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The Eternal Mainframe

timothy posted about 2 years ago | from the next-week-client-server-revisited dept.

Cloud 225

theodp writes "In his latest essay, Rudolf Winestock argues that the movement to replace the mainframe has re-invented the mainframe, as well as the reason why people wanted to get rid of mainframes in the first place. 'The modern server farm looks like those first computer rooms,' Winestock writes. 'Row after row of metal frames (excuse me—racks) bearing computer modules in a room that's packed with cables and extra ventilation ducts. Just like mainframes. Server farms have multiple redundant CPUs, memory, disks, and network connections. Just like mainframes. The rooms that house these server farms are typically not open even to many people in the same organization, but only to dedicated operations teams. Just like mainframes.' And with terabytes of data sitting in servers begging to be monetized by business and scrutinized by government, Winestock warns that the New Boss is worse than the Old Boss. So, what does this mean for the future of fully functional, general purpose, standalone computers? 'Offline computer use frustrates the march of progress,' says Winestock. 'If offline use becomes uncommon, then the great and the good will ask: "What are [you] hiding? Are you making kiddie porn? Laundering money? Spreading hate? Do you want the terrorists to win?"'"

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Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43508893)


thankyou for reading at -1.

Deep (3, Insightful)

roman_mir (125474) | about 2 years ago | (#43508903)

Wow, so deep. Computer is the Internet, Internet is the computer.

Mainframes are specialised equipment, server farms are almost generic computers with redundancies. The real difference is the cost. Today's server farms would cost many factors more if they were built with specialised mainframes, there is no other real difference, they are really there for the same purpose.

Re:Deep (5, Informative)

tarpitcod (822436) | about 2 years ago | (#43508935)

Right and there are some big differences:

Mainframe CPU's tend to have far more error detection and correction. They have safeguards against errors in data shuffling and computation inside the CPU itself. Mainframes tend to offer robust job control, by the time you add decent job control of the level that mainframes offer your network of workstations/servers starts getting complicated
Mainframes tend to offer decent encryption and security.

Can you do all these things on a pile of VM's? Sure. Is it cheaper - maybe. Is it fun to manage - not particularly.

For the point about giving everyone access to all your stuff? Let's see the author prove his point by posting all his personal details, address age, credit card numbers, ssn, medical records, tax returns and let's see how that works out for them..

Re:Deep (4, Interesting)

Trepidity (597) | about 2 years ago | (#43509037)

I agree these are all differences for a regular pile of VMs in a server room, but if you look at some of the more developed server farms, they do have a lot of the mainframe-like features, at least on the software side. Google, for example, has pretty full-featured job control layered on top of their server farm.


Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509511)

"Google, for example, has pretty full-featured job control layered on top of their server farm."

Google has never cared about errors.

Who gives a damn if what absolutely positively SHOULD have been the very first result is instead the fourth or the fifth result, or if it appears on page two of the results, or if it somehow magically disappears into the ether because commodity server #XJ42 in rack #43HB on aisle #521JJ in column #447F in building #QQZ1 in server farm #H61M happened to have crashed just as the query response was being assembled?

Especially if the query involved "Justin Bieber", "Lindsay Lohan", or "Natalie Portman Hot Grits".

IBM, on the other hand, has always cared about errors - has always, in fact, been FANATICAL about errors.

If you send a query to an IBM mainframe, then you're expecting umpteen-sigmas of confidence that the mainframe will actually be up and running, that you'll get an actual response, and that the response, when it finally arrives, will be 100% CORRECT.


Re:Deep (5, Interesting)

Ken Hall (40554) | about 2 years ago | (#43509365)

I work with mainframes for a living. Specifically, I work with Linux on IBM zSeries mainframe for a bank. The idea is the provide the software depth of Linux with the reliability of the zSeries hardware.

We get a fair amount of resistance from the Lintel bigots, mostly those who still think of the mainframe in 1980's terms. The current generation of mainframe packs a LOT of horsepower, particularly I/O capacity, in a relatively small box. It connects to the same storage and network as the Lintel servers do, but can one of those do 256 simultaneous DMA transfers? We don't sell the platform as a solution for everything, but we've done the TCO math and we're not that different from an Intel server farm once you factor in the external costs.

I periodically give a class to the Linux admins on the mainframe in general, Linux on z, and the differences between that and Linux on Intel. If you didn't know where to look, it would take you a while to figure out you're not on Intel anymore. Most of the attendees are surprised at what the current boxes are like.

This is not your fathers mainframe.

Re:Deep (3, Interesting)

ArsonSmith (13997) | about 2 years ago | (#43509513)

I build server farms specifically to suck data out of Mainframes and process it specifically because of the cost difference. It is nearly 100x the cost and still takes 10x longer to crunch, index and search 8PB of data on mainframe as it does in a comparatively free Hadoop cluster. The TCO was laughably different.

Re:Deep (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about 2 years ago | (#43509623)

You haven't tried the IBM kool-aid yet. Those people whose jobs currently rely on mainframe expertise are very happy with them. They do have better error-checking but everything else is at least an order of magnitude out of whack with commodity hardware price/performance, and in many cases, several orders. You can reduce some of the costs on their zSeries by buying specialised processors for DB2, Java, and Linux (~100K a pop) so you don't have to may for MIPS usage but the costs are still astronomical for the performance. If it was cost effective, don't you think Amazon would be running its cloud services on them?

Re:Deep (1)

Lennie (16154) | about 2 years ago | (#43509709)

AWS compute at least needs to run customer VMs, don't you think these people would like to be able to run their existing x86, euh amd64 applications ?

Google or maybe even Facebook would be a much better example, they have their own applications with source code which they can compile for the platform of their choice.

People currently seem more interrested in ARM processors than mainframes.

Re:Deep (1)

RocketRabbit (830691) | about 2 years ago | (#43509627)

I hear lots of numbers being thrown around by mainframe guys but unfortunately they always seem to tell only part of the story. This is a recurring theme.

256 simultaneous DMA transfers of what word length on how fast a bus?

Re:Deep (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509611)

For the point about giving everyone access to all your stuff? Let's see the author prove his point by posting all his personal details

{{citation needed}} Where does the author make that point, in your opinion? I think he's arguing against it.

Re:Deep (2)

hairyfeet (841228) | about 2 years ago | (#43509027)

Well last I checked, and its been awhile so it may have changed, the big difference (which also ramped up the price) is all the extra layers of error checking and failover in a mainframe so you absolutely can be 100% positive you are getting the right answer 100% of the time. which when you consider that they are often used for finances...yeah i can see why that would be of importance.

But that is why you have a lot more companies using server farms than using mainframes anymore, there is just more work that doesn't have to have five nines levels of precision and commodity hardware means that you can get some crazy levels of number crunching for cheap.

Re:Deep (3, Insightful)

swalve (1980968) | about 2 years ago | (#43509153)

That stuff is also in hardware, which is only beginning to happen in the commodity pc world.

For a certain type of workload, at a certain level of necessary uptime, mainframes start becoming cost effective. Fun things like where IBM will install as many CPUs as you want, but only charge you for their time when you use them. This can be very cost effective for businesses with seasonal volume shifts. At some point, paying IBM $1000 an hour for their support is cheaper than paying 20 creeps with greasy hair to change hard drives, stack servers into a rack and fuck up the rollout of new VMs. It's kind of like trucks versus trains. Each have their place, but neither is very good at emulating the upsides of the other.

Re:Deep (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about 2 years ago | (#43509177)

You can get the same precision and fault tolerance by using commodity hardware by running multiple jobs in parallel, but it's rarely required.

Re:Deep (2)

tarpitcod (822436) | about 2 years ago | (#43509245)

It's rarely required, until it is.

Re:Deep (1)

DarkOx (621550) | about 2 years ago | (#43509413)

That and its rarely done because frankly the typical LOB software developer does not know how to implement such things. Lets face it even the cheapest hardware is so good most of the time they don't need to. Its also true they should not have to. By the time someone is writing x = x * y; in Java or even C, other than being sensitive to data-type, will it overflow? is a float that is going to have precision truncated? etc; they ought to be able to depend on that working as expected.
The right place to deal with the issue really is in hardware or not at all.

Re:Deep (1)

ShanghaiBill (739463) | about 2 years ago | (#43509657)

You can get the same precision and fault tolerance by using commodity hardware by running multiple jobs in parallel, but it's rarely required.

It also rarely makes sense. If the parallel instances are running the same software, they will likely both make the same error, since 99.9% of reliability issues are in the software not the hardware. If you spend a million dollars on more robust hardware, and a million dollars on extra software testing (unit, integration and (especially) usability), the latter is orders of magnitude more likely to prevent a problem.

Re:Deep (2)

SuricouRaven (1897204) | about 2 years ago | (#43509051)

From a technical perspective, big difference. From a business perspective, not so much. The business side doesn't care about just how the technology is built. What matters is that mainframes and server farms are a black box in a company-controlled office built with company-controlled hardware where vast amounts of data are stored and processed. Centralisation and specialisation.

Re:Deep (1)

tverbeek (457094) | about 2 years ago | (#43509391)

Don't forget the low-cost dumb terminals – I'm sorry: "thin clients" – which are incapable of doing anything at all independently of the centrally-adminstered silicon. The computing environment I work in today is architecturally very similar to the one I started working in back in the mid-1980s.

Re:Deep (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about 2 years ago | (#43509637)

Ever check the cost of those 'low-cost' IBM terminals?

Re:Deep (2)

Emperor Shaddam IV (199709) | about 2 years ago | (#43509325)

Mainframes aren't so "specialized". Maybe you are confusing Mainframes with Supercomputers which tend to be much more specialized and focused towards scientific and research usage.

I worked on IBM big iron back in the day and a "mainframe" can run Linux Partitions as well as other mainframe OS's. Unix boxes aren't so generic either. A unix box running Linux is different than a Unix box running HP-UX or Solaris and requires some different sys-admin skills. There are other issues with shared library linking being different, different compiler's, different shells, etc.

MVS is now z/OS and it supports multiple programming languages - its not just your grandfather's COBOL anymore:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Z/OS [wikipedia.org]

Re:Deep (1)

roman_mir (125474) | about 2 years ago | (#43509519)

I said:

there is no other real difference, they are really there for the same purpose.


By 'specialised' I do mean they have more hardware built in to achieve higher levels of data throughput and error correction.

Re:Deep (1)

JWSmythe (446288) | about 2 years ago | (#43509685)

Is running Linux or Solaris really all that different?

    My resume has a long list of Unix type operating systems on it. With all of them, I see the common features, each with its eccentricities. The same can be said of only Linux.

    Set an IP on an interface. Some want /etc/sysconfig/network-scripts/ifcfg-* . Some want an entry in /etc/rc.d/rc.inet1.conf. Some want it written directly to /etc/rc.d/rc.inet1.

    I was writing a script to get information from a couple hundred servers. In them (mostly flavors of Linux, with some AIX). To just find the OS version, I had to check for the existence of about a dozen files. Sometimes they match /etc/*release* or /etc/*version*. Some had both to provide some sort of cross compatibility, but one was a lie and one was correct. Some give it up with uname, but most give a generic line.

root@web1:~# uname -a
Linux web1 3.2.29 #2 SMP Mon Sep 17 14:19:22 CDT 2012 x86_64 AMD FX(tm)-8120 Eight-Core Processor AuthenticAMD GNU/Linux

Most are pretty similar. cd changes directory. ls lists files. rm -rf / is usually a bad idea.

    Setting up a server to do common things usually has common methods.

    You can compile Apache in almost identical fashions on any of them. If you take the same version of Apache, and compile it with the same directory flags, everything will land in the same places.

    You can use a package manager to do it, but you'll have a headache of finding out what the package manager is for this kind of system, and then guessing "what directory does this distro put the conf file in?". On some you have to ask "Is it even called httpd.conf".

(dpkg,rpm, yum, slackpkg, ipkg, opkg, pkgadd, installp, etc)

(/usr/local/apache/conf/, /usr/local/apache2/conf/, /etc/apache/, /etc/apache2/, /etc/httpd/conf/, /etc/httpd/conf/conf.d/, /usr/pkg/etc/httpd/, /usr/local/etc/apache22/, /var/www/conf/, ""C:/Program Files/Apache Software Foundation/Apache2.2/conf", /etc/httpd/, /etc/conf.d/apache2, etc)

    Once you've worked with enough different Unix variants, you learn how to find what you're looking for. You'll know to curse various platforms for not including slocate. [finger pointing at AIX and Android], and make your own flat file of filenames (find / > ~/files.list).

    But with all those complaints, Unix is Unix is Unix, and you can use any of them once you realize that they're all almost identical.

    Mainframes are different creatures, very dependent on who the vendor was. Once you've locked in with a vendor, you're married to them for an awful long time. We have a mainframe team. They were kind enough to give me a mainframe account. I will happily admit, I don't know shit about using it. I can give them some advice on interoperability, but only from knowing the Unix side very well. I have a shell on the mainframe. I can't even attempt to do anything, but I do hope to sit down with the mainframe folks and learn some of it before the mainframe is retired and they are laid off.

Re:Deep (2)

mikael (484) | about 2 years ago | (#43509587)

That's the difference - the traditional mainframe was a one vendor product - racks, disk drives, CPU's, network boards, cables, terminals, everything available from the one supplier at "special" corporate rates, providing that you gave them the exclusive maintenance contract. Want printed system manuals? We'll charge you for that. Want more than eight user accounts? That cost extra too. Need a compiler for OS development work? That'll cost extra. Want the pre-compiled development API's to write applications? That'll cost more too. Want an optimizing compiler for high performance applications? That's cost some more too. Need a cable for your laser printer? We''ll supply that for a fee.

Compare that to the current server room where everything has generic components from the racks, cabinets to the fans, memory, network boards, cabling. If you consider that you can buy CPU's from any number of suppliers even if they are AMD/Intel, then they too are generic components. Everything removable and replaceable whenever technology advances.

Must have been 6-7 years ago, but when I was at college, every room had a locked cabinet with three or four router/terminal servers like boxes interwired together. Three years later, the network had been updated, and those boxes had been made redundant as the processing had gone back to the server room.

Running Virtualization Software.... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43508911)

Just like the mainframe. [wikipedia.org]

Re:Running Virtualization Software.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509249)

Yes ... virtualization.

The only difference is an architectural one.

A mainframe is "one" entity that could run many virtual environments. As more you need to run, the mainframe must be more powerful.

A virtualization server (today usually we must talk about x86 based ones), is a powerful machine that runs a Hypervisor to host many virtual machines.

A computer room with many virtualization servers accomplish the same role as the mainframe, although technically is different, because it is not only one machine; however, management products are trying to make everything to look as one big device, making the modern and the old styles to behave in the same way.

Could be possible that these management/hypervisor products will evolve to become the next VM?

Re:Running Virtualization Software.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509497)

It's worth remembering that the biggest mainframe seller, IBM, hasn't been competitive in the processor market for ages. They can't make anything to compete with Intel, AMD etc..

It's also worth remember that they don't make disks anymore, they just buy them in.

They also don't compete in the OS market, their software isn't competitive.

So on the one hand, the server maker, uses the fastest processor, the fastest ram, the fastest disks. On the other IBM uses their own 3rd or 4th tier products to make a mainframe.

Which do you think is going to be faster? The IBM Mainframe or the PC Server?

Nobody should be paying premium prices for 3rd tier kit these days, (legacy software problem apart).

Privacy (5, Insightful)

MLBs (2637825) | about 2 years ago | (#43508913)

It's the usual argument. If you have something to hide, you're probably a bad person.
That "may" be true if the authorities are not abusing their power, or trying to gain more power than the people want them to have.
As soon as you have even a potentially oppressive regime, privacy becomes essential.

Re:Privacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509205)

I'm starting to accept that there is very little privacy left. At first it was very upsetting, but I'm slowly becoming indifferent to it, there's not much I can do about. Maybe an upside to all this will be that people will try to behave better because they know they might be shamed by their actions. Kind of similar to the days of old in a small town/settlement.

Re:Privacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509237)

As I post AC...

Re:Privacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509261)

I looked at your "people will try to behave better" through this pair of shades, and for some reason it reads "CONFORM OBEY"


Having worked in both (3, Interesting)

mbone (558574) | about 2 years ago | (#43508939)

He is wrong, on pretty much every level, even the visual.

Well well, (0)

Fuzzums (250400) | about 2 years ago | (#43508967)

"If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

Ok. First of all, I said [xxxxxxx] Krist. Second, I'm proud of my Willy and I want everybody to know. Not only that. I want to show it on television and I don't want Krist extremists or parent extremists to censor me. I have a Willy, You don't respect my privacy, then I have to confront you with my Willy. Simple as that.
Also I want you to know I went to the toilet. I want you to know that too. I mean, no. I don't want you to know, but I did it and you said you wanted to know.

You see. That privacy thing. It has a reason. There is A LOT I did do that I don't want you to know. Just because it's not of your fucking business.

And now I'm going to [xxxxxxxxxx].

Re:Well well, (2)

tedgyz (515156) | about 2 years ago | (#43509171)

Also I want you to know I went to the toilet. I want you to know that too. I mean, no. I don't want you to know, but I did it and you said you wanted to know.

Sounds like a typical facebook post. People are giving this information away willingly. Some of us want privacy, while others want to tell us every last detail of their lives. I would like to not have to read about peoples every move, which is why I unfriend those that share too much.

Re:Well well, (1)

Fuzzums (250400) | about 2 years ago | (#43509227)

I'm scared! I don't want to go to G'bay because "they" might think I value my privacy. So I HAVE to share.

Re:Well well, (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509299)

Ah, but see, no where in that quote does it suggest that the thing you are doing is wrong. Only that, in this day and age, if you don't want something getting out, just about the only method of ensuring that is to not do that thing.

Think of it like Abstinence Only Sex Ed.

serving a recall notice on "Don't Be Evil" (1)

epine (68316) | about 2 years ago | (#43509753)

"If you have something that you don't want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn't be doing it in the first place."

That statement is nothing shy of a Full Monty disgrace to free enterprise. Nobody ever has a nice thing to say about government, and this leads to the comforting illusion that we can devolve the beast of government (for the most part) to the free market where much of government's function would be better served, until some high and mighty idiot in the private sector comes around saying something like this and bursting everyone's happy bubble. Well done, Eric, running the graduated approach to managing one's personal boundaries straight to the tip heap, for the betterment of all society. Yes, this is exactly what government by quarterly report will look like when that fine day finally comes. Book it.

There has never in history been a society that has strayed so far into the glass fishbowl: in a closed community where no behaviour goes unnoticed, living quiet lives of desperation is the order of business. Woe to anyone who dares to shirk this shackle (a theme of the very difficult movie Breaking the Waves). And yet, this too is not enough?

What a pompous ass to make such a remark. So close, and yet so far. Google could have been so much worse. For a long stretch, their sane and (relatively) moral decisions far outweighed their missteps. Then they caught wind of Facebook eating their lunch, and now they seem hell-bent on making up for lost time. I can barely express my disgust at the implications of that remark.

There's that old joke about Gates declared darkness "the new standard". Now we have Schmidt declaring the naked light bulb in the holding cells of the Lubyanka as the new, unceasing dawn.

I was reading about circadian phase entrainment the other day. In the hamster model (which I say generically, forgetting the precise rodent flavour) they use constant dim light to establish the free running state (which is actually the free running state in constant dim light). They don't use constant bright light, because constant bright light causes the cells of the suprachiasmatic nucleus to lose synchrony (effectively destroying the body's internal circadian signal altogether). In the torture setting--if that is in fact the purpose of the unblinking naked light bulb hanging above arm's reach in every cell--loss of circadian rhythm would have an effect on sleep that would promptly dissolve and disintegrate all sense of perspective and self-hood. This is, of course, what they wish to achieve. One doesn't torture the whole man, one tortures the wretched shell, so that the whole man shall never take up residence ever again.

Praise be to Google, keeper of the constant light.

Ending maintenance also ends control (5, Insightful)

h2oliu (38090) | about 2 years ago | (#43508975)

One of the points I found the most insightful is that the geeks don't like to take the time to make things work anymore. I remember a colleague saying that there was no better way to kill a hobby than to get it as a job.

The days of tweaking the OS and hardware as a common practice among the majority of geeks is gone. The field is too broad now. You have to pick which stack, and where on it, you want to hack.

Re:Ending maintenance also ends control (5, Interesting)

tarpitcod (822436) | about 2 years ago | (#43509085)

Back in the earlier days of micros it was loads of fun. BYTE was a great read. People wrote their own stuff on their own hardware. There were really fascinating choices in CPU's. Initially there were people using 2650's 8080's, 6502's, 6800's, LSI-11's, 1802's, 9900's. .

I can't remember the last time when someone actually said something outrageous like 'What architecture would be ideal'. Nowadays it's 'What software layer (implicitly running on x86 Linux boxes) should we use?'

The performance numbers people talk about are terrible too. Kids who just graduated think 100K interrupts per second is 'good!' on a multi Ghz multicore processor. They just have no context and don't understand how absolutely crappy that is and that even on an 8031 running at 11 Mhz with a /12 clock we could pull off > 20K interrupts per second in an ISR written in HLL!

Re:Ending maintenance also ends control (1)

rastilin (752802) | about 2 years ago | (#43509479)

That sounds too simple, there must be a reason for it other than the new youngsters suck at programming compared to the older generation.

Re:Ending maintenance also ends control (3, Informative)

mikael (484) | about 2 years ago | (#43509661)

And if you know where to look, you can find the whole collection of magazines scanned and available online (http://atariage.com/forums/topic/167235-byte-magazine/)
The best issues where when they had geek cartoons or photographs of real hardware on the front cover. The real change was when everything went all pastel shaded with the little bod characters in suits. I guess that coincided with the shift from hardware projects to software API programming on personal computers.

Re:Ending maintenance also ends control (1)

tarpitcod (822436) | about 2 years ago | (#43509785)

It's great to see these things still around. They are really fun to read. I actually am a bit of an atari 8 bit fan with some 8 bits I still use occasionally for fun.

Mainframes is for those.. (4, Insightful)

i (8254) | about 2 years ago | (#43508991)

..that have very big amounts of data, complex data structures and can't afford any errors (especially data corruption) caused by hardware limitations.

Banks is an example.

Re:Mainframes is for those.. (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about 2 years ago | (#43509193)

Big data is more readily done with racks of commodity hardware. You get orders of magnitude better performance for the money. Do you seee any of the big web companies moving to mainframes? If there was cost or performance improvements in it they'd have done it in a second.

Re:Mainframes is for those.. (3, Insightful)

jonwil (467024) | about 2 years ago | (#43509319)

The people who use mainframes for big data (like banks and insurance companies) and the people who use clusters and racks of servers for big data (like search engines, social networking sites and other web companies) have totally different requirements.

Re:Mainframes is for those.. (4, Interesting)

meta-monkey (321000) | about 2 years ago | (#43509693)

I think you're confusing Big Data with big, data-reliant companies.

Banks are OLTP, and require perfect accuracy, [large number] 9s uptime, fast response, dealing with one record at a time.

Big Data is OLAP, and can sacrifice some speed, accuracy and uptime to operate over millions and millions of records.

Re:Mainframes is for those.. (2)

fermion (181285) | about 2 years ago | (#43509435)

I have seen large complex data sets on racks of cheap microcomputers in places wehre i work. We see this in Google, for example. What characterizes these data sets is that are easily replicated, or there is little liability if there is loss. Think about data loss on google and then think about a bank misplacing a deposit. Do we think that Google keeps many of it's algorithms secret for no reason? No, they do it so they are not held accountable.

For servers facing the internet, load balancers, like those made by compaq in the late 90's, do a very good job treating those servers as a RAID. The question is how much is the data changing behind the servers, the liability is data is compromised, and as mentioned how complex managing the data is. The question is also how complex it is to manage a hundred thousand machines instead of one big machine.

Re:Mainframes is for those.. (1)

Type44Q (1233630) | about 2 years ago | (#43509619)

And apparently are is quite dead... :/

Re:Mainframes is for those.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509741)

Banks is an example.

Banks ARE an example.

Let's bring that paranoia out front and center! (1)

Shavano (2541114) | about 2 years ago | (#43508999)

We all need a good look at it. Does it look ridiculous to everybody? Good. Now let's move on to things that might actually happen.

Server farms will offload much of the computer power and most people will use lightweight, low power portable devices? Yeah probably.
Server farms will get bigger and more powerful? Definitely.
That model will fit for every business and organization and individual user? No way. Won't happen.

Please keep in mind that my 3 year old Android phone is more powerful than any PC was in 1990.

Datacenters === Today's Infrastructure (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509003)

Today's datacenters where of course not needed in the past as they are now.
The quantity, and the individual size, of the data transmitted is growing larger with new users and media.

Are the majority of YouTube videos necessary?

Mainframes and server farms the same? Hardly (2, Informative)

div_2n (525075) | about 2 years ago | (#43509005)

I suppose if you stand back from about 3 miles and never bother to understand the underlying architcture and how it scales while ignoring the flexibility of server farms as opposed to very much a box that mainframes put you in (with very minor flexibility) then yeah -- they're exactly the same.

It's easy to draw parallels between general functionality, but you have to reduce it to "a series of tubes" type descriptions to get there.

and the mainframe never went away (2)

iggymanz (596061) | about 2 years ago | (#43509067)

the most important of the world's business has always been done by mainframes, most of your money is information in a network of mainframes.

Re:and the mainframe never went away (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about 2 years ago | (#43509187)

It's purely because that's what was available when the systems were originally made and it's still hugely expensive to replace those systems. Many banks have and are enjoying cost savings, but they needed to bite the bullet and convert from difficult to maintain COBOL systems. Besides the cost, banks are also averse to risk, and change causes risk.

Re:and the mainframe never went away (4, Insightful)

cellocgw (617879) | about 2 years ago | (#43509251)

Besides the cost, banks are also averse to risk, and change causes risk.

Wait a minute: did you somehow sleep through 2008? Banks love risk, so long as it's someone else's money they're churning.

Re:and the mainframe never went away (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about 2 years ago | (#43509269)

no, you have some misconceptions. there is no such need and no cost savings and to move away from mainframes. You assume a mainfrme must be running COBOL.

Mainframes run modern software. They run it extremely cost effectively for the throughput they have, moreso than any other platform. The run it with extreme reliability and uptime. They run modern DBMS, they run enterprise java and all other modern languages, they can and do run Linux and Linux business apps. they can run x86 software on X blades.

You don't know mainframes. (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509219)

Mainframes are FAR more flexible than the x86 server farms.

They are also less expensive for the same amount of computation - above a minimum amount. A small IBM z system can run more VMs than the equivalently expensed X86 farm, with dynamic load balancing as well.

Rubbish, about 1/5rd an i7 performance (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509357)

Top of the range IBM kit, the multi-million dollar kit is 17802 MIPS, about 1/5th the performance of an i7 based server.

IBM sales men will tell you all manner of lies, but they won't let you benchmark their mainframes, against PCs and they don't for a damn good reason.

The disk subsystem is assembled from PC parts (IBM sold their disk division), the processor is a slow IBM model (IBM haven't been a threat to Intel for ages), and when pressed on performance, the salemen usually pretend the MIPS are more powerful ops, more secure ops, as if multiplying integers is somehow special on mainframes.

It's pitiful.

You talk into your phone and SIRI does a voice analysis, and searches larges data sets for an answer. Watson had to be fed the question as text on Jeopardy, because there was enough processing power to do voice to text.

Re:Rubbish, about 1/5rd an i7 performance (1)

Nerdfest (867930) | about 2 years ago | (#43509669)

... and you pay for using those processors in addition to the cost of the machine.

Re:Rubbish, about 1/5rd an i7 performance (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509789)

You're an idiot.

Mainframes and server farms the same? Precisely. (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509223)

The general thinking of comparing the two is that both systems are the ones running running the show, storing the data, and being accessed by dumb-clients that only serve as terminals.

Obviously server farms and mainframes are very different from a back-end technology standpoint, but from a viewpoint of the user they are identical in every single way. You log in with your user specific credentials, you do your work using the server's processing power and save your work in the servers storage medium. Your client likely is even set to network boot from a server supplied boot image via PXE. If your local machine is nothing but a terminal to access the backend machine, then you are for all practical purposes operating in a mainframe environment.

Mainframe benchmarks (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509285)

The laughable thing is, the mainframe occupying the whole room is less powerful than one blade of that server rack. The processor is so laughable IBM won't let you benchmark it against an PC, and the storage subsystem is just a bunch of stock PC disk parts.


Re:Mainframe benchmarks (2)

tarpitcod (822436) | about 2 years ago | (#43509549)

They weren't always. Some model 360's were pretty decent. The CDC 6600 while called a 'super computer' nowadays was really a 'Large Computer'. It was a mainframe. The problem with mainframes is the same problem with every computer out there. The latency wall. There were only a few companies that really pushed the physics. That stuff has stopped at the 'system' level to a large degree. You see a few companies playing with the interconnect topology but it's not really pushing the physics stuff.

If you take the ratio of compute to I/O of any typical modern server it's horrendously bad. To anyone out there who thinks their x86 rocks - a few simple questions:

1) What's the ratio of memory bandwidth at various levels to I/O bandwidth? Compare that to a Mainframe from the 60's.
2) How long on a typical server would it take to swap out all of memory? You can use SSD if you want.

Hint) You will find 2) is many seconds to minutes for a decent sized x86 server even with SSD's. That IBM mainframe could maybe swap out all its memory in less than a second or a second or two.

No because (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509039)

Are you making kiddie porn? Laundering money? Spreading hate? Do you want the terrorists to win?

Because I don't want every goddamn marketer out there trying to sell me their shit. I don't want to have to deal some horseshit like this [forbes.com] because businesses feel entitled to stick their noses into my business.

No, you are NOT offering me "convenience" - you are prying.

As it is, I CAN create a dossier that would make an East German Stazi agent cream his pants by just hitting the credit bureaus, Google, ChoicePoint, ISPs, Cell phone companies, and every other business entity out there that has this need to collect consumer data.

Something to hide?

Well, just ask the atheist, gay or lesbian, peace protestor or Muslim who has their identity known what happens to them.

The uncle of the Marathon bombers who had his face plastered all over the place is headed for some serious shit. You just know that folks are going to vandalize his house, harass him, and give him a lot of shit just because he's related to those kids and a Muslim.

People are hateful, ignorant, cruel, shallow and just stupid - until proven otherwise. Therefore, it is imperative to keep one's secrets.

Re:No because (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509427)


I bet someone who orders high end men's shaving products, and then shops for $150 designer shirts, will soon be seeing online ads for gay wedding consultants mysteriously popping up on the news sites.

People called cows, they have left the barn... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509055)

How do you say "The cow's out of the barn," in Latin? There are already too many computers around. Yes, more people are using "the cloud" with mobile, networked devices, there will always be valid reasons for using standalone machines. It's a little soon to start worrying about the gubmint coming to take away our computers. Other than that, it's an interesting take on the development of computing over the years.

Re:People called cows, they have left the barn... (1)

JockTroll (996521) | about 2 years ago | (#43509481)

What happens when your computer breaks, it can't be repaired because the parts are not manufactured anymore, and there are no replacement PCs - only tablets? Stuff doesn't last forever, you know. If you can't replace it, it's gone and you have no choice. It can happen.

Giving up the dream (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509065)

There was a time when we expected computers to become so easy that everyone could use them. We've given up that dream. Now it's all "managed" again. There are admins and users again, and the admins (or their bosses) decide what the users can do and how. Computing is no longer done with a device you own but a service that someone else provides to you. Yes, you still pay for a device, but that's merely an advanced terminal.

I blame the users. If they bothered to learn even a little about how things work, they wouldn't give up their freedom so easily. The complacency is staggering. Even people whose job depends on being able to efficiently work with computers often perform repetitive tasks manually instead of learning how to use more of the program they're working with. Of course, with users like that, who refuse to learn how to use what capabilities are already at their disposal, there's a market for the simplest automation performed as a service.

Re:Giving up the dream (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509211)

There was a time when we expected computers to become so easy that everyone could use them.

And now they have.

What...you don't actually think that thing everyone carries in their pocket or purse is a telephone, do you?

Re:Giving up the dream (2)

ColdWetDog (752185) | about 2 years ago | (#43509335)

I blame the users. If they bothered to learn even a little about how things work, they wouldn't give up their freedom so easily. The complacency is staggering. Even people whose job depends on being able to efficiently work with computers often perform repetitive tasks manually instead of learning how to use more of the program they're working with. Of course, with users like that, who refuse to learn how to use what capabilities are already at their disposal, there's a market for the simplest automation performed as a service.

OK, so the Eternal Mainframe meets the Eternal Summer?

troll story is trollish (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509101)

Clearly this noobin has never done a day of sysadmin in his life on either mainframe or non-mainframe systems. Why are we listening to this guy anyways?

High-functioning autists ahoy! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509129)

Because otherwise why's all the comments up here like "Yeah, it walks and quacks like a duck, but does it have a bill like a duck? Nope! Author's an idiot. Also, why the duck are we discussing waterfowl, mainframe's a computer, you silly person!"?

The point is, instead of making data and programs decentralized and under users' control, we're back to the Cult of Mainframe, with black boxes behind locked doors keeping and processing our data in the ways known only to the priesthood.

The fuck's with all the "Mainframes didn't even look like this!!111" comments?

Rinse, lather, repeat (4, Insightful)

bryan1945 (301828) | about 2 years ago | (#43509215)

Not networked, networked, not, networked, on and on. Each cycle begets a new cycle. Now it's just called "the cloud."

Re:Rinse, lather, repeat (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about 2 years ago | (#43509343)

nonsense, mainframe have been networked for decades. they can do "cloud computing". they've never gone away, they run all modern languages, dbms, and can even run Linux. now they even have expansion chassis that can take x86 blades for softwares that can't run on Z.

Re:Rinse, lather, repeat (2)

lightknight (213164) | about 2 years ago | (#43509403)

Well, there's a reason for that. MS has this weird idea of taking the fight to other guy on their turf...no matter how expensive it is.

Case in point: Netscape got its ass handed to it when MS took it on. Why? Because MS owned the last mile, and could afford to give away a browser for free. That hurt Netscape. Then Netscape starts loses control on the server side of things. Boom. How did MS win? By having Netscape fight on MS's turf: Windows.

Case in point: MS wants to replace Google with Bing, Firefox / Chrome with IE. Their solution? Let's move Office and everything to the web, so Google (which lives on the web, and counts it as its home turf) has MS right where it wants it. A smarter strategy would be to leverage local machine resources to do things that can't be offloaded to Clouds / servers over the internet, and punish Google in the process.

Seriously. MS trades a local CPU with multiple cores at multi-Ghz speeds, gobs of RAM, possibly a SSD, and more than likely a half-decent GPU for...well, a fast connection in the US (FIOS) on average might be 50 Mbps...to some tethered servers which are probably running low-power CPUs and lack GPUs...don't have SSDs...might have a lot of RAM...and more than likely, much higher latency. It's like going to Mars for a cup of water...got plenty of it here on Earth.

Actually, given how the Tech Sector has been run over the past few years...are we being punked? We are being punked, aren't we?

Re:Rinse, lather, repeat (1)

meta-monkey (321000) | about 2 years ago | (#43509787)

Uh, no. We, the coders and consultants are making bank, implementing the stupid decisions passed down by management.

"What's that boss? You wanna cloudify our web-a-spaces? And right after we ported all our offerings to 3 different mobile platforms. So you saw this cloud thing article in the inflight magazine, huh? No problem boss, just keep them pay checks coming..."

Cloud Computing (1)

morcego (260031) | about 2 years ago | (#43509271)

No shit. Every time I heard someone saying he plans on building a private cloud on his computer, I ask myself why he just doesn't buy a mainframe.

I mean, not every server farm or server room can be compared to a mainframe. But these days, when companies have VMWare clusters and what-ever clouds, it is impossible not to draw a comparison since, functionally (and sometimes structuraly) they are pretty much like mainframes.

Re:Cloud Computing (1)

iggymanz (596061) | about 2 years ago | (#43509399)

no, not functionally like mainframes at all. they are like a network clustered bunch of x86 pc's with shared storage. that's all. Each blade is going to be bottlenecked by its few SAN links, each is ever only going to be able to give a VM at most its full CPU core count and nothing more (can't run a single vm across multiple blades for performance improvement), if a blade fails without warning then HA will take a while to spin up and continue on another blade

Re:Cloud Computing (1)

tarpitcod (822436) | about 2 years ago | (#43509421)

Take someones description of their cloud computing service and compare it to the concept of the computing utility - like the MULTICS people talked about, it's pretty damn similar.

Some idiots will claim it's not - that they can get to their data! Which is total garbage because while technically they might be able to get to their data, it sucks to empty a swimming pool via a straw which is what the bandwidth of an internet connection is like when there's a tonne of data in the cloud.

So then they will say 'run your queries in the cloud', well that's awesome until the problems don't map efficiently to the topology the cloud vendor went for.

You can take my pc... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509277)

When you pry it from my fat, greasy hands.

Every 5 to 10 years... (5, Interesting)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about 2 years ago | (#43509307)

Someone in the industry realizes that computing is really iterative and what's old will eventually become new again.

I believe the origin of this periodic realizations is as follows:
(I intentionally used "jargon" instead of "technique", since the need to create a new term doesn't seem proportional to the actual change in implementation)

1. A college fresh out get hired at a I.T. farm armed with a new set of computing jargon that impresses human resources.
2. He applies his version of how things should work to the current workplace and things progress well.
3. Over the next few years the department grows and new hires are brought in to help meet demand.
4. The new hires start preaching their version of computing jargon that was created by academia to publish a paper.
5. The once college fresh out comes to the realization that the new computing jargon are practically synonyms for the previous generation's jargon.
6. The new hire proceeds to step #1 and the circle of I.T. begins anew.

The neat thing about this iterative process is that the difference in implementation of the jargon between generation N and N - 1 are small enough to not seem that much different. However the difference in implementation of jargon between the current generation and the people hired 5 to 10 cycles prior can and usually are dramatic.

I entered the field when distributive computing and storage with localized networks were being created and evangelized. Scientific computing had to be performed at universities and anything serious had to be done by renting time on a supercomputer connected via the internet. Medium sized businesses had to rent time on mainframes to perform payroll or hired firms specializing in payroll which still exists today. Small businesses had no access to computing until personal computers and single user applications came into use. Because of the newer businesses being more familiar with distributive computing than centralized computing, they scaled personal computers up to meet the new demands. This ability to scale computing power up allows the company to grow the computing infrastructure as needed. This was not possible with mainframes. Eventually the company grows to the point that it needs to have their data and application centralized and use data centers to handle the load.

If you step back and look solely at the physical structure (e.g. data center, clerical offices) it resembles the centralized computing from 50 years ago. However if you look at the actual data and computing flow you'll see that its a hybrid of central and distributed computing that was not imagined in the past 20 years. It's more fractal in nature. Your computing at any given moment can be centralized to your terminal, your home, your office, your department, your company, or even global (e.g. Google, Github).

I declare this to be known as BTE's law. ;)

Re:Every 5 to 10 years... (1)

cyber-vandal (148830) | about 2 years ago | (#43509397)

This ability to scale computing power [...] was not possible with mainframes

Are you having a laugh?

Re:Every 5 to 10 years... (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about 2 years ago | (#43509507)

In context of money required. Small businesses normally couldn't afford one mainframe much less more than one.

Re:Every 5 to 10 years... (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about 2 years ago | (#43509561)

You are correct that I should be more explicit about the relationship between scalability and expense. Smaller computing platforms can be scaled up in smaller steps requiring less money up front than mainframes.

Re:Every 5 to 10 years... (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about 2 years ago | (#43509643)

I may have to be more explicit by stating that the computing unit size of small computing platforms is such that allows scalability in power from the end-user up. This scalability is accessible to more people and therefore encourages a change in the field of computing.

The unit size of large computing platforms (i.e. mainframes) do not encourage such scalability. Multiple mainframes in a data center may increase data processing power at that central location but doesn't encourage a shift of computing power downwards and looks basically the same to most of the people making use of the extra power.

IT needs some kind of an apprenticeship system (2)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#43509415)

IT needs some kind of an apprenticeship system or at lest more tech schools where you learn from people who have done real work and not so much people working on there academia papers and you have more hands on learning as well.

Re:IT needs some kind of an apprenticeship system (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about 2 years ago | (#43509533)

I meant this progression to be a "good thing". One problem with apprenticeships is that you reinforce the established way of doing things. Bringing people in from the outside, especially those who learned from others that read or write academic papers allows new concepts to be integrated with established practice.

But CS is not IT and people who do academic papers (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#43509617)

But CS is not IT and people who do academic papers are type of people in IT who have been in academic for most of there life and have little to no hands on IT work.

And we don't need more people in IT loaded with academic smarts but little IT book smarts / Little hands on smarts.

Re:But CS is not IT and people who do academic pap (1)

Bill_the_Engineer (772575) | about 2 years ago | (#43509749)

I'm not so sure that is entirely true. I do not believe data centers (at least the good ones) are complete void of CS people. IT people who maintain an infrastructure do not work inside a vacuum. They are either influenced directly by CS people within their organization, or indirectly by the computing appliances or applications that they maintain.

I'm afraid a lot of low level techs become scape goats for high level techs that should have known better. I thought we already have tech schools that train low level IT workers. The ones at my place of work have trained at these institutions and are continuously trained through vendor provided seminars and in-house training. I don't think the shortage is entirely from the lack of talent or pre-occupational training. I think a lot of problems can be attributed by the lack of continuing training while employed. I know of several companies which hired techs to do nothing but keep the network up. They don't provide training and their requirement to run a legacy network running a custom built application several years old are satisfied. However when compared to their colleagues that work elsewhere they begin to look like IT lay people who are ill-equipped to handle modern applications or security requirements.

Most these businesses keep their in-house IT far way from the internet except for the email that is provided by an off-site service. Then one day a middle manager will go to a retreat, learn how they can improve their business by integrating with social media and whatever other buzzwords are offered, returns and tells their "sheltered" IT department to make it so. This is where the news making blunders are made...

Re:IT needs some kind of an apprenticeship system (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509763)

These are called "trade schools"...

And there is a reason these graduates produce some of the most insecure and sloppy code ever seen.

Idiot (1)

DaveAtFraud (460127) | about 2 years ago | (#43509315)

So, what does this mean for the future of fully functional, general purpose, standalone computers? 'Offline computer use frustrates the march of progress,' says Winestock. 'If offline use becomes uncommon, then the great and the good will ask: "What are [you] hiding? Are you making kiddie porn? Laundering money? Spreading hate? Do you want the terrorists to win?"'

Almost all of his examples are a complete non-sequitor. How does one launder money, spread hate, help the terrorists, etc. with a computer that is NOT connected? Likewise, does this mean that all of the people who owned computers in the pre-Internet era only owned them to do these things? And none of this follows from comparing mainframes and server farms or even has anything to do with mainframes and server farms.

Sounds more like he has a guilty conscience about doing these same things from his not connected computer and should be hauled before some secret tribunal to answer for his crimes (Oh, and just denying that this is how he came to his conclusions is just further proof that he is a lying to conceal his guilt).

How's that for a little non-sequitor inuendo?


We need both client and server (1)

WOOFYGOOFY (1334993) | about 2 years ago | (#43509355)

HTML5 interfaces will always suck just the way javascript HTML 4 interfaces suck- you can't take a server hit every time you want to react to a mouse movement or process a keystroke.

For a large number of apps, this actually doesn't matter but for people who really do creative work with their computer , the UI and a very large amount of processing of local data will have to take place on the local machine.

I suppose their are entities out there actively plotting the end of personal general purpose PC but to say that they somehow control what direction the world will go is paranoiac to the well-known Kaczinsky Limit.

Benefit, productivity, competitive advantage, goodness, fun whatever gets maximized when the cloud/server/web / whatever is utilized for what its good for - communication and distribution of content and the processing of truly HUGE data sets or data from a very large number of data sources. .

On that last point, even there the necessity of the cloud is challenged by distributed applications of the SETI type.

I think Adam Smith pretty well had this down with the idea of relative competitive advantage. Servers should not try to do UIs or make believable promises WRT to the security needed for very critical data. Local PCs are easily connected to a wide range of other-generated / other processed data via the web and servers.

How did they know?! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509379)

If offline use becomes uncommon, then the great and the good will ask: "What are [you] hiding? Are you making kiddie porn? Laundering money? Spreading hate? Do you want the terrorists to win?"

Yes, all of those. Brainwashed scantly dressed girl scout sleeper cells. Their leader, the cookie master, commands them to rain door-to-door jihad on the snackers.

Now that I've exposed my knowledge of them, it's only a matter of time until I'm cooked. My only hope is that the New Boss will reach me first and be merciful!

Rudolf Winestock for President (1)

LifesABeach (234436) | about 2 years ago | (#43509389)

'Offline computer use frustrates the march of progress,' says Winestock. 'If offline use becomes uncommon, then the great and the good will ask: "What are [you] hiding? Are you making kiddie porn? Laundering money? Spreading hate? Do you want the terrorists to win?"'"

Really? I think the Tea Party has found their next candidate for president. Now if only he had a personal life like the "Newt."

Valid Observation, Poor Argument (3, Insightful)

Capt.Albatross (1301561) | about 2 years ago | (#43509447)

Mr. Winestock's parallels between server farms and mainframes are reasonable, if unoriginal, and the same can be said for his concerns over privacy and social control. His attempt to claim the former as the causative agent for the latter, however, goes wrong right from the start: 'Mini/micro-computers were supposed to kill the mainframe.'

Not so. They came about firstly because technological advances made them possible, and also because some smart people realized that they would allow us to do things that, in practice, we could not do before. The pioneers of these developments were not interested in reproducing, much less replacing, mainframe computing.

Turing showed us that the form of our hardware doesn't dictate what we can do with it. To understand the arc of privacy erosion and social control, we need to examine social history and human nature, not the artifacts of technological advance.

The terrorists have long ago won (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509461)

So to win I too must become a terrorist.

Now for some snazzy mirrorshades. I already have the mullet.

Download caps / lag / 3g, 4g, LTE roaming costs wi (1)

Joe_Dragon (2206452) | about 2 years ago | (#43509475)

Download caps / lag / 3g, 4g, LTE roaming costs will make it very hard to go all back end with your system being just a dumb terminal.

And with roaming cost that can hit $10-$20+ a meg in Canada (higher in other places). A nice remote desktop at least 1024X786 can burn data fast.

The only way to boost popular techno-literacy (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509477)

Somehow it needs to act as an aid to getting laid instead of a barrier. If we can figure out how to do that the problem will fix itself.

And not just hardware (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509625)

If anyone has been paying attention, its quite clear that lots of new "tech" are just reiteration of old 70's & 80's unix functionality in the "core" level ..

Painfully obvious (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#43509687)

This guys knows nothing about actual mainframes. His long, rambling post may be interesting for other reasons.

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