Sometimes a technology comes along that changes everything. A very good example of this is the IBM mainframe: On April 7, 1964, IBM announced the System/360 and changed the face of business computing forever.
As it turns out, however, this wasn’t just a change of direction; it became part of a permanent state of change, as business computing manifested itself as a source and target of constant, dynamic change that compelled and enabled business to advance and adapt in new directions at an ever-faster rate.
The first decade of the mainframe’s existence—coincidentally overlapping with the glory days of the U.S. space program and the coming of age of the baby boomers—introduced concepts and technologies—such as virtualization—that are still marveled at and considered state of the art today.
It also led to the realization that, for the mainframe to be a truly business-sustaining ecosystem, it was necessary for other vendors to join in and offer solutions that built on, complemented, and enhanced the mainframe environment in new, business-enabling ways.
Thus, Independent Software Vendors (ISVs) emerged, allowing many influential organizations to realize important competitive advantages and operational efficiencies by exploiting the inherent virtues of the mainframe environment.
The demands of opportunity were too much, however, even for the growing mainframe ecosystem to respond to as quickly as businesses demanded—particularly in the areas of computing that could be seen as personal or single-user-focused, such as spreadsheets, word processing, and graphical interfaces.
So, as the second decade of the mainframe’s existence drew to a close, a new technology appeared, almost as if out of nowhere, which responded to the demands of users in a completely new way: the personal computer.
Before long, not only were these new devices being pressed into service for individual needs such as document creation, exchange and modification, but they also began to be used to connect to the mainframe, providing a brand-new level of interface and convenience.
At the same time, UNIX had emerged as a platform for academic and technical computing, and was being used to respond to production demands from areas such as engineering and geophysics.
The attraction of these platforms led to more and more business activities, leading many to wonder if they might entirely supplant the mainframe.