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 Reports  of  the  Death  of  Mainframes  Are  Greatly  Exaggerated

Gerry Shacter

I am going to take my stand.  Mainframe programmers have been taking it on the chin long enough, and it has to stop.

The mainframe is here to stay.  Those who see it otherwise are either fanatics or journalists.  They just don't have the perspective that seasoned mainframe programmers bring to bear on their hair-splitting profession.

Still, in fairness to the fact that most PC types are not old enough to remember what life was like for Wilma and Fred before Pebbles came along.  I'll try to help you out.

Everything in nature goes in cycles the weather, the tides, the planets as they move through their orbits, and even washing machines.  They are here, they go away, and then they come back again.  Pretty basic stuff, nature is.

And so it will be with our mainframes.  These giant iron engines began as no more than PCs themselves, albeit rather large ones.  How much could you do with an IBM 360 with 384K bytes of core?  Not much more than you could do with the first PC.  Without a moving van, you couldn't even pretend it was portable.

Then they grew, and became the megabuck, multichanneled wallet-busters that we have today, run not by teens in office cubes sipping margaritas amid the whiz of their 80M-byte hard drives, but by real beer-drinking men and women whose computers are water-cooled and whose terminals are truly dumb.

It's true that the mainframe is down on its luck, but, just as the springtime, it will come back.  It will make its return when people realize that no client/server-based PC, bridged via a LAN to some point-of-sale terminal, will ever be able to match the mainframe for ease of use.

Why manage a multitude of platforms when you can have just one doing all the work?  A single point of control the mainframe.

Mainframes are big for one reason.  It was too hard to manage a lot of small ones.  PCs will get bigger too, until there are no more because the one that's left will be so big, it will be able to handle all the work.  It will be called a mainframe, and these upstart programmers will think they invented it.

Why do you think IBM is putting its repository on a mainframe?  Because they can run the whole thing on just one box.  It's so big it won't even run OS/2.  Death of the mainframe?

Did you ever hear of a paradigm before PCs were invented?  Does anybody know what a paradigm is?  Of course not.  It's just some term a PC guru invented to make his object-oriented programming language seem important.  Stick with mainframe COBOL.  It works.

Do you know what polymorphism is?  You do if you're one of those PC-based C++ programmers.  Sounds like an affliction, doesn't it?  And that's what it really is.  An affliction, a new concept the PC people invented to make programming the non-procedural nightmare it has become on the PC.

One day the management of the Fortune 500 will wake up and look upon its thousands of PCs and wonder what they are all doing, finally realizing that it would be much easier to replace them all with one mainframe and then wonder what it's doing.

Gerry Shacter
PC Week, 1992


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