A mainframe is a large computer system that businesses and governments use to store, manage, and process their most important data. Because of their size and capabilities, mainframes are often called “mission-critical” systems. They play an essential role in the functionality of many companies and organizations. But what exactly is a mainframe, and what makes them so important? This guide will take a closer look at these giant machines and explain why they matter.

What Are Mainframe Systems?

A mainframe is a powerful computer used for applications that can’t have downtime, as any interruption would result in a significant financial loss. That’s why mainframes are built to be highly reliable and able to process vast amounts of data. Banks, governments, insurance companies, and other large organizations such as airlines and phone companies often use them.

A single mainframe can process around 2.5 billion transactions in 24 hours and store enormous amounts of data. The latest IBM mainframe models are even more effective as they can process trillion online transactions per day.  

Because of their size and power, mainframes are costly, and their price usually starts at around $250,000 and can go up to $4 million. 

As mainframes have become more powerful, their work’s scope also grows. Some are used for more complex applications, such as weather modeling and genetic sequencing.

How Does a Mainframe System Work

Hardware design of mainframe systems accounts for a significantly high number of operations per second. Processing power for these “big iron” machines is measured in MIPS or million instructions per second, which is to be expected as they need to be able to respond to inputs from millions of users simultaneously.  

They typically have multiple processors and a large memory capacity, allowing them to handle many tasks at once.

Mainframes also have extensive security features, which is why they are often used for sensitive data processing. In addition, mainframes are designed for high availability (HI), meaning they can continue operating even if one or more components fail. Currently, 71% of Fortune 500 companies use IBM mainframes.  

Mainframes may seem like complex machines with many impressive features, but at the end of the day, they are tools that allow us to process large amounts of data quickly and securely.

What Are the Benefits of Using a Mainframe Computer?

A mainframe, by definition, is a type of high-end computer used mainly by large organizations for critical applications. As such, it’s still considered a go-to choice for large companies. Here are just a few of the reasons organizations continue to use mainframes:

Mainframes can handle massive amounts of data. Thanks to their powerful processors and large memory capacity, mainframes can store and quickly process huge amounts of data. This is essential for organizations that rely on data-intensive applications, such as weather forecasting and financial analysis.

Mainframes are highly scalable. With the ability to add more processors and memory as needed, mainframes can easily keep pace with the growing demands of an organization. The scalability makes mainframes a sound investment for long-term use.

Mainframes are fault-tolerant. They are designed to minimize downtime in the event of a hardware or software failure. With built-in redundancy and failover capabilities, mainframes can keep mission-critical applications up and running even when there’s a problem.

Mainframes are secure. They use some of the most sophisticated security features, making them ideal for processing sensitive data. In addition, mainframes can be isolated from other systems to reduce security breach risk.

Mainframe computers offer a unique combination of power, scalability, availability, and security that is unmatched by other types of computers, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that so many organizations use them.  

What Are the Disadvantages of Using a Computer Mainframe?

While mainframes have many advantages, there are also some drawbacks to using this type of computer. Here are some of the disadvantages of using a mainframe:

Mainframes are expensive. Mainframes are complex machines with many features, making them quite costly. The initial purchase price of a mainframe can be hundreds of thousands of dollars, and the ongoing costs of running a mainframe can also be significant.

Mainframes require specialized hardware and software. To run a mainframe, you need specialized hardware and software. This can make finding the right equipment and trained personnel a challenge.

Mainframes can be difficult to manage and maintain. Mainframes are complex machines that require careful management and maintenance. If something goes wrong, fixing the problem can be very difficult (not to mention expensive).

How Has the Use of Mainframe Computers Changed Over Time?

The use of mainframe technology has changed dramatically over the past few decades. In the early days of mainframe computing, businesses used these massive machines to perform a limited number of tasks, such as payroll and inventory management. 

However, as mainframes became more powerful, they began to take on a wider range of functions. Today, businesses use mainframes for everything - from managing customer data to powering eCommerce sites. And as the internet of things continues to grow, mainframes will likely play an even more important role in our lives.

Are There Any Alternatives To Using a Mainframe Infrastructure?

Yes, there are several alternatives to using a mainframe. However, it's important to note that mainframes still offer some advantages over these other types of computers.  For example, mainframes are more powerful and scalable than other computing infrastructures. In addition, mainframes are designed to be highly available and secure. However, if you’re looking for something different, here are some of the most popular alternatives to a mainframe:

Client-Server Architecture 

Client-server architecture is a distributed computing model in which client computers request and receive data from server computers that manage resources for the user. This type of architecture is often used in business applications.

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is an internet-based infrastructure that delivers shared computer processing resources and data on demand. This type of computing is popular for web-based applications.

Grid Computing

Grid computing is a type of distributed computing that uses a network of computers to solve a single complex problem. It has many applications in scientific and engineering applications.

Mainframe Developer Responsibilities and Jobs

Computers with mainframe architecture require developers responsible for designing, developing, and testing software applications that run on mainframe computers. They also work closely with mainframe operators and administrators to ensure that their applications are compatible with the mainframe environment.

Job requirements for mainframe developers are extensive. You must have a strong understanding of mainframe architecture and operations and be skilled in programming languages such as COBOL, Java, and C++.

COBOL is an essential skill for anyone looking to develop mainframe software. It emerged for the first time in 1959, making it even older than C, a programming language that has been widely used since the 1970s. It’s a procedural, imperative, and object-oriented programming language that forms a foundation for the infrastructure of almost 30,000 companies.

What Is Mainframe’s Future?

While mainframes aren’t as prevalent as before, we’ve seen how indispensable they are in specific industries.  They’re not going anywhere anytime soon, and the demand for mainframe skills is only growing. A report by IBM found that 65% of organizations plan to increase or maintain their investment in mainframes over the next five years.

Such powerful machines are finding even more applications in data science or big data analytics fields. While only enterprises or well-funded projects can afford such hardware, having it at their disposal is perfect for various research projects, as mainframes can process information in real-time. 

It’s also important to note that mainframes account for around 6% of global IT spending, while it’s estimated that they handle 68% of the industry’s production workload.

The future of mainframes looks bright. Thanks to their power, extensibility, and dependability, mainframes will continue to be a vital part of the IT landscape.