NASA Pulls Plug on last Mainframe

Frank Gentges fgentges at
Wed Feb 15 09:36:54 CST 2012


Several AMRAD members began their work with mainframe computers.  Sandy, 
WB5MMB being one of them and the list could go on and on.  NASA has shut 
down their last one although other mainframes continue on.

I have a large compendium of the computers in the U.S. in the 1960s that 
lists the IBM 7090 at Goddard that was used to plan our flights to the 
moon.  Many of us can recall the raised floors in the computer room and 
a little window where we could submit our jobs for the mainframe to chew 
on overnight.  Was I intimidated.  No... not really, I just wanted to 
know how these monster machines did what they did.  In time their 
secrets were revealed.

Some years later I got a really hot 50 MHz 486 computer (oohs and ahhs 
should mark this) and as I compared it with the 7090 I found listed in 
the compendium it was an order of magnitude bigger better and faster.

A short blog from the NASA CIO follows.

Cheers from Orland.

Frank Gentges K0BRA

The End of the Mainframe Era 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.
They’re really not so bad honestly, and they have their place.  Things 
like virtual machines, hypervisors, thin clients, and swapping are all 
old hat to the mainframe generation though they are new to the current 
generation of cyber youths.
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.  The 
end-user interfaces are clunky and somewhat inflexible, but the need 
remains for extremely reliable, secure transaction oriented business 


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