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What Are Mainframes?

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  • Written By: David White
  • Edited By: Niki Foster
  • Last Modified Date: 17 March 2014
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Mainframes are very large computers that are built to be able to perform complex and critical applications. They are usually very large in both physical size and computational ability, and they can be some of the largest machines on the planet. However, given the continued drive toward greater computational muscle in a smaller physical package, many mainframes are not too much larger than desktop computers these days.

These large computers are designed to keep running with as little interruption as possible. They contain large numbers of self-maintenance features, including built-in security features and backup power supplies. Since mainframes are usually the most important computers in a company’s computational arsenal, they are routinely protected by multiple layers of security and power backup, both internal and external.

Among the self-protection measures commonly found in mainframes are an enhanced heat-protection mechanism. Since these computers run all day every day for years at a time, they naturally build up a large amount of heat that needs to be vented. The fans found in mainframes are some of the most effective in the business.

Because mainframes are at the top of the network system food chain, they routinely have the best and most up-to-date of everything, including processors, hard drives, video cards, network cards, and peripheral connections. With such a computer, which is designed to be super-fast, super-sleek, and super-powerful, read and write speeds have to be lightning-quick. Many have multiple processors as a result.

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One of the most important functions of a mainframe is to be able to host applications and work with multiple users simultaneously. Not all computers can handle this, so mainframes are very important in a company’s electronic design, especially its network design. Very often, they are at the heart of computer networks.

In today’s on-demand, Web-driven world, mainframes are playing an even more central role in providing — and controlling — access to and from networks. The number of users that can access this computer at one time is seemingly limitless. Mainframes in this environment are also designed to host Web-based applications.

Mainframes typically can run more than one operating system at a time as well. This comes in handy when a company is running a Web-based system whose users include practitioners of Mac OS, Linux, and Windows XP. It allows a company to avoid having to exclude users because of OS issues.

Larger mainframes are not always user-friendly, unless the user is the system administrator. These computers are designed to stay running, not to be available for users’ whims. However, the lack of approachability is more than made up for by their increased ability to keep running in situations that would likely disable other systems.

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anon169035
Post 20

Ok. Here's the truth about mainframes. I have been working with these wonderfully powerful machines for over 25 years. You can have an extremely rewarding career, if you do your homework.

First of all, a mainframe is extremely good at processing incredibly large amounts of data very quickly. While servers have typically grown up from single user systems that had multi-user capabilities slapped on, mainframes have had multi-user functionality at their core since April, 1964.

Second is that mainframes are extremely robust in their ability to provide RAS (reliability, availability, scalability). Reliability means that they are not as susceptible to hardware failures or badly written programs as servers. Hardware is highly redundant and has autonomic healing capabilities that servers just don't have.

Availability means that the system is there when users need it. Some mainframes run for years without needing to be IPLed (rebooted in server parlance). When they are IPLed, it is an extremely controlled event and is usually only needed for the most extreme reason. Individual address spaces or functions like CICS and DB2 need to be recycled from time to time to get new features or fixes in, but the operating system and the hardware are usually not impacted.

Scalability is my personal favorite. An application written to support a single user does not have to be rewritten to support 1,000 users. In fact, the more users an application has, the better the system generally runs.

Mainframes are big, powerful and very sexy machines. 70 percent of the world's data is housed in mainframe processing complexes. You don't have to have much more than a little bit of Windows or UNIX knowledge to work with servers, but you actually have to know what you are doing to work on a mainframe. It separates the adults from the kids and the wannabes real quick.

So go ahead and play with your GUI interfaces and your spinning logos that play cute tunes. I'll be in the data center making sure the mainframe is processing 20 billion financial transactions a day or the entire payroll for a 100,000 person organization or managing refugee care for hundreds of thousands of victims of a natural disaster somewhere.

By the way, the largest Massive Multiplayer Game Environments run on something called a "gameframe". You guessed it: it's a mainframe running Java or C++ on Linux. And it's making sure that Halo 3 and World of Warcraft provide gamers the silky smooth immersion experience they are paying for.

Remember: if you can lift it, it ain't a real computer.

anon137574
Post 17

mainframes are most likely the server of the company. they store data, backups and programs that can accommodate numbers of clients at once.

anon129579
Post 14

Can mainframes act as a server?

anon100174
Post 11

i need the complete material regarding mainframes.

anon100041
Post 10

i want to study mainframes. please help me out?

anon97785
Post 9

Mainframes are very large computers that are built to be able to perform complex and critical applications. Mainframes are usually very large in both physical size and computational ability. They can be some of the largest machines on the planet. However, given the continued drive toward greater computational muscle in a smaller physical package, many mainframes are not too much larger than desktop computers these days.

anon92622
Post 8

i want complete details of the main frames course.

anon80421
Post 5

whenever there are thousands line of a code,if there is an abend how to rectify the error?

caution: there is no display statement in the program that is there is no sysout.

anon11335
Post 2

to handle hundreds or thousands of connected users at one time, and sometimes to act as a server on a large network. ;-)

anon11017
Post 1

What are the main tasks of the mainframe?

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