What’s Old is New Again

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At our office, we give our mainframe product managers and engineers a hard time.  When mainframe customers come in for meetings, we joke about ensuring that the customer briefing rooms have analog dial-up ports so our guests can check their AOL email during breaks. The reality is quite different. Yes, there are many grey-bearded experts who grew up with the mainframe and really understand the workings of the overall system. However, working right alongside these experts is a new generation of mainframe and application specialists – the Millennials (often called “Generation Y”). And, the exact reason why they’ve joined these companies is to work on leading edge cloud and mobile apps for the mainframe. Say what?

Photo courtesy of Wikipedia
Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

Since IBM’s introduction of the first mainframe in 1952, businesses have relied on them to run their mission-critical applications.  Over the last 60 years, mainframe hardware has gotten smaller while workloads have grown significantly larger, requiring these systems to perform even faster. This rat race is to keep up with the increasing amount of data and transaction throughput, while satisfying the decreasing tolerance for transaction latency.  So what does this all have to do with mobile apps and the cloud? The answer is EVERYTHING!

Mobile apps connected to mainframe computers bring the conveniences of just a decade ago to your mobile phone, tablet or wrist. Flash back a decade plus; were you verifying your savings account balances by driving to the local bank ATM or teller window? Were you waiting weeks for mailed or faxed paperwork on your fender bender car accident processed by your insurance agency? Or, maybe you thought nothing about waiting in line for the person ahead of you buying a gallon of milk who was filling out a check by hand (and usually extremely slowly)? Without mainframes and the Gen Y’ers developing innovative mobile applications, we might just be stuck doing these activities the same way. The good news is that mainframes enable every one of us to do away with all this waiting nonsense.

Think about it.  Today’s mobile applications allow you to check your balance anytime and anywhere in the world whenever you want, without even getting off the sofa. ApplePay makes paying for goods at a register as simple as two pushes of a button on your wrist. And filing an insurance claim for that car accident fender bender can be done right on the spot. Photos, police reports and claim forms all uploaded to your providers cloud even before you get back in your car.

Beyond the end-user apps, faster, more intelligent mainframes make it all possible. The mainframe is far from dead, and mobile applications are a big reason for its recent resurgence. Most of us interact with a mainframe every day without even knowing it.  Mainframes continue to be the workhorse of mission-critical business applications that require extremely fast response times. That’s why EMC continues to focus on supporting mainframe workloads and continues to innovate storage for mainframes on the EMC VMAX Platforms. EMC VMAX data services platforms deliver the highest levels of availability and response time for these the new mission-critical workloads that are tied to today’s mobile apps.


Mainframe computers enable all of this for all of us, sitting in some data center in the cloud, processing your transaction from your phone, tablet or wrist in mere microseconds. Remember those Gen Y’s? They are working alongside the mainframe gurus and developing the backend systems which talk to the remote mobile apps running on our mobile devices. Applications enabled by APIs (such as REST APIs) which provide gateway functionality between the mainframe and mobile app systems.

Need to transfer money from your checking to savings? Guess what, the transaction runs through a mainframe. Used your AppleWatch to pay for lunch in the company cafeteria? Boom!; that too ran through a mainframe at your bank. Just finished uploading the vehicle damage photos and police report from the scene of an accident? You guessed correctly if you said “mainframe”. What’s most impressive is the ability for these backend systems to accept your request, act upon it, and acknowledge it within a second or two.

So next time you hear someone mention the mainframe, don’t laugh, snicker or joke. You and I use one almost every day. Without them, our world of mobile apps delivering instant gratification wouldn’t exist. It’s even likely that a mainframe is processing your weekly paycheck. Enough said?

About the Author: Howard Rubin

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