What is mainframe computer? Mainframe computer definition and examples

A computer that is bigger than a minicomputer and a microcomputer but smaller than a supercomputer but capable of doing more work in less time is called a mainframe computer. Mainframe computers are generally known for their large size, processing power, and reliability.

What is mainframe computer

What is a mainframe computer?

A mainframe computer is a computer used primarily in large organizations for complex applications, simultaneous processing of large amounts of data such as census, industrial, and consumer statistics, enterprise resource planning, and transaction processing. These mainframe computers have certain features. For example, mainframe computers are capable of running multiple operating systems simultaneously.

Mainframe computers are designed to complete important and large tasks for large organizations. Mainframe computers are generally used by banks and other government agencies to speed up large transactions and difficult tasks. Mainframe computers are the backbone of banking, airline reservation systems, stock exchanges, and other large applications, where vast amounts of data are collected, recorded and processed at much faster speeds.

In simple words, mainframe computers are generally used for high-end computing. They are very large in size, and they have many CPUs available to them to get the job done. Mainframe computers usually have a multi-tasking operating system that helps the user to work quickly.

Nowadays, almost all business transactions or communications are real-time, so a very powerful server is required to process these real-time operations. And this mainframe computer is the perfect device to do such work.

Example of mainframe computer:

  • IBM zSeries, System z9 and System z10 servers.
  • HP mainframe
  • Hitachi’s Z800
  • Fujitsu’s ICL VME
  • The IBM zEnterprise System

Characteristics of mainframe computers:

Mainframes are large computers used only by large companies to process important data, such as processing large amounts of data for census and statistical purposes. In industry, other tasks aim to help engineers with otherwise time- and labor-intensive computational operations, enterprise resource planning, and mass transaction processing.

  1. It can process huge amounts of data. For example, millions of transactions are completed every second in the banking sector.
  2. It gives excellent performance when handling large memory or storage devices.
  3. It has the ability to distribute its workload between the processor and the input/output terminals.
  4. Mainframe computers are less prone to errors during processing. However, if an error occurs, it can be fixed quickly without affecting its performance.
  5. It has the ability to secure stored data, information, and other ongoing exchanges of data.

Difference between mainframe and  supercomputer

Although both types of machines, mainframes, and supercomputers, are large and complex and have the ability to perform computations at extraordinary speeds and, at first glance, have similar characteristics of great processing and storage capacity, it is true that there are some differences.

The difference between mainframes and supercomputers is largely their practicality. Mainframe computers are generally very popular for their reliable volume computing, where integer operations are very important. For example financial, indexing, and comparisons. Supercomputers, on the other hand, are mostly used for floating-point operations.

Mainframes are wonderful in areas where large data transactions requiring highly reliable integer operations are often processed, such as finance. This is because mainframes were designed to provide high levels of reliability for high-speed data processing. And even though they have to access external databases on many occasions, they always take care that the values that are manipulated are not affected at any stage of their process.

In contrast, supercomputers are designed to maximize computing power. For this reason, supercomputers are distinguished in military, scientific, and engineering environments. To make this happen, supercomputers use the concept of massive parallelism through thousands of high-speed and high-power processors.

Applications of mainframe computers:

Large universities can use it to store, manage, and retrieve data on their programs, admissions, students, professors, staff, and associated colleges and universities.

It enables the sharing of a huge amount of sensitive information with other departments of the military by the defense departments.

It made it possible for hospitals to keep track of the millions of patients they serve so they could get in touch with them for treatment, appointments, medication updates, or condition updates. 

Mainframe computers are used by retail organizations with a large client base and stores to handle and execute information relating to inventory management, customer relationship management, and large transactions in a short period of time.

Advantages of Mainframe Computers

Over the past 50 years, mainframe computers have improved a lot. Their size has shrunk, processing speed has increased,  data transfer speed has increased, and security has also improved.

Mainframe computers offer excellent protection against viruses, worms, spyware, and malware attacks. Encryption techniques such as file encryption, dataset and file encryption, network encryption, and clustering encryption enhance security.

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