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NASA: Goodbye To Mainframe Computer

    February 13, 2012
    Shawn Hess
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NASA is saying goodbye to their last mainframe computer. Marshall Space Flight Center powered down their IBM Z9 last week and ushered in a new era where advanced calculation would no longer rely on the supercomputer. NASA CIO Linda Cureton explains that the high-cost, high-maintanence machine is no longer needed and that calculations can be done with an array of other devices.

She released the following statement regarding the event at NASA:

This month marks the end of an era in NASA computing. Marshall Space Flight Center powered down NASA’s last mainframe, the IBM Z9 Mainframe. For my millennial readers, I suppose that I should define what a mainframe is. Well, that’s easier said than done, but here goes — It’s a big computer that is known for being reliable, highly available, secure, and powerful. They are best suited for applications that are more transaction oriented and require a lot of input/output – that is, writing or reading from data storage devices.

In my first stint at NASA, I was at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center as a mainframe systems programmer when it was still cool. That IBM 360-95 was used to solve complex computational problems for space flight. Back then, I comfortably navigated the world of IBM 360 Assembler language and still remember the much-coveted “green card” that had all the pearls of information about machine code. Back then, real systems programmers did hexadecimal arithmetic – today, “there’s an app for it!”

But all things must change. Today, they are the size of a refrigerator but in the old days, they were the size of a Cape Cod. Even though NASA has shut down its last one, there is still a requirement for mainframe capability in many other organizations.