Cool Solutions

Cloud Computing More than Glorified Mainframes



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September 10, 2010 7:42 am

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There is a popular argument today that cloud computing is mainframe computing, part deux. In this post, I’m here to refute that argument. While it’s clear that there is overlap here, I’m here to say the two are ultimately very different.

In the old days we had large pieces of hardware in huge rooms. People accessed these mainframes from dumb terminals and could use whatever programs were on there. They tended to be less about day-to-day business than big back-end processes and they weren’t typically in reach of every user in the company the way PCs are today. In some organizations people paid for their access to the computer system, which is similar to the private cloud model today, but there are, as we shall see, important differences.

Today we have the concept of the cloud where users can access a set of services that sit on a group of Intel-based servers. It’s not the same as Mainframe-dumb or client-server. Yes, people pay for the services in a similar fashion as they did with mainframes back in the day, but that’s where the similarity ends. Instead of huge hulking computers on the back end, we have low-cost PC servers. On the software side we have agile web-based applications. On the client side we still have independent PCs capable of operating in the cloud system or locally depending on the needs of the user, far different from that dumb terminal we were using back in the day.

Private Cloud computing consists of a set of pre-defined services created by IT to make it easy for end users to grab what they need without IT intervention. Last year at the MIT CIO Conference, I watched a panel on cloud computing which included Rear Admiral Elizabeth Hight, vice director of the Defense Information Agency. As I wrote at that time on DaniWeb:

Hight explained how the military has set up a flexible set of cloud services that enables people in the field to set up and break down a project very quickly, a must in a military situation. Hight said they have a secure system and they are able to provide their constituents what they need on the fly.”

I don’t think anyone would have described the old Mainframe computer environment as flexible, but Hight said the way they were able to make this work — while in a sensitive military situation, mind you — was to provide a defined set of services that were simple to access, select and use. What’s more, since the individuals who used these services were being billed for exactly what they used–they actually had a credit card system–they made darn sure they closed their project when it was over so they wouldn’t be paying for services they weren’t using.

So while it’s popular to portray cloud computing as just modernized mainframing, I don’t think it’s nearly as simple as that. In fact, the cloud is much more efficient, elegant and user-oriented than those mainframes ever were.

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3 Comments

  1. By:FlyingGuy

    might be convincing to brain dead PHB’s or some CEO who can barely spell computer much less understand the “cloud” you don’t have a chance of convincing anyone who has been in this business for more then a decade two.

    “They tended to be less about day-to-day business than big back-end processes and they weren’t typically in reach of every user in the company the way PCs are today.”

    I am really sorry to say it but you could not be more wrong. There were terminals on everyones desk that needed to do work (you know that stuff you got paid to do rather then spending your time on Facebok or MySpace or /. or whatever) entering accounting data, creating contracts or setting up customer accounts or placing orders for their customers.

    “Instead of huge hulking computers on the back end, we have low-cost PC servers”

    Yes we have whole buildings full of them, whole buildings! How many user can a “low cost” PC server handle? Not very many, why because they were never designed to handle massive I/O on a scale of thousands of users. I mean as much as I love NetWare which in a single server solution handled more then just about any PC based server out there even I was not foolish enough to throw 1000 users at a single box.

    Please define “low cost”. A rigged out Dell Dual Quad Core server runs about $6000.00 bucks. Lose the tape drive and connect it to a SAN and the price drops to about between $3000 and $4000, each. The next words that will more then likely come from you are “look at google”. Uh-huh, look at google, they have 100′s of thousands of those servers, not tens of thousands, not thousands.

    At the last estimation Google has about 450,000 of these little boxes and at 100.00 per unit that is $45,000,000.00 dollars worth of CPU’s, not to mention the routing gear etc.

    Thanks but for that kind of money , i will take a moderately prized Z series mainframe from IBM who you can throw 10,000 users at simultaneously and it wont even blink and I would still have 44 or so million bucks to go party with and to make it even sweeter I have the thing on my prem, under my control.

    “On the software side we have agile web-based applications.”

    Of spare me the marketing speak! I swear if I hear someone say “our software is agile” again I am going to toss my lunch. Software does what it is deigned to do, be it accounting, e-mail, word processing or whatever and in a web browser it is not the best experience going.

    “Hight explained how the military has set up a flexible set of cloud services that enables people in the field to set up and break down a project very quickly, a must in a military situation. Hight said they have a secure system and they are able to provide their constituents what they need on the fly.”

    I would hope so when you basically have a open ended budget and around the clock crew of fairly talented and dedicated employees who’s ONLY job is to make that “defined set of services” available as needed.

    “I don’t think anyone would have described the old Mainframe computer environment as flexible”

    Sure I would, it provided the “defined set of services” to anyone who could attach attached to it. Back in the day you had to have a hard link, mostly RS-232 but today it is all done over TCP/IP so just connect via the wide area network, that thing the marketers have found a new term for, “The Cloud”.

    “So while it’s popular to portray cloud computing as just modernized mainframing, I don’t think it’s nearly as simple as that. In fact, the cloud is much more efficient, elegant and user-oriented than those mainframes ever were.”

    It is not only popular, it is the truth, not some marketers latest spin so they can sell more accounts. There is nothing elegant about a building full of x86 boxes strung together with a mash of up of a dozen different programming languages, like so many tin cans hanging from wires.

    The truth of this is the fact that we are heading straight back the days when your applications and data are going to be living on a big machine in the sky which you have no control over other then to send an e-mail ( which we did in PROFS so many years ago ) to the guy who is going to be the one to write whatever additions you want and send you a bill. Only instead of a guy who was paid pretty well because he knew exactly what he was doing you will be sending it to some 20 something kid with a bad attitude who thinks he can do it 10 lines of perl who gets paid 30 bucks an hour and has absolutely NO motivation to do it cleanly and efficiently.

    Best of luck with that one.

    • By:rsmiller510

      You will never be convinced this is the way to go, and that’s fine. But I will say if you look at the US Army example, and this was an extremely early example of private cloud computing, you see that it there are success stories already.

      You obviously don’t like this approach and you never will, for whatever reason, but this is the way computing is going to go. This isn’t just marketing or hype or whatever you want to call it. Sure, there are a lot of buzz words around it and marketers have clearly jumped on this bandwagon and ridden it for all it’s worth, but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t value behind this approach.

      IT will still have a big role to play here. The Data Center will be more important than ever. It will just operate more efficiently and provide a way to charge users for everything they do. Sounds like a reasonable approach to me.

      I like your passion, but I’m not the only one writing about this. It’s getting a lot of attention because companies are starting to move to the cloud.

      Good luck to you if you choose to bury your head in the sand and ignore it because like it or not, the times they are a changin’.

      Ron

      • By:FlyingGuy

        you still do not get what my arguments are about and I find that kind of interesting.

        The whole notion of going back to leased computing resources is not what I am objecting to for many companies it is a great idea, especially where there are no complex storage needs or other overly complex processes and lets face the fact, what companies like SalesFource and Intuit offer are not complex at all.

        My most stringent objection is to S&M types and unfortunately, and I say that because you seem like a decent smart guy, the press covering this phenomena and calling it something that it emphatically is not, and that is, Revolutionary or Inexpensive. It is not revolutionary because it is simply a rehash of what has been done for years. It is not inexpensive if you need anything then the simplistic canned packages that are offered.

        Mark my words, this thing is heading back to where the PC revolution started and more importantly why it started. As I said in my other post(s) I wonder how long before the next PC revolution starts after this turns into the big glass room, even if it is a virtual one.

        In the meantime I will be watching, I will be commenting and I will still poke wholes into espoused theories that are so far beyond reality as to border on pure fiction.

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