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Happy 50th Birthday Mainframe!

Happy 50th Birthday Mainframe!

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It’s a word that gets used frequently in Hollywood blockbuster films to describe some kind of all seeing centralised computer resource.  The “mainframe”, or at least IBMs most popular incarnation of it, is 50 years old today.

For me, the underlying architecture of the IBM mainframe, System/360, and the subsequent iterations (System/370, System/390, z/OS etc) is something I look back on with a little fondness as the platform represented the start of my commercial computing career.  Although I’d done around 7 years of programming before starting into the “real world” of computing, the System/370 world of VM, MVS and other IBM operating systems was the place I learned many skills that have started to become useful again today.

My career started in a bureau/consultancy service that managed CICS and DB2 applications for external and internal customers.  During my first 10 years of work I learned not only about the technical aspects and principles of developing multi-user systems, but more importantly, the processes involved in operating a bureau timeshare business.

Anyone who worked in the mainframe era will be aware that process was hugely important.  This included ensuring resources were adequately managed, charged and billed for, because computing time in those days was expensive.

The decline of the mainframe in the 1990’s reflects a trend that occurs in every industry, one of evolution, and we shouldn’t be worried by that.  Change is a good thing, after all.  However I feel fortunate to have been moulded by the principles the mainframe enforced as we are starting to see these requirements coming back in the form of cloud computing, which for me has quite an appeal.

The Architect’s View

The mainframe represents one of the great technology developments in IT.  As this article on The Register shows, the mainframe is far from dead and has a continuing (although niche) value in many large businesses.  Cloud Computing is frequently described as being “mainframe-like”, which is true in many operational if not technical respects.  No doubt the mainframe will continue to outlive all of us; I’m sure there will be someone around in another 50 years time writing about the 100th anniversary.

Featured Image: Bundesarchiv, B 145 Bild-F038812-0014 / Schaack, Lothar / CC-BY-SA

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Copyright (c) 2009-2014 – Chris M Evans, first published on http://blog.architecting.it, do not reproduce without permission.

About Chris M Evans

Chris M Evans has worked in the technology industry since 1987, starting as a systems programmer on the IBM mainframe platform, while retaining an interest in storage. After working abroad, he co-founded an Internet-based music distribution company during the .com era, returning to consultancy in the new millennium. In 2009 Chris co-founded Langton Blue Ltd (www.langtonblue.com), a boutique consultancy firm focused on delivering business benefit through efficient technology deployments. Chris writes a popular blog at http://blog.architecting.it, attends many conferences and invitation-only events and can be found providing regular industry contributions through Twitter (@chrismevans) and other social media outlets.
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