Mainframe Computer Inventors

by | Feb 11, 2020

When thinking of large players in the technology field, some names immediately come to mind. Steve Jobs. Mark Zuckerberg. Jeff Bezos. But the career trajectories of some of the most innovative minds in the industry would not have been possible if not for the invention of mainframe computers.

What are mainframe computers?

Mainframes are large computers primarily used for critical applications such as bulk data processing and are indispensable in numerous fields. The majority of large banks utilize mainframes to host their critical core IT and according to the Wall Street Journal, no major bank has ever replaced their mainframe. Mainframes are also extremely prevalent in manufacturing, insurance, aviation, and other fields. If not for mainframes, many of today’s industries would simply be unable to function. Moreover, the innovative and exciting business developments made by the above trailblazers would have likely been impossible.

Howard Aiken the Inventor

We would like to cast a spotlight on inventors in the mainframe industry since they have paved the way for the technology of the future. Though there was no mainframe inventor who coined the term, the first mainframe was developed in the 1930s by Howard Aiken, who was a Harvard researcher. He proposed the idea of a large-scale calculator that could solve a set of non-linear equations. He took this idea to IBM, who was tasked with figuring out how to create this computer. Finally, in 1943, the device was completed. It was only capable of doing three additions or subtractions per second and was a bit of a letdown to the community. However, it represented the first fully automated computing machine and was a preview of the mainframes that would eventually change the world.

Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer

In 1945, the ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Computer) was completed and was in use for a decade. Its development was financed by the United States Army and led by Major General Gladeon M. Barnes., with help from inventors John Mauchly and J. Presper Eckert. The ENIAC was retired in 1955 and estimates show that it did more calculations itself in the 10 years it was working, than all of humankind had done up to 1945.

Shortly after the construction of the ENIAC began, Mauchly and Eckert proposed the building of the EDVAC (Electronic Discrete Variable Automatic Computer). It incorporated numerous logical improvements that were discovered during the production of the ENIAC, like high-speed serial-access memory. The EDVAC was completed in 1949, began operating in 1951, and by 1957 was running over 20 hours a day with error-free run time averaging eight hours.

The next big advancement in the mainframe community was the debut of COBOL in 1959. Common business-oriented language, attributed to pioneer and (grand) mother of COBOL, Grace Hopper, is still widely used today in legacy applications deployed on the mainframe. In fact, COBOL celebrated its 60th birthday last year!

Mainframes and IBM

Mainframes are often synonymous with IBM, and to paint a picture of mainframe inventors and the history of mainframes, it is important to look at Big Blue. As mentioned previously, IBM had a hand in the first-ever mainframe computer, and their influence and designs were a constant from then on.  While the EDVAC was operating, IBM manufactured and marketed the IBM 700/7000, which were large computer models. Then, in 1964, they released the System/360, which was their first family of mainframe computer systems. The chief architect was Gen Amdahl, who worked alongside project manager Fred Brooks and under the watchful eye of Chairman Thomas J. Watson Jr. to create this groundbreaking model.

System/360 would later evolve to System/370, then System/390, and then to zSeries, System z, and zEnterprise machines. Introduced in 2000, the zSeries family is the IBM mainframe system most widely used today. The primary operating systems used with it are z/OS, z/VM, z/VSE, and Linuz on IBM Z. This past September, IBM z Series released the z15, which is its most exciting and innovative mainframe yet.

While mainframes occasionally are branded as older technology, they are still extremely invaluable to many industries. Thank you, mainframe inventors, for creating a timeless tech wonder that continues to improve commerce and spur innovation today.

If you are looking for ways to maximize your mainframe investment, contact us and see how we can help transform your mainframe from legacy to leading edge.

–  Amanda Bierfeld Williams, Marketing Coordinator at Adaptigent