Inside IBM's game changing mainframe moments

IBM zEnterprise one step in long road to mainframe nirvana

With the announcement of a new generation of IBM mainframes today, the zEnterprise, Big Blue has continued to change, improve and evolve one of the most enduring hunks of metal and electronics in the history of computing.  There have been many key points in the evolution of the mainframe, here we take a look at a few of the bigger changes.

ibm 360
The beginning: IBM and others have been working on large systems for many years.  In IBM's case you can go back to its transistor-based 7090, which was rolled out in 1959.  But it was in 1964 that IBM began what many would consider the first true series of mainframes, the IBM 360.  IBM at the time said the System 360  " includes in its central processors 19 combinations of graduated speed and memory capacity. Incorporated with these are more than 40 types of peripheral equipment which store information and enter it into and retrieve it from the computer. Built-in communications capability makes System/360 available to remote terminals, regardless of distance.  The equipment is supported by programs which enable System/360 to schedule its own activities for non-stop computing that makes most efficient use of system capabilities. The system's machine cycle time - - basic pulse beat of a computer - - ranges from one millionth-of-a-second to only 200 billionths-of-a-second."

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ibm 370
The cement: While the System 360 may have ushered in the mainframe age, the System/370 launch in 1970 cemented  it.  At its height of its popularity IBM said there was sometimes a two-year waiting list for the machine.  According to IBM, monthly rental for a typical System/370 Model 155 having 768,000 bytes of main memory is $47,985, with a purchase price of $2,248,550. Monthly rental for a typical Model 165 with 1-million bytes of main memory is $98,715, with a purchase price of $4,674,160. "The applications of the Seventies will involve increased multiprogramming, remote computing, management information and tele-processing networks that make a centralized computer data base available to people in many places," IBM stated.

Getting big: First introduced in 1985, Enterprise System/3090's had over one-million-bit memory chips and featured what IBM called  Thermal Conduction Modules to speed chip-to-chip communication times.  Some 3090's ran something called a Vector Facility that was designed to "increase the computing performance capability of the central processor when iterative or repetitive logical or floating-point operations are to be performed on many related data elements, " IBM stated. Prices for larger models topped $5 million.


ibm s390
The next big thing: In 1990, the mainframe got a serious refresh with the 18 model,  System/390 rollout.  The S/390 also brought with it IBM's high-speed fiber optic mainframe channel architecture Enterprise System Connection (ESCON).  IBM said the S/390 featured ultra-dense circuits and circuit packaging that allow higher performance, integrated encryption/decryption for sensitive data, extended supercomputing capabilities, and twice the processor memory previously available.  Keep in mind too that IBM touted its heritage by noting that programs and applications based on the widely used S/370 architecture will run on the new systems with little or no modification.   Basic purchase prices for the water-cooled models range from $2.45 million to $22.8 million, IBM stated. IBM updgraded or added about 60 models to the S/390 line throughout the 90s, with a major refresh hitting in 1999 with the introduction of the S/390 Parallel Enterprise.

Not all about hardware: In 2000 IBM said it would begin supporting Linux on the mainframe, a huge nod to that systems growing influence.  By 2009 70% of IBM's top 100 mainframe customers were running Linux, according to Gartner.

ibm zseries
All about the zzzzs: Saying it had rebuilt the mainframe from the ground up, IBM in 2000 rolled the eServer zSeries out.  IBM said it spent two years and $1 billion to develop the machines. IBM said the key to the new mainframe was its multichip module (MCM) -- the densest, most advanced semiconductor and packaging technology in the world. The 5" x 5" x 1/4" module contains 35 chips mounted on 101 layers of ceramic glass connected to 4,226 I/0 pins by 1 kilometer of wire. The main machine ran 2,500 MIPs on 16 processors and if clustered could handle up to 9 billion transactions/day (300 million transactions/day stand alone), IBM stated.  In 2003 IBM introduced the  z990 and called it "the world's most sophisticated server."


ibm zenterprise
Moving on..again: This week IBM introduced a new generation of mainframes that include the ability to manage Power and x86 IBM blade systems from the mainframe consol. The zEnterprise  can have up to 96 processors and will support up to 114 blades with eight cores. With their characteristic excitement, IBM mainframers call the zEnterprise the most significant change to the mainframe platform in 20 years. IBM says the new mainframes run some 40% faster than its predecessor but uses 90 % less energy to achieve that performance.   The key to the new mainframes is its ability to plug other computers into the mainframe and manage hardware and software applications, according to a New York Times article. In theory, they say, that should make it possible to extend mainframe strengths in security and always-on availability to other systems. Certainly the new design is intended to make it possible to blend tasks, parceling out various parts of a complex application to different computer systems, more efficiently than in the past, the article states.

Follow Michael Cooney on Twitter: nwwlayer8  

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