Big Iron:How secure is it?All about Mainframe computer

You may have heard about Big Iron or may have seen this name on the internet. This term itself is a representation of strength and power. It seems something very massive and powerful thing is behind this word. I must say that Big Iron is one of the oldest inventions of computer science which is still the best and unbeatable. If you have the curiosity to know all about the Big Iron or mainframe computer, then you can find those things from here.

What is Big Iron?

Big Iron is a word used by Computer Hackers, and they refer a huge, powerful and ultra-fast computer by this name. It’s a hackers dream to get into the Big Iron, but they can’t even get close to it because it is as secure as powerful it is. Big Iron is nothing but a Mainframe computer which processes large data at a time. It is used as a central system or server in many financial institutions like banks or many commercial institutions.

The mainframe is named like this because initially when Mainframe computer was introduced, it was so huge and fixed in a frame(Cabinet) like structure. The Central Processing Unit(CPU) and the Memory of the mainframe computer are housed in the cabinet or frame. It is used as the main or central part of the system. Every computer or other components get connected directly or indirectly to the mainframe.

According to IBM 97 of the worlds top 100 banks use Big Iron or Mainframe computer as the back-office engine. Many other financial institutions and public sectors also still rely on a mainframe computer.

History of Big Iron or Mainframe computer

Mainframe computer came in the picture in the late 1950s when the field of digital calculation was in the considerable stage. At that time IBM was the giant manufacturer of Big Iron. Other companies which were competing with IBM were Burroughs, NCR, Control Data Corporation (CDC), UNIVAC, Honeywell, RCA and General Electronics. But the market share of IBM was higher than the market share of all other seven companies. So in 1960 all those seven companies grouped up and the mainframe manufacturers became “IBM and the Seven Dwarfs“.
At this period, IBM made IBM 700/7000 series mainframe computer which was using vacuum tube logic for the logical operations. Then it developed 7000s which were using transistors for conducting its operations.

Mainframe Computer is named as Big Iron later on the 1980s when minicomputers hit the market with great success. These minicomputers started replacing Big Iron from the small institution because of its light weight design and the lower cost.

But these minicomputers could not compete with the Big Iron in a matter of power, speed, and the security. Till now the large-scale institutions are using Big Iron for running complex applications, transaction processing & resource planning, etc.

Inside IMB system Z9 mainframe computer

Inside IBM system Z9

Advantages of Big Iron

There are no doubts that more or less all kind of industries depends on Big Iron to be efficient, productive and secured. The use of Mainframe computer is not confined in financial institutes only. I am listing some of the main advantages of Big Iron but there is much more, and all can not be listed.

  • It is used in e-commerce business and stock brokerage firms to track customer orders, transactions of money, maintain and process millions information and inventories.
  •  It is used in financial sectors to perform critical applications, transaction processing, resource management and much more.
  •  Car and Flight Manufacturers are using mainframe computer for manufacturing their products which need a lot of calculations, design and quality check. Also, they use it for security purpose as they have a fear of licking or hacking of the confidential designs or models of their products or the business Strategies from their computers.
  • In the world of Entertainment also big iron is used. For complex animations or VFX work, it is seen as an active processor.
  • In the field of medical science, Big Iron is broadly used from pharmacist to Doctor. When the question is about the life, the operations should be error free or accurate. Intelligence programs which are useful in medical fields for cutting-edge operations and detailed diagnostics run on the mainframe computer.
  • One of the earliest uses of Big Iron is in Military operations. All sections of force use this computer for tracking purpose, communication between the fast-moving planes or ships, etc. It also helps in national security by securing the internal military database which stores many of the critical information and external affairs strategies.

Programming of Big Iron

Initially, Mainframe Computer does not have a program or operating system. It was functioning on hardware only. When programming languages invented and memory also available to code the operating system came into picture.

Operating Systems of Big Iron

Initially UNIX, LINUX & VMS were used as the operating system of Mainframe computer.
Later IBM created new and special operating systems for mainframe like Z/os, Z/VM, and VSE/ ESA. These are robust and specially designed to run on Big Iron.

Programming languages used in Big Iron

On 1959 COBOL was invented and used in the mainframe computer. COBOL is a compiled English like computer programming language. It became an object-oriented language since 2002. Now also COBOL is widely used in legacy applications on Mainframe like batch transaction processing applications. It is hard to replace the applications of mainframe coded in COBOL with an application coded in other languages.

Other than COBOL, PASCAL, FORTRAN, ALGOL is few more programming languages used in Mainframe Computer.

We can connect General Pc to the Big Iron by an Interface called 3270 emulations by which one can make changes or punch codes to the mainframe computer.

Technology Gap

One of the important reason for which industries are switching to another system from mainframe is the programming techniques it uses is no more in demand. A programmer for Mainframe is hard to find out at this time.
But IBM has started working on it. It is hiring Engineers and training them on languages those are useful in the mainframe.
The company has invested a lot and preparing an API(Application program Interface) by which anyone can use Big Iron easily like how we use general computers. It will provide the UI(User Interface) so that we don’t have to code everything for small changes. We can do that with some clicks as we do in general computers.
The company is also researching for the interface by which we will be able to code the mainframe with any programming languages like PHP, Java, C++ etc.

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How much secure a Big Iron is..?

Data breachings are the common problem every industry and every nation is suffering. Many giant corporations like LinkedIn, Yahoo or Facebook has suffered from data breaching. Even the top level government sector like FBI could not defend this. Evil Hackers have exposed many personal, and private information of people and organizations over the periods of time.
No system is full proof, and no vault is unbreakable. Hackers will always try to break in. So the security experts say it’s not about 100% security, it’s about the roadblocks we may create to discourage destructive evil minds.

But the term BigIron itself define the strength and power. It actively monitors the activity always.

Altering a file inside a Big iron without authorization is like a day dream.

Tampering the files of a Mainframe is not easy at all.

Big Iron also implements block chain to prevent the data breach. The blockchain is a security algorithm which was created to protect BitCoin transactions.

Industries which use Big Iron keep all their data in it, and as we know, it is a potent machine and always monitored. So the vulnerability of the data of those industries becomes lower than the industries which keep their data spread in many small devices which are not secure up to the mark. It’s easy to protect the data in one machine that protecting the data which are scattered all over the company firewall.

Big Iron makes it hard to track it down and penetrate through its authentication parameters.

Also, many mainframe users use two machines for their business operations. They install one at their primary data center and another one at their backup data center which is either partially active or in standby mode. So if someone could penetrate to the system and altered the data(Which is nearly impossible) then also the user can restore it from the backup center.

So Big Iron is far more secure than other machines. This is also a reason for what many financial institutes and 97 banks out of world’s top 100 banks rely on Big Iron.

Why use of mainframe is dropped over the past years

Most of the banking institutes and other financial institutes are using Big Iron because it is the ultimate option for the kind of operations they need to do in their business. But many companies are switching from mainframe to other technologies. It depends on the kind of business they do. The reason behind the drop in use of mainframe is the technology gap we have traveled.

Advancement in technology

Now there are so many systems available in the market which are smaller in size and cheaper in price than a mainframe. Although those systems are not powerful and secure as a Mainframe computer, those can fulfill the requirements of small industries. And as the requirements of some companies can be fulfilled with other small systems then there is no need of maintaining a mainframe for them.

Maintainance problem

Few Programmers are left who can make changes in any program of a Mainframe as mainframe use some deprecated programming languages which are not in demand nowadays.
Engineers coming out these days have less knowledge on those coding structures.

Which Is better among Big Iron & Supercomputer?

The supercomputer is the greatest computer made by human being. It performs high-level computing which general computers can not. The speed of the normal computer is measured by MIPS(Millions instruction per second) where the performance of a supercomputer is measured by FLOPS(Floating point operations per second) because the supercomputer does scientific and high-performance computation like data crunching and number crunching which needs to be more accurate.

Intel core i7 processor of 3 GHz can run around 317 Million instructions per second, But a Supercomputer can perform 1000 trillion floating point operations per second. From this, we can understand how powerful a supercomputer is..??!!!!!!

But the question arises here is the supercomputer is better than mainframe computer or not???

I will say there is no comparison between these two computers. Each is the best in its own field. Each can perform the task for what it is designed for better than another one.

  • The mainframe can perform transaction processing better than the supercomputer. Transaction processing includes the commercial exchange of goods, resources, services, and money for which supercomputer is not so helpful.
  • The mainframe is better in inventory control and database updating task.
  • Processing power/speed of a Supercomputer is higher than the mainframe, but Transaction processing does not much depend on speed.
  •  The Computational ability of supercomputer is higher as it relies on floating point per second. So it is better where more digits of precision are required and where a small change would matter a lot like weather prediction or nuclear simulation.
  • The main difference between these two is super-computer merge all its power to execute few programs as fast as possible. Speed is the prime factor for the supercomputer.Whereas mainframe computer use its powers to execute all the tasks parallelly or concurrently. So the load matters for a mainframe, and it gives the same priority to every program running on it.

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Modern mainframe computer

People witnessed so many technologies which came to the market, rule the market for a while and then forgotten or deprecated. Some hit the market but could not get that much popularity. But Big Iron is a technology which was introduced in the late 40s when the race of Information Technology started and till now it is the point of demand for large-scale industries.

Although other Manufactures of mainframe computer have stopped manufacturing it and started manufacturing other small architectures like Intel(x86), IBM still makes them. In fact, IBM has just announced a new frame unit IBM System Z13.

IBM Z13 Big Iron

IBM Z13 by Agiorgio Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

Few more modern mainframe computer are the IBM Z series, System Z9 and the system Z10 which are extremely customized and modified to meet every requirement of industries.

Let’s talk about the advancement of the modern Big Iron in details.

  • It is compact. Old Mainframe was housed in room size metal frames around 2000-10000 square feet, but the modern one takes space as much as a refrigerator.
  • It can perform 2.5 billions of transactions in a day with real-time encryption on every transaction.
  • Modern Mainframe computer implemented Virtual machines techniques. By this technique, a single mainframe computer can provide an environment of many small systems. A virtual machine allows different applications to run as they are running on different physical computers. That means it will create different environments in the same computer.
  • There are functionalities in Mainframe by which it can add new things or can swap the old software or hardware of it without disturbing or affecting other running operations on it.
  • It can handle a very high volume of input and output throughout. capable of supporting thousands of users at a time.
  • IBM system Z9 and System Z10 has the fault tolerant computing capability. By which it computes any complex calculation twice and then compare the two results to find out if there is an arbitrary difference.
  • Modern Mainframe is designed for mobile. So many industries including financial institutions, airlines, stock brokers have started mobile applications for their business operations. Modern Mainframe has increased it memory by 300 % and increased its bandwidth by 100% for hazard-free mobile transactions.
  • System Z13 is specially designed for App economy. It can handle business transactions 100 times more and also can carry out real-time fraud detection.
  • Redundant internal engineering in modern mainframe resulting high reliability and security than before.
  • It has backward Compatibility with older software which provides a completely understandable interface to work on old legacy software.

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  1. Willie Senekal September 17, 2017
    • Sibajee Ray September 17, 2017

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