Mainframes Keep Things Going

While many of us are in pandemic mode—hopefully most people who CAN work remotely ARE working remotely. Unfortunately, some folks have lost their jobs at least temporarily, and are hopefully receiving financial assistance from one or more levels of government. And luckily for all of us, a pandemic does not stop others—from doctors and nurses to grocery store clerks and gas station attendants—from going to work. For the most part, people are staying home, and relying on the global financial apparatus to keep working with little to no hands-on intervention.

But what does that actually mean? For starters, think about the things that you CAN and NEED to do during a pandemic—specifically one like this during which most businesses are closed. I’m talking about things like going out to buy food, gassing your car, seeking emergency treatment at a hospital, and going to a COVID-19 testing facility if you’re worried that you have the relevant symptoms.

In all cases, you’re pretty much sure that you’re accessing a mainframe system when you pay for those goods and/or services. If you’re making a purchase of any sort, you’re almost certainly running one or more transactions on one or more mainframe systems, for example, the bank’s mainframe and the crdit card company’s mainframe). If you’re obtaining or applying for medical services without payment, there’s still a pretty good chance that your information is being accessed in some way on a mainframe system.

So what? How does that matter during a pandemic? Well, mainframe systems were designed from the ground up to provide computing excellence in the areas of performance, capacity, transaction throughput, reliability, flexibility, security, and even cost. Again, so what? What that means is that you need fewer support resources to maintain a mainframe system than you do for an equivalent mass of distributed servers – less personnel.

Where a datacenter filled with servers might occupy one or more floors in a building, and typically require an on-site IT support team on site in three shifts, a mainframe datacenter may only require one person in three shifts. Most or all of the mainframe support can be remote, meaning there are no servers to unplug from the network and no new servers to install, etc. Now to be fair, ALL datacenters contain rows of servers, including mainframe datacenters; I’m just talking about those servers dedicated to business-critical transaction processing.

In terms of reliability, most financial services’ mainframe systems are mission-critical, and are configured for up-time of 99.999% (five nines reliability) which means a downtime of about five minutes in a year. In fact, there are some systems in Germany that have run for six years with no downtime. And then there’s the example of a data center in Japan that was struck by an earthquake that was strong enough to destroy all of its x86 machines. The mainframe apparently fell on its side but continued to work.

During a time of pandemic, it’s comforting to know that the backbone of society – the ability of people and corporations to access and spend money when and where needed, no matter what – is safeguarded by the most robust computing platform in the history of computing – the IBM mainframe. We can count on those things to keep running and to help keep us going no matter how long this darn thing lasts.

In addition to the planning, development and management of the Planet Mainframe blog, Keith is a marketing copywriting consultant where he provides messaging for corporate and partner products and solutions.

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