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The mainframe turns 50, or, why the IBM System/360 launch was the dawn of enterprise IT

Joab Jackson | April 7, 2014
In 1964, mainframes weren't new, but the System/360 revolutionised the computer industry

"Twice a month, they would shut down their billing over the weekend and run all Wanamaker's accounts, so Wanamaker's didn't have to employ their own IT department," McCoey said.

Nonetheless businesses saw the value of System/360 and other mainframes.

"They not only allowed business to operate faster and gain competitive advantage but allowed them to have a lot more flexibility in their products and services. Instead of just having one standard product, you could have all these different pricing schemes," Beedy said.

It was not until the emergence of lower-cost mini-computers in the late 1970s that IBM's dominance in computer platforms started to fade, though the company caught the next wave of computers, PCs and servers, in the following decade. IBM has also managed to keep its mainframe business percolating.

Organizations continued to use mainframes for their core operations, if for no other reason than the cost of porting or rewriting their applications to run on other platforms would dwarf any savings they might enjoy from less expensive hardware, Spicer said,

"IBM, while it has been a big lumbering company at times, has adapted well over the years to keep the mainframe relevant. They managed to bring price/performance down to where mainframe computing stayed viable," Beedy said. "Many times it has been announced that the mainframe was dead, replaced by minicomputers or servers, but what we've seen all along [is that these new technologies] extend what is already there, with the mainframe as the backbone."

(IDG News Service editor James Niccolai contributed to this report.)\


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