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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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YouTube Music announces Smart Downloads, SA playlists

The service has introduced Smart Downloads which takes allowing users to store and play hundreds of tunes offline, automatically.

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The latest updates from YouTube Music, for subscribers of its Music Premium and Premium services, include a new feature that allows users to switch seamlessly between a song and its music video for an uninterrupted experience.

It has also introduced Smart Downloads which takes the work out of downloading music, allowing users to store and play hundreds of tunes offline, automatically. YouTube Music has also announced new playlists for South Africa. 

The updates all reflect features that are popular on the global leader in music streaming, Spotify, and that have been key to its growth.

YouTube said in a statement on Friday: “Imagine listening to a new track by your favourite artist in the YouTube Music app and having the ability to seamlessly switch over to watch the music video – no pauses, no interruptions, just a simple tap that keeps the music flowing. This standout new feature from YouTube Music allows YouTube Premium and YouTube Music Premium subscribers to make a seamless transition between a song and its music video for uninterrupted listening and/or watching. Whether you’re in the mood for listening or watching (or a little of both)… it’s all here – no app switching required.”

With Smart Downloads, YouTube Music automatically saves music at night, when connected to Wi-Fi, helping subscribers to use less mobile data, enjoy a smoother updating experience and save up to 500 songs offline using Liked Songs playlist as well as other playlists and albums. 


Previously, music lovers could use the Offline Mixtape feature to download up to 100 songs, specifically chosen for them based on what they listened to most on the platform. Now, with Smart Downloads, they select the number of songs they would like automatically downloaded by toggling their YouTube Music Settings. This means YouTube Music Premium subscribers with Smart Downloads enabled on their mobile devices can now access hundreds of tracks regardless of connectivity. 

This feature is currently available on Android, with plans to bring it to iOS in the future.

Click here to read more about YouTube Music playlists, and find out what is inside them.

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Make cars, not waste

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Jaguar Land Rover is trialling an innovative recycling process which converts plastic waste into a new premium grade material that could feature on future vehicles. 

It’s estimated that the amount of waste plastic is predicted to exceed 12 million tonnes globally by 2050*. Today, not all of this plastic can be recycled for use in automotive applications – especially in vehicle parts that are required to meet the most exacting safety and quality standards.

Working in conjunction with chemical company, BASF, Jaguar Land Rover is part of a pilot project called ChemCycling that upcycles domestic waste plastic, otherwise destined for landfill or incinerators, into a new high-quality material. 

The waste plastic is transformed to pyrolysis oil using a thermochemical process. This secondary raw material is then fed into BASF’s production chain as a replacement for fossil resources; ultimately producing a new premium grade that replicates the high quality and performance of ‘virgin’ plastics. Importantly, it can be tempered and coloured making it the ideal sustainable solution for designing the next-generation dashboards and exterior-surfaces in Jaguar and Land Rover models.

Jaguar Land Rover and BASF are currently testing the pilot phase material in a Jaguar I-PACE prototype front-end carrier overmoulding to verify it meets the same stringent safety requirements of the existing original part.

Pending the outcome of the trials and progression in taking chemical recycling to market readiness, adoption of the new premium material would mean Jaguar Land Rover could use domestically derived recycled plastic content throughout its cars without any compromise to quality or safety performance**. 

Chris Brown, Senior Sustainability Manager at Jaguar Land Rover, said: “Plastics are vital to car manufacturing and have proven benefits during their use phase, however, plastic waste remains a major global challenge. Solving this issue requires innovation and joined-up thinking between regulators, manufacturers and suppliers.

“At Jaguar Land Rover, we are proactively increasing recycled content in our products, removing single-use plastics across our operations and reducing excess waste across the product lifecycle. The collaboration with BASF is just one way in which we are advancing our commitment to operating in a circular economy.”

This is the latest example of Jaguar Land Rover’s commitment to addressing the challenge of waste plastic. The company has collaborated with Kvadrat to offer customers alternative seat options that are both luxurious and sustainable. The high-quality material, available initially on the Range Rover Velar and Range Rover Evoque, combines a durable wool blend with a technical suedecloth that is made from 53 recycled plastic bottles per vehicle. 

Jaguar Land Rover has already met its 2020 target for Zero Waste to Landfill for UK operations. This includes the removal of 1.3 million m2 – equal to 187 football pitches – of plastic from its manufacturing lineside and replacing 14 million single use plastic items in business operations. 

Together, these efforts are driving towards Jaguar Land Rover’s vision for Destination Zero; an ambition to make societies safer and healthier, and the environment cleaner. Delivered through relentless innovation to adapt its products and services to the rapidly-changing world, the company’s focus is on achieving a future of zero emissions, zero accidents and zero congestion.

Editor’s notes:

https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700782.full

** All Jaguar and Land Rover vehicles tested have achieved a Euro NCAP 5* rating.

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