Back in 1991, famed computer pundit
Stewart Alsop claimed that the last mainframe would be unplugged inside of 5
years. He wasnt alone in that prediction. Many analysts and pundits looked at
the power of the mainframes back then and the rapid growth of PC-based networks
and wrote the epitaph for the mainframe. But its 15 years later and mainframes
are still happily humming along as if noone told them theyre not supposed tobe around anymore.
Computers based on the x86
architecture grow more and more powerful with each passing quarter. Just
forgetting for a second whats in the server room, the computer that sits under
your desk is probably a lot more powerful than some mainframe computers thatwere sold for millions of dollars 10 years ago.
When I was a PC Analyst for the local
county police department we had an IBM 4381 in our computer room. The county
had paid several million dollars for it on a county bond issue in the mid 80s.
By 1991, when we moved to a new police headquarters, we had to pay someone to
come take it away for scrap. And the bond was still not paid off. The 486s we were starting to roll out to officers
were more powerful than that machine. It seemed as if that was the way thingswere going to go. Mainframe computers were the dinosaurs of the 90s.
Yet today, theyre still around. Why?
In an age of dual and quad-core CPUs, blade servers, and the ongoing war
between Window, Linux, and Macs, why are people still paying huge bucks formainframes?
Because they work.
Well, lets also not forget the fact
that IBM has gone out of its way to make sure that mainframes stay relevant. By
incorporating Linux virtual machines inside of mainframe systems among otherthings, IBM has in effect created blade servers without the blades.
Beyond that however, mainframes are
solid and secure. Theyre also designed in such a way that theyre optimized
for multiple transactions which is increasingly what blade servers and clusters
are being built for. Mainframes have already answered the question that thesenew technologies are supposed to be.
IBM doesnt break out mainframe
revenue anymore but according
to ZDNet, analysts estimate IBM takes in about $10 billion dollars from its
mainframe business. Thats hardware, software, and services together. Not to
mix apples and oranges, but Apples revenue last quarter was a little over $4
billion. The Mac business only made up about 55% of that. That
means that over the course of the year, IBM makes about as much money inmainframes as Apple makes in Macs.
The mainframe is kind of like the old
man from the Monty Python And The Holy Grail Bring Out Your Dead
skit. As much as analysts and pundits (not to mention PC Vendors) would love
for you to toss out your mainframe, if you listen closely enough you can
probably hear it saying But Im not deadyet!