A Day Without Mainframes

by | Jun 4, 2019

I walk into my local Starbucks, ready for my morning coffee, smiling at the absence of the usual line out the door. In fact, the store is almost empty. I pull out my phone to access Starbucks’ handy app to buy my morning coffee. Just open the app, scan my barcode, and go. But no, there’s a handwritten sign taped over the reader that says, “Out of Service.”  A similar sign over the credit card terminal says, “Cash Only.”  I have no cash.

Not ready to give up, I walk across the parking lot to an ATM machine outside the Publix supermarket.  The screen reads, “Out of Service, we apologize for the inconvenience.” I walk further to the Bank of America. Same message on the ATM screen.

Oh well, time to move on. I get in my car and head to the airport, but first I need gas. At the gas station, there is yet another handwritten sign informing me they are cash only today. I should have filled up yesterday. I don’t have enough gas to get to the airport, so I head back home, put the car in my garage, and open the Uber app. Surely Uber is beyond this meltdown? Nope. A pop-up message informs me they can’t process transactions at the moment.

With no way to the airport, I need to reschedule my flight. I hop on my Delta app. Nothing. No information. I call the airline and receive a pre-recorded message saying all systems are down and no flights are departing. I guess I’m not going anywhere today.

I called my hotel to cancel my reservation and they told me all systems were down.

Did the computing infrastructure suddenly fail? Nope. This is how the world would look if all mainframes suddenly vanished. No banking, no credit cards, airlines cannot fly, and hotels cannot take reservations. Even Uber can’t run without the ability to process payments. This is not an exaggeration. In reality, it would be worse. The full 70% of the Global 500 that rely on mainframes would halt. Banking would cease to exist. Markets would screech to a halt. Manufacturers would stop building products. Planes would stop flying. The global economy would come to a complete standstill.

Vanishing mainframes seem farfetched, and the chances of even a few failing are unlikely. The reason the world relies on mainframes is that they remain the most reliable, secure, and stable computer environment that has ever existed.


About the Author

Steve Hassett is the President of GT Software. Steve previously held roles as an M&A advisor, a corporate development executive with Verint Systems and Sage Group plc, and ran a new ventures group for The Weather Channel. Prior to that, he was CEO of iTendant, a SaaS and mobile software company he co-founded in 2000. Steve is also the inventor of U.S. Patent 9,378,515, which deals with the availability of mobile content based on a user’s location and the time of transmission.