<computer> A term originally referring to the cabinet containing the
central processor unit or "main frame" of a room-filling Stone Age batch
machine. After the emergence of smaller "minicomputer" designs in the early
1970s, the traditional big iron machines were described as "mainframe computers"
and eventually just as mainframes. The term carries the connotation of a machine
designed for batch rather than interactive use, though possibly with an
interactive time-sharing operating system retrofitted onto it; it is especially
used of machines built by IBM, Unisys and the other great dinosaurs surviving
from computing's Stone Age.
It has been common wisdom among hackers since the late 1980s that the mainframe
architectural tradition is essentially dead (outside of the tiny market for
number crunching supercomputers (see Cray)), having been swamped by the recent
huge advances in integrated circuit technology and low-cost personal computing.
As of 1993, corporate America is just beginning to figure this out - the wave of
failures, takeovers, and mergers among traditional mainframe makers have
certainly provided sufficient omens (see dinosaurs mating).
Supporters claim that mainframes still house 90% of the data major businesses
rely on for mission-critical applications, attributing this to their superior
performance, reliability, scalability, and security compared to microprocessors.
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