NASA unplugs last mainframe

IBM mainframes no longer a NASA workhorse

nasa
It's somewhat hard to imagine that NASA doesn't need the computing power of an IBM mainframe any more but NASA CIO posted on her blog today at the end of the month, the Big Iron will be no more at the space agency.

More on space: Space junk funk: The anniversary of the Cosmos/Iridium satellite crash

NASA CIO Linda Cureton wrote: This month marks the end of an era in NASA computing. Marshall Space Flight Center powered down NASA's last mainframe, the IBM Z9 Mainframe.  For my millennial readers, I suppose that I should define what a mainframe is.  Well, that's easier said than done, but here goes -- It's a big computer that is known for being reliable, highly available, secure, and powerful.  They are best suited for applications that are more transaction oriented and require a lot of input/output - that is, writing or reading from data storage devices.

In my first stint at NASA, I was at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center as a mainframe systems programmer when it was still cool. That IBM 360-95 was used to solve complex computational problems for space flight.   Back then, I comfortably navigated the world of IBM 360 Assembler language and still remember the much-coveted "green card" that had all the pearls of information about machine code.  Back then, real systems programmers did hexadecimal arithmetic - today, "there's an app for it!"

But all things must change.  Today, they are the size of a refrigerator but in the old days, they were the size of a Cape Cod.  Even though NASA has shut down its last one, there is still a requirement for mainframe capability in many other organizations.

Of course NASA is just one of the latest high profile mainframe decommissionings.  In 2009 The U.S. House of Representatives took its last mainframe offline.  At the time Network World wrote: "The last mainframe supposedly enjoyed "quasi-celebrity status" within the House data center, having spent 12 years keeping the House's inventory control records and financial management data, among other tasks. But it was time for a change, with the House spending $30,000 a year to power the mainframe and another $700,000 each year for maintenance and support."

And then there was this classic mainframe burial.

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