What is Mainframe Computer | What is it Used For

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It’s hard to imagine why would people use anything larger than an iPad or MacBook these days. Because they bring so much computing power to the table. However, did you know, there are much larger computers than the biggest desktop you’ve ever seen?

One of them is a mainframe computer. Acting as a central data repository hub, mainframe computers process billions of calculations at a time. continue reading below to find out more about what mainframe computers are and what we use them for, even today.

What is Mainframe Computer
What is Mainframe Computer

What Is Mainframe Computer?

in broad, the definition of mainframe computer can be described as a Mainframe Computer is a powerful computer having multiple user interfaces. Primarily ‘mainframe’ referred to the large cabinets which housed the Central Processing Unit and the main memory. Mainframes can run uninterrupted for tens of years. The term RAS (reliability, availability, serviceability) is a very important characteristic of mainframe computer since it used for application where the thing has to be done with zero downtime. It is used for millions of smaller and simpler calculations and transactions, unlike supercomputers.

What’s the Use of a Mainframe Computer?

Mainframes usually serve the purpose of transferring the desired data in real-time. That’s why multinational companies buy them in the first place. Processing is not one of its fortes. But nowadays newer generation packs bit processing capability. This enables mainframes to identify a fault during a transaction in real-time. The latest technologies like cloud computing are taking the place of mainframes but to some extent, companies are being forced to buy mainframes. The reason is that mainframes specialize in high-speed data transmission. The point advanced technologies will continuously be hitting the market but the previous ones will not lose their market because of their specialty.

A Brief History of Mainframe Computer

Mainframe Computer

Currently, the mainframes being sold by IBM are the product of enormous developments in their basic design of IBM System/360. Starting from 1952 IBM manufactured many large computers of IBM 700/7000 series up to 1960s. These computers created supremacy of IBM in EDP (Electronic Data processing). In the very beginning, IBM sold mainframes devoid of any software and operating system. The first generation of IBM mainframes used vacuum tubing while the second generation used transistors. Eventually, IBM started to provide software and Operating systems to their customer which was initially left to up to the customers to write. Currently, IBM is marketing its IBM series.

Supercomputer Vs Mainframe computer

Supercomputer Vs Mainframe computer

Supercomputers best known for its processing capacity is used for some top-notch calculations like medical research, weather forecasting. They are used data crunching and number crunching thus having the capability to solve various scientific and engineering problems. Whereas mainframes are used basically for transaction purposes. Mainframes might need to do millions of updates to its database in a second when it is being used by retailers, airlines, banks, etc. Mainframes don’t cost thousands of dollars but millions of dollars. Bad news for the gamers out there is that mainframes can’t render floating points thus can’t be used for games.

Applications of Mainframe Computer

Mainframe computers work behind the scenes in many complicated calculations for various large companies like NASA, Walmart, etc. Ninety-six out of the top one hundred banks and twenty-three out of the twenty-five US retailers use mainframes. The name mainframe comes from its appearance, massive machines living inside large cabinets.

Mainframe in e-Business

The mainframe is a must for large-scale e-business. Many of the Fortune 500 companies use mainframes. It is almost impossible for any other computers to keep track of a large number of transactions taking place every second. Paying the bills of the employees, keeping track of the inventories from what is being sold and bought, keeping track of product those are on the road for delivery, taking orders online etc. and many other responsibilities are bestowed upon mainframes in e-business or e-commerce. Only mainframes having the capacity to get these done has become a must for large-scale e-business.

Mainframe Computer in Cloud Computing

Mainframes contribute to the management of the majority portion of corporate data. But it gets tough to maintain on-premise mainframes. Besides systems has to be maintained so that the mainframes can handle the pressure when business are at their peaks. So the organization has to have sufficient skills to operate such technology. An easy and most popular solution to such problems is cloud computing. Cloud computing provides organizations with the information and software services they need thus reducing the infrastructure costs. You might start thinking by this time, what have mainframes got anything to do with this? Yes, you got it right. Mainframes take care of the high-speed data transfer which is mandatory in this case.

Mainframe in Healthcare

Mainframe in Healthcare
Mainframe in Healthcare

Mainframes are also used in health care. Uses are the same as those mentioned for e-business. Keeping track of patient’s and doctor’s schedules, test results of the patient, keeping patient confidentiality, which is a must for the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, scheduling surgery for the patient. Doctors can access the test results of their patients.

Mainframe in Military

Mainframe in Military

The military started to use mainframes from the very beginning for combat purposes. Navy, Airforce, and any other armed forces use mainframes for reliable live communication between ships, planes, and any other places. Also used for combat strategies to find the best location for attacking or to take shelter in a war. Also used by border guards to keep the country’s border safe. Even in the police use mainframes for facial recognition of the criminal and also to identify criminals from DNA samples and fingerprints. Mainframes are also used for intelligence and spying effort.

Mainframe for Academic Purposes

Libraries need to keep track of their book who is taking what number of books, who has which books. The library of congress has mainframe which provides it with data from its database dating back to 1800. Public and private libraries use mainframes nowadays. Mainframes provide online information for libraries. Besides these mainframes are also used for many other academic purposes. Many universities use mainframes to keep a hold of students’ marks and other performances and degrees.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is mainframe computer example?

Some popular examples of mainframe computer are the UNIVAC and ZSeries mainframes, manufactured by IBM.

Is mainframe a CPU?

No, mainframes are fully-functioning computers. However, they are most often used as a powerful processing unit for smaller computing devices.

What is the size of a mainframe?

While older mainframes used to occupy 10-20 thousand square feet of space, newer ones will occupy about 10 square feet of space.


Many people out there think that mainframes are relics of a bygone era. But it works behind the scenes in our everyday life providing us with reliable information, keeping us safe. It has a long history of how it developed throughout the ages.

The functions of mainframes might not be that many but its application is vast. This might be the reason why its position in the future might be at stake. Machine Learning for mainframes might be able to make it last a bit longer.

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