In many respects the IT world is no different from any other part of everyday life. One theme that clearly illustrates this point is the way in which certain technologies have managed to acquire, over time, a set of perceived characteristics.
In some cases these features have become an almost subconscious definition for the tool in the minds of many people.
And sometimes the image that springs to mind is one that, while it may once have had some connection with the technology, today holds little relevance.
The mainframe is a classic example of a tool that has undergone a radical evolution over the past few years while its image has remained firmly embedded in the past.
Ask almost anyone in computing what characteristics they think of when the word 'mainframe' is mentioned and the initial response often includes the words 'big', 'expensive' and 'complex'.
Even to those who work with these systems, the mainframe has an involuntary connection with big tin, high cost and high maintenance. However, in reality that view is becoming increasingly outdated.
If you look at what is available on the market today, you can see the mainframe's influence at every turn. The resilience you can get in some of today's Unix servers has come from developments in the mainframe.
The same goes for logical partitioning and scalability. It is available to one extent or another in smaller boxes, or a combination of smaller boxes.
But even today nothing can hold a torch to the big, expensive and complex mainframe. Looking at the word 'big', it is certainly true that mainframes can be huge in terms of the workload they carry, and the number of users and applications that can be supported.
However, the launch in the past year of IBM's z/800 server means that mainframes now start at a size roughly equivalent to just 20 Intel-based servers.
When it comes to considering whether mainframe computers are 'expensive', one can get involved in some very complex arguments about total cost of ownership (TCO).
Over the years many studies have demonstrated that it can be much more cost-effective to manage a few large computers rather than managing large numbers of small systems, especially when the systems are in a widely distributed environment.
Irrespective of the TCO arguments, small mainframe systems can be very cost-effective and in no way deserve to be labelled expensive.
For example, in some situations it is possible to obtain operating system licences for some z/800 servers for only a few thousand pounds, while the cost of licensing many applications can be considerably lower on a mainframe system than on a large number of smaller servers.
The availability of Linux and open source software to run on mainframes is another driver that demonstrates that the mainframe is still evolving and moving forward.
Another driver is the availability of productivity software, which is increasingly being found on mainframe implementations. Just ask IBM about WebSphere's proliferation across its mainframe platform.
On the question of 'complexity', it is true that administrators of mainframes require specialist skills, but the same is true of every platform.
Indeed, as with all computer technologies, today mainframes come with software tools that help to ease the burden of daily management and, given the high levels of resilience the platform has, these servers can be expected to run and run.
Mainframes can also offer solutions to surprisingly small workloads while retaining the capability to scale up to the largest size possible.
However, the reliability characteristics and the ease-of-recoverability of systems built on mainframe architecture have not been compromised.
It should be recognised that mainframe technology is probably the most secure of any computing platform in use.
It is clear that the mainframe is not yesterday's technology but a versatile, affordable, scalable server that offers almost unparalleled reliability and security.
Not every system can exploit the mainframe's characteristics, but these servers have a role to play today and for the foreseeable future.
The time may be right for the image of mainframes to evolve in line with the technology itself.
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