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When Software is Mission Critical

Mainframes and the Average User

Courtney Clark
01.11.21 04:01 PM Comment(s)

This morning, I found myself surfing the web looking for a new reusable water bottle, to replace the one I’ve used every day for the past couple of years. I found the one I wanted, put it in my cart, and hit the checkout button. After placing my order, I checked my bank account to verify that the payment came out properly.

This is all a pretty normal transaction that I might make every day, and I’m not alone. Millions of people make similar transactions every day. As I sit here and wait for my package to arrive in the next few days, I realized how many times I had, unknowingly, interacted with a mainframe system, just for this one water bottle purchase.

It dawned on me that most people do not recognize that there is a backend system to the majority of the transactions we make every day. In fact, most of us don’t think beyond clicking the checkout button. But how do the majority of businesses run their back end systems? With a mainframe. Many consider this technology to be antiquated and obsolete, but it continues to power the billions of transactions we make every day. According to IBM, “nearly 80 percent of the world’s corporate data resides on or originates from mainframe computing platforms.[1]” However, the average person doesn’t even know what a mainframe is, never mind, how many times they are actively interacting with one.

So, what are mainframes? When the mainframe first came on the scene, they were huge machines, taking up an entire room. These monsters had immense processing power and memory, allowing big business and financial institutions to harness this power and create immense databases of information. Typically written in COBOL, the mainframe contains software that allowes these heavy-duty processors to provide up to date accurate information used for making business decisions. The mainframe of today maintains this incredible processing power, today mainframes handle 30 billion business transactions each day[2]. That is a lot of credit card payments, stock trades, ATM interactions, and other critical business transactions.

30 billion transaction EVERY day is a lot of information flowing to and from mainframes each second. Large banks would not have the processing power to reliably handle this volume of data without the incredible power of the mainframe. Software company, Micro Focus put it succinctly, “They [mainframes] are the systems of record, the number crunchers, the power behind cloud and mobile transactions. Mainframes monitor processes for fraud, perform real-time analytics, and many more functions – and all simultaneously.[3]” Mainframes do more than just crunch numbers, they also offer protection for our valuable personal data for each of these transactions that we are a part of. Mainframes offer incredibly fast data calculations that help to prevent fraud. Today, much of the banking fraud that occurs requires delays in data processing. However, the incredible speed of mainframes makes this impossible for possible fraudsters. Mainframes scan data for discrepancies so quickly that they are able to eliminate the lag in data processing, making your transaction that much safer.

What does all of this mean for the average user? Not much. People will continue to be oblivious to how their transactions are actually being processed every day. The mainframe is not going to be talked about at the next office party. No one is going to think twice abut hitting the checkout button on their next online purchase. However, it is reassuring to know that big business continues to use these legacy systems that work to keep our personal information safe.

[1] Norman, Levi. (February 8,2018). The FutureScape of IT. IBM.

[2] Mainframe Matter: How Mainframes Keep the Financial Industry Up and Running. Share’d Intelligence.

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