Mainframe computers perform complex and critical computing in large corporations and governments across the world. Mainframe machines are fast, smart, and capable of the advanced computing necessary to our generation of corporate IT infrastructure and business goals.
The emergence of newer computing technology has not killed demand for mainframes, as they offer unique benefits that make them one of the most reliable business computing solutions.
Let us look at the features that make mainframes a preferred computing platform, and also a few of their drawbacks.
Advantages of mainframe computing
High-level computing: One of the main characteristics of mainframe computers is their ability to process data and run applications at high speeds. Business computing requires high-speed input/output (I/O), more than raw computing speed. Mainframes effectively deliver it. Further, as business computing also demands wide bandwidth connections, mainframe design balances I/O performance and bandwidth.
Increased processing power: Mainframe computers are supported by large numbers of high-power processors. Moreover, unlike other computers, mainframes delegate I/O to hundreds of processors, thus confining the main processor to application processing only. This feature is unique to mainframes and makes them superior in processing.
Virtualization: A mainframe system can be divided into logical partitions (LPARs, also known as virtual machines). Each LPAR can run a server. Thus a single mainframe machine can do the work of a “server farm” that employs scores of servers built on some other platform. As all these virtual machines run on a single processor in a single box, mainframes effectively eliminate the need for a lot of other hardware.
Reliability, availability, and serviceability (RAS): The RAS characteristics of a computer have often been some of the most important factors in data processing. Mainframe computers exhibit effective RAS characteristics in both hardware and software.
Mainframe systems are reliable because they can detect, report, and self-recover from system problems. Furthermore, they can recover without disturbing the entire working system, thus keeping most applications available.
The serviceability of mainframes means they make it relatively easy to detect and diagnose problems, making it easy to fix problems in a short time and with little downtime.
Security: As mainframes are designed specifically for large organizations where the confidentiality of data is critical, mainframe computers have extensive capabilities for securely storing and protecting data. They provide secure systems for large numbers of applications all accessing confidential data. Mainframe security often integrates multiple security and monitoring services: user authentication, auditing, access control, and firewalls.
High-end scalability: The scalability of a computing platform is its ability to perform even as processors, memory, and storage are added. Mainframe computers are known for their scalability in both hardware and software. They easily run multiple tasks of varying complexity.
Continuing compatibility: Continuing compatibility is one of the popular characteristics of mainframe computers. They support applications of varying ages. Mainframe computers have been upgraded many times, and continue to work with many combinations of old, new, and emerging software.
Long lasting performance: Mainframe computers are known for their long-lasting performance. Once installed, mainframe systems work for years and years without any major issues or downtime.
Disadvantages of mainframe computing
One of the prominent drawbacks of mainframes is their cost. Hardware and software for mainframes are clearly expensive. However, compared to the cost of other routes to security, IT management, virtualization, etc., the cost of mainframes is significantly less.
Secondly, mainframe hardware occupies more space than other computers. That large space might be a constraint for small establishments. But that problem is not so severe as it once was. Compared to earlier machines, today’s mainframes are small.
Finally, one needs high-end skills to work with mainframe computers. You cannot operate a mainframe environment without specific training. However, as one skilled administrator can serve a large group of mainframe users, using mainframes significantly reduces people-costs and thus offers a significant staffing advantage.