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Mainframes still relevant in the cloud age

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Many believe the mainframe is dead as newer, easier technologies like cloud computing have come to the fore. However, this is a myth as the power a modern mainframe can deliver is better than anything else, writes BRIAN PEREIRA of Digital Creed.

Once upon a time, there were huge, monstrous computers used in large organizations to process data. They stored data on a bank of magnetic tapes that looked like your grandpa’s Grundig or Akai reel-to-reel tape recorder. There was no mouse or color LCD screens then; you had to type cryptic commands (and know them by heart). And the output would appear on “terminals” — displays with green screens. The mainframe central processing units looked like large cupboards in an office, but later, they took on sleek designs. Though IBM was the leading manufacturer of mainframes in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, there were others who made these machines: Burroughs, UNIVAC, NCR, Control Data, Honeywell, General Electric and RCA (called the seven dwarfs). There were a bunch of companies that made applications for mainframes: BMC Software, Compuware, CA Technologies and others. At one point of time, mainframes were the major source of revenue for IBM and the seven dwarfs. When the client-server era arrived in the 1990s, the mainframe business started to decline. So IBM and others had to restructure their businesses and turned their attention to PCs, servers, consulting and services. And then came the era of cloud and data centres. So whatever happened to the mainframe computer and the industry that created applications and services on the mainframe platform?

IBM continues to make mainframe computers today, under the Z-systems portfolio (z13s mainframe shown in the image). But who uses mainframes today? And are they still relevant?

Malav Kapadia, Global Director & Head of Indian Outsourcing Partners, BMC Software said, “We started our business in 1980 and focussed on mainframes. Till 1995 about 95 – 96 per cent of our revenue came from the mainframes business. It is about 30 per cent now and is still a large chunk of our portfolio.”

BMC Software has annual revenue of $2 billion so 30 per cent of that is still quite significant. The company offers solutions for mainframe management and cost optimisation.

It also offers non-mainframe solutions ranging from Helpdesk to real-time monitoring solutions, cost optimisation/management, mobile and automation solutions.

In India, BMC works with large enterprises directly or indirectly through system integrators like TCS, Wipro, HCL, Cognizant, L&T Infotech, and Tech Mahindra.

Kapadia says mainframes are still used today to process 95 per cent of the transactions in the banking, insurance, airline and retail industries.

“While the myth is that mainframes are legacy, it continues to grow and thrive. The fire power that a mainframe can deliver is better than anything else out there. The number of transactions that they can handle, the load and the real-time results they deliver is still the best. We have a big relationship with IBM and will continue to support them on mainframes,” he says.

It’s no wonder that mainframes are also called “big iron” systems. People in the industry say that mainframes continue to deliver ROI or return on investment.

Of course, mainframes have evolved today and have advanced operating systems, more memory, disk drives and GUIs. They also work in the cloud. But the fundamentals remain the same: they sill run applications like COBOL programming language, FORTRAN programming and DB2 (database). COBOL and FORTRAN programmers are also in demand as such programming skills are rare.

So mainframes continue to thrive in the age of cloud and datacenter, and will continue to be around for many more years.

What is a Mainframe?

According to Wikipedia, Mainframes are computers used primarily by large organizations for critical applications, bulk data processing, such as census, industry and consumer statistics, enterprise resource planning, and transaction processing.

The term originally referred to the large cabinets called “main frames” that housed the central processing unit and main memory of early computers. Later, the term was used to distinguish high-end commercial machines from less powerful units. Most large-scale computer system architectures were established in the 1960s, but continue to evolve.

  • With inputs from Wikipedia

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Samsung unleashes the beast

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Most new smartphone releases of the past few years have been like cat-and-mouse games with consumers and each other. It has been as if morsels of cheese are thrown into the box to make it more interesting: a little extra camera here, a little more battery there, and incremental changes to size, speed (more) and weight (less). Each change moves the needle of innovation ever-so-slightly. Until we find ourselves, a few years later, with a handset that is revolutionary compared to six years ago, but an anti-climax relative to six months before.

And then came Samsung. Probably stung by the “incremental improvement” phrase that has become almost a cliché about new Galaxy devices, the Korean giant chose to unleash a beast last week.

The new Galaxy Note 9 is not only the biggest smartphone Samsung has ever released, but one of the biggest flagship handsets that can still be called a phone. With a 6.4” display, it suddenly competes with mini-tablets and gaming consoles, among other devices that had previously faced little contest from handsets.

It offers almost ever cutting edge introduced to the Galaxy S9 and S9+ smartphones earlier this year, including the market-leading f1.5 aperture lens, and an f2.4. telephoto lens, each weighing in at 12 Megapixels. The front lens is equally impressive, with an f1.7 aperture – first introduced on the Note 8 as the widest yet on a selfie camera.

So far, so S9. However, the Note range has always been set apart by its S Pen stylus, and each edition has added new features. Born as a mere pen that writes on screens, it evolved through the likes of pressure sensitivity, allowing for artistic expression, and cut-and-paste text with translation-on-the-fly.

(Click here or below to read more about the Samsung Galaxy S Pen stylus) Samsung Galaxy S9 Features)

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SA ride permit system ‘broken’

Despite the amendments to the National Land Transport Act, ALON LITS, General Manager, Uber in Sub Saharan Africa, believes that many premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

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The spirit and intention of the amendments to the National Land Transport Act No 5  (NLTA), 2009 put forward by the Ministry of Transport are to be commended. It is especially pleasing that these amendments include ridesharing and e-hailing operators and drivers as legitimate participants in the country’s public transport system, which point to government’s willingness to embrace the changes and innovation taking place in the country’s transport industry.

However, there are aspects of the proposed amendments that are, at best, premature given that the necessary, well-functioning systems and processes are not yet in place to make these regulatory changes viable.

Of particular concern are the significant financial penalties that will need to be paid by ridesharing and e-hailing companies whose independent operators are found to be transporting passengers without a legal permit issued by the relevant local authority. These fines can be as high as R100 000 per driver operating without a permit. Apart from being an excessive penalty it is grossly unfair given that a large number of local authorities don’t yet have functioning permit issuing systems and processes in place.

The truth is that the operating permit issuance system in South Africa is effectively broken. The application and issuance processes for operating licenses are fundamentally flawed and subject to extensive delays, sometimes over a year in length.  This situation is exacerbated by the fact that it is very difficult for applicants whose permit applications haven’t yet been approved to get reasons for the extensive delays on the issuing of those permits.

Uber has had extensive first-hand experience with the frustratingly slow process of applying for these permits, with drivers often having to wait months and, in some cases more than a year, for their permits.

Sadly, there appears to be no sense of urgency amongst local authorities to prioritise fixing the flawed permit issuing systems and processes or address the large, and growing, backlogs of permit applications. As such, in order for the proposed stringent permit enforcement rules to be effective and fair to all role players, the long-standing issues around permit issuance first need to be addressed. At the very least, before the proposed legislation amendments are implemented, the National Transport Ministry needs to address the following issues:

  1. Efficient processes and systems must be put in place in all local authorities to allow drivers to easily apply for the operating permits they require
  2. Service level agreements need to be put in place with local authorities whereby they are required to assess applications and issue permits within the prescribed 60-day period.
  3. Local authorities need to be given deadlines by which their current permit application backlogs must be addressed to allow for faster processing of new applications once the amendments are promulgated.

If the Transport Ministry implements the proposed legislation amendments before ensuring that these permit issuance challenges are addressed, many drivers will be faced with the difficult choice of either having to operate illegally whilst awaiting their approved permits and risking significant fines and/or arrest, or stopping operations until they receive their permits, thereby losing what is, for many of them, their only source of income.

As such, if the Ministry of Transport is not able to address these particular challenges, it is only reasonable to ask it to reconsider this amendment and delay its implementation until the necessary infrastructure is in place to ensure it does not impact negatively on the country’s transport industry. The legislators must have been aware of the challenges of passing such a significant law, as the Amendment Bill allows for the Minister to use his discretion to delay implementation of provisions for up to 5 years.

Fair trade and healthy competition are the cornerstones of any effective and growing economy. However, these clauses (Section 66 (7) and Section 66A) of the NLTA amendment, as well as the proposal that regulators be given authority to define the geographic locations or zones in which vehicles may operate, are contrary to the spirit of both. As a good corporate citizen, Uber is committed to supplementing and enhancing South Africa’s national transport system and contributing positively to the industry. If passed into law without the revisions suggested above, these new amendments will limit our business and many others from playing the supportive roles we all can, and should, in growing the SA transport and tourism industries as well as many other key economic sectors.

What’s more, if passed as they currently stand, the amendments will effectively limit South African consumers from having full access to the range of convenient transport options they deserve; which has the potential to harm the reputation and credibility of the entire transport industry.

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