NASA retires its last mainframe

NASA retires its last mainframe

Summary: 'Mainframes' and 'moonshots' are two words that were almost synonymous in the 1960s, as are 'iPhones' and 'apps' today.

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TOPICS: Servers, Hardware
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CNET's Steve Shankland reports that an era has ended. NASA has shut down its last mainframe.  He cites a post by Linda Cureton, the space agency's chief information officer, who says they just powered down NASA's last mainframe, an IBM z9.  Apparently, NASA has moved much of its processing to IBM's Blue Gene systems and Linux on Intel and AMD x86-based servers and Unix on IBM Power-based servers.

"Mainframes" and "moonshots" are two words that were almost synonymous, as are "iPhones" and "apps" today. These days, in fact, it's often pointed out that we hold more computing power in the palms of our hands than the mainframes that guided the Apollo missions to the moon and back.

The mainframes that did help send people to the moon were two "super-speed" System 360 Model 95 machines NASA acquired in 1968. These machines were capable of computing 14-digit multiplications at a rate of over 330 million in a minute, IBM said. Steve points out that nowadays, the fastest supercomputer performs 10.5 quadrillion calculations per second.

And also, the IBM system at the time had 4MB of main memory supplemented by 1MB of "ultra-high-speed thin-film memories."  With all the compute power we now carry around in our pockets and purses, one wonders why we can't all launch our own personal space programs.

The mainframe itself, however, continues to thrive as one of the more popular business technology platforms, and has seen a renaissance in recent years. With companies looking to build cloud capabilities and handle big data, expect to see IBM sell a lot more big iron in the years to come.

(Photo: IBM.)

Topics: Servers, Hardware

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22 comments
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  • RE: NASA retires its last mainframe

    Do you know when it was commissioned and its purpose? Just curious.
    Wakemewhentrollsgone
  • RE: NASA retires its last mainframe

    It is sad... Just think, you had a couple of hundred users doing their work in that 4MB RAM, today you'll be lucky to find an iPhone app that runs in under 4MB.
    wright_is
    • Retirement? Been there, done that.

      @wright_is @JoshSale 4 meg of Core? Hey, sonny- I once ran stuff on a 16KB 360 ! And three partitions too! (although most of the early ones I used were between 64K to 512 KB)<br>Obligatory geezer statement here:<br>Why, in my day, there weren't none of your fancy 1 TB pocket-sized eSATA/USB drives! WE had to trudge through 5 miles of snow with two big boxes of 80-column cards, to compile our COBOL decks on that sucker!
      Claude Balloune
      • RE: NASA retires its last mainframe

        @Claude Balloune

        I sometimes miss the old days!
        gribittmep
      • RE: NASA retires its last mainframe

        @Claude Balloune My first employer had a punch room, where code and data were transfered from paper onto cards.

        I remember having to code around 16KB page boundaries and 250 concurrent users making do with around 512KB of RAM.
        wright_is
    • Retirement? Been there, done that.

      duplicate deleted
      Claude Balloune
  • RE: NASA retires its last mainframe

    Sorry ... but System/360's had core memory.
    JoshSale
  • RE: NASA retires its last mainframe

    The bad news is the almost all computers are now x86 little-endian based. Skynet here we come! (except for a few big-endian Sun Solaris and HP-UX machines)
    Starman35
  • RE: NASA retires its last mainframe

    It's also curious how "pictures of old mainframes" usually show only tape drives; not the processor "face" with all its blinking lights!
    richard@...
    • RE: NASA retires its last mainframe

      @richard@... Apparently, people must equate mainframes with Turing Machines. Old, impractical, simplistic... They miss the point that some jobs are not possible without mainframes, and that most of the world's data is stored on mainframes and processed by mainframes. If they see a spinning tape (REEL) they think mainframe computer. I've been in the software business for 42 years, 40+ of that on mainframes, and they're understood less (by the general population) every year.
      lko2181
    • Tapes in front

      The tapes were always in front. This was the way they actually were used. The tapes were changed out several times a day as different info was housed on different reels. Departments had to call down to the datacenter to load the required data for use. Oh the good ol days.
      lewinskys
  • (sob) All my COBOL and BAL expertise now useless?

    Darn! I was planning to get a job at NASA working on their COBOL Y2K cutover! Guess it's too late now!
    Claude Balloune
    • just hold out for the Y3K

      @Claude Balloune
      lewinskys
      • RE: NASA retires its last mainframe

        @lewinskys Actually, it's coming up in 2038 (I seem to recall) when the UNIX and MS-DOS date rollover occurs. This time me an' muh Windows-98 will be ready!
        Claude Balloune
  • Sounds of Yesteryear...

    Ah, yes, the soothing sound of an old punchcard reader eating through a 1000-card stack! Those were the heady days of FORTRAN IV and oil-cooled systems with less computing power than a typical smartphone! How we have progressed!
    kg6ygs@...
    • RE: NASA retires its last mainframe

      @kg6ygs@...

      Now we have things like Facebook where spoiled brat teenagers can broadcast their disrespect toward to their parents in an instant. Love progress.
      gribittmep
  • RE: NASA retires its last mainframe

    In those days, power was based in software.
    You had to THINK if you needed your work done.
    cfernandezluj@...
    • RE: NASA retires its last mainframe

      @cfernandezluj@...

      Back in the day I did my coding on paper and had to be able to THINK like a computer to debug it. Now a days its seems like developers jut bang out some code and if it compiles it must be ok.
      gribittmep
  • RE: NASA retires its last mainframe

    I remember when a basic microcomputer came with 4k of ram, a cassette drive and hooked up to your TV. (I feel so old!!!!!)
    monolithm
    • RE: NASA retires its last mainframe

      @monolithm

      Your not so old, I remember the first system I worked on professionally. It was a mini-computer with 48k of ram, 70mb of disk, supported 16 concurrent users and cost well over $100k. We paid $15k to upgrade our disk drives from 35mb to 70mb.
      gribittmep