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Mainframes (often colloquially referred to as "big iron"[1]) are powerful computers used primarily by corporate and governmental organizations

for critical applications, bulk data processing such as census, industry and consumer statistics, enterprise resource planning, and financial transaction processing. The term originally referred to the large cabinets that housed the central processing unit and main memory of early computers. Later the term was used to distinguish high-end commercial machines from less powerful units. Most large-scale computer system architectures were firmly established in the 1960s and most large computers were based on architecture established during that era up until the advent of Web servers in the 1990s. (The first Web server running anywhere outside Switzerland ran on an IBM mainframe at Stanford University as early as 1991. See History of the World Wide Web for details.) There were several minicomputer operating systems and architectures that arose in the 1970s and 1980s, which were known alternately as mini-mainframes or minicomputers; two examples are Digital Equipment Corporation's PDP-8 and the Data General Nova.. (UNIX arose as a minicomputer operating system; Unix has scaled up over the years to acquire some mainframe characteristics[citation needed].) Many defining characteristics of "mainframe" were established in the 1960s, but those characteristics continue to expand and evolve to the present day.

Mainframe computer
Definition
A data processing system employed mainly in largeorganizations for various applications, including bulk data processing, process control, industry and consumerstatistics, enterprise resource planning, and financial transaction processing. Mainframes use proprietary operating systems, most of which are based on Unix, and a growing number on Linux. Over the years they have evolved from being room-sized to networked configurations of workstations and servers that are an extremely competitive and cost effective platformsfor e-commerce development and hosting. Mainframes are so called because the earliest ones were housed in largemetal frames.

What is a Mainframe?
Definition from SDS Mainframes used to be defined by their size, and they can still fill a room, cost millions, and support thousands of users. But now a mainframe can also run on a laptop and support two users. So today's mainframes are best defined by their operating systems: Unix and Linux, and IBM's z/OS, OS/390, MVS, VM, and VSE. Mainframes combine four important features: 1) Reliable singlethread performance, which is essential for reasonable operations against a database. 2) Maximum I/O connectivity, which means mainframes excel at providing for huge disk farms. 3) Maximum I/O bandwidth, so connections between drives and processors have few choke-points. 4) Reliability--mainframes often allow for "graceful degradation" and service while the system is running.

What is a Mainframe?
By Mike Over the past couple of years, I have had more email then I can answer regarding "What is a mainframe?" Mostly from students and newbies to our chosen profession as a mainframe systems programmer. It was once defined that a mainframe, was a room or more of computer equipment. To describe a mainframe as a host system whose OS origins predate the PC and primarily used a text dumb terminal model for user interaction. That is no longer the case in the general sense of the words. Yes, mainframes can still occupy a room full of equipment and cost million of dollars and support thousands of users. Today, a mainframe can also run in a laptop and support only a couple of users. I would define a mainframe today as a operating system. Namely, IBM's z/OS MVS/ESA (OS/390), VM/ESA & VSE/ESA. All are considered as a mainframe operating system in the old sense of the word. Some people may argue that UNIX / LINUX is a mainframe operating system. In the true sense, they are a mainframe operating systems. The mainframe operating system can support the UNIX operating system, known as USS (UNIX System Services) from IBM, also true of LINUX. UNIX / LINUX can have OS/390 run on it powered

by INTEL chips. So, the concept of a mainframe is a room full of equipment is not true any more. A mainframe, these days can be no larger then your desktop! For purposes of this website, we will define a mainframe as one that runs, z/OS (OS/390 or MVS), Linux, VM and VSE, in today's environment, not yesterdays. It's time to move on...

Mainframes combine three important features:


1) Maximum reliable single-thread performance: Some processes, such as the merge phase of a sort/merge (sorting can be subdivided...) MUST be run single thread. Other operations (balancing b-trees, etc) are single thread and tend to lock out other accesses. Therefore, single thread performance is critical to reasonable operations against a DataBase (especially when adding new rows). 2) Maximum I/O Connectivity: Mainframes excel at providing a convenient paradigm for HUGE disk farms; While SAN devices kind of weaken this to some degree, SAN devices mimic the model of the Mainframe in connectivity "tricks" (at least internally). 3) Maximum I/O Bandwidth: Despite the huge quantities of drives that may be attached to a mainframe, the drives are connected in such a way that there are very few choke-points in moving data to/from the actual processor complex. All system architectures are best at different jobs; Each is a set of compromises. Mainframes are more expensive because the compromises are less, well, compromised. The CPU performance is not always greater (in MIPS) than other processes, but the actual priority here is not raw performance but reliability. Mainframes, due to their great cost (and trouble in amortizing this across outages) often allow for "graceful degradation" and servicing while the system is running. While this is not a universal trait, it's interesting to see this priority setting the line in the sand between performance / price. There is a useful writing at www.redbooks.ibm.com that has an appendix relating to the architectural differences between Intel processors and the S/390 engines. It's about Linux for the S/390 and refers to the various distributions. I found it quite edifying.

John R. Campbell IBM Main Discussion Group