneously, which is why the mainframe is so efficient and why we chose the original design point.

Q: Pundits predicted the mainframe’s demise in the ’90s. What would you say to them today?

A: The ’90s is when IBM made a huge change. Before then people would envision huge machines filling rooms with hardware and equipment. Those systems were designed using bipolar technology. There were alternate methods of computing coming. Systems using complementary metal-oxide semiconductor (CMOS) technology were cooler to run, took less space and they were less powerful, but people were envisioning clustering them together. We realized even though many key mainframe design attributes were important, we were getting to a position where we were 100 times more expensive than alternatives. We made a drastic switch to CMOS technology. In a small amount of time, we were producing CMOS systems that had the performance of the bipolar, except they were one-tenth of the cost, and took 100 times less power. They used the most advanced clustering technology, called Parallel Sysplex*, to put these smaller systems together and produce large systems. Parallel Sysplex continues to do that for customers today.

That inflection point is in many people’s minds. If we had stayed in the direction we were going, with that base technology, we could in fact have been history. We didn’t and it’s just one more example of making sure we make the right kind of changes to meet customer needs. The next generation of the System z platform is going to prove that one more time. We’ve taken a direction that will put us several years ahead of the industry, in the move to hybrid technologies, and will show how the mainframe is fleet of foot and able to change to meet needs.

Natalie Boike is a former IBM Systems Magazine managing editor.


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MAINFRAME > TRENDS > z/OS

Complete 360

After 45 years, innovation brings the mainframe full circle.

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