The X is dead, long live the X

The X is dead, long live the X

Summary: Headlines scream the mainframe is dead, the midrange system is dead or the PC is dead. The data center reality, however, is that useful technology doesn't die. It just becomes the foundation for the next wave of technology adoption.

TOPICS: Hardware

If you look around the Internet, you'll find articles, commentaries and posts proclaiming various types of technology or products are dead, that they've been replaced by some new type of technology. Even my colleagues at ZDnet are not above making such comments.

If we scan recent activity, we'll see headlines proclaiming PCs are dead/they're are not dead, mainframes are dead/they're are not dead, midrange systems are dead/they're not dead and the like. If one merely looks through the history of computing, it is clear that technology doesn't die the moment that something new is added. It continues to soldier on, doing the work it was assigned to do, for quite a long time.

Just look around. Mainframes are still at the heart of quite a number of organizations' data centers. Midrange systems can still be found surrounding those mainframes. PCs, regardless of whether configured as desktop systems, laptops or in some other configuration, are still the mainstay of personal computing.

A historical view is that new technology is added as it emerges. For a time, the growth in other forms of computing may slow or even stop while the industry explores what this new form of computing offers. It takes time to learn the limits and assign tasks to these new forms.

Most data centers are living computer museums. Examples of just about every type of computing architecture can be found quietly doing its work amidst the racks of equipment. Only on very rare occasions are established systems turned off forever. As long as a technology continues to be useful, it will be used.

So, let's welcome the Tablet, the Smartphone and other new types of computing as they emerge. Just because something new appears on the scene doesn't mean everything else is quietly escorted to the dumpster.

Topic: Hardware


Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. In his spare time, he's also the managing partner of Lux Sonus LLC, an investment firm.

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  • PCs

    PCs aren't just "the mainstay of personal computing" they are often the servers, and clustered together 'mainframes' of the modern age. Windows has grown to run HPC (which is frankly still amazing to me) and Linux running on x86 hardware offers price/performance that is unbeatable.

    I know the fanboys on all sides won't agree, but all these offerings are with us for the long haul, because frankly they are useful and malleable (yes, even Windows).

    The big change is a drop in the quality of the IT Trade Press. With the emphasis on page-impressions and stirring up "comments" (or 'childish bickering' as we used to call it) the truth of the situation is often lost to sensationalist reports and some pretty lowbrow writing.

    So yes, of course, Mainframes, Midrange, PCs, Linux, Windows are all essential technologies. Real work can (and is) done on Mac and iPad (though many will argue this is impossible). The world is a much richer and nuanced place than the IT Press (or the "commenters") would have you believe.
  • PCs: TY Jeremy

    Finally, a voice of reason...

    I'd love to see where the authors of "Five Reasons why Windows will be dead on arrival" are going to stand when it beats all the predictions of an early demise...

    More than likely concocting this headline... "Punditry takes a nose dive... investigators looking at pilot error as cause..."
    • One of the wonderful things about ZDnet is...

      ZDnet is a wonderful place to find interesting and very smart folks who offer their research, opinion and insight. While I don't always agree with everything my colleagues say, I'm very interested in reading through their logic and making up my own mind on that topic.

      Dan K
  • HEY!

    I think he's talking about me! I resemble that remark.
  • All generalizations are false!

    Including this one. I think. Wait ... oh oh.....
  • what?

    The only thing that is dead is peoples imagination and that happens to every generation when they get old and run out of ideas. Nothing is dead not even mainframes. Even dumb terminals with some modification may come back. Different yes dead no.
    • RE: Even dumb terminals with some modification may come back

      Nowadays, they are called 'thin clients'; or in a more capable form an 'all in one'.
    • They did

      They were called "Web Browsers"... Of course, now those are getting smart, but we already had x-terminals, WinTerms as well as the older 'dumb terminals'. This idea has been around the block several times already.
  • RE: Not dead

    The line of thinking that all "old" is bad "new" is good is just as wrong as no change at all. Unfortunately for the US the thoughts laid by Dan Kusnetzky are a minority among the influential and leadership classes where it is the all new is bad or all old is bad clashing in what is viewed as a zero sum war leading to paralysis. The leaders in the tech industry are boomers who grew up with "Don't trust anybody over 30" and made their million in an industry where what was revolutionary became out of date in two years. But this is changing, people have learned under the threat if not being bankrupt that they can keep their computers and operating systems for a decade and unlike in the past the sky will not fall in.
  • IBM PureSystems - ready to go

    re. the "next wave of technoloogy, from a server-side, IBM has invested significant effort and resources in recently introducing the IBM PureSystems family, an important addition to the IBM SmartCloud strategy. IBM clients can deploy a PureSystems for a ???ready to go??? cloud environment that can be setup in as little as 4 hours, providing infrastructure-as-a-service and platform-as-a-service capabilities.
    Don N
  • It's a matter of having more choices to fit individual use

    When desktop computers became affordable, everyone "had" to have one, though many ended up using them only to forward "interesting" emails to their entire address book, extensive instant messenger chats, or browse AOL's version of the internet. For those, smartphones are a natural progression, and much more convenient while doing all they need. They can tweet, shop, text, and chat endlessly while involved in other activities (not that anything is gained...a walk down the beach while gabbing on the phone or poking a screen might as well be on a treadmill at home, except they can't tweet "I'm walking down the beach...".

    Tablets allow many somewhat superficial activities, while being a bit more flexible than a phone, with the larger view and better screen. Even full-size laptops, handy and powerful as they may be, can't compete with a good desktop and large monitor for actual work, whether processing photos, graphics layouts, web design, or writing a literate (not r u 8 OMG!) letter or publication. Even emails, with the convenience of a dedicated environment and the lack of being hurried, benefit from a desktop environment.

    A mainframe provides the best environment for a company, where security and safety of information is important. A bunch of social-networking employees with tablets are likely to be playing more than working, but a desktop/mainframe environment is more businesslike, controllable, and productive unless casual blogging is your business.

    I think it's a big mistake to try to incorporate all of these technologies together, when they all fit different needs. Trying to make desktops resemble phones is ridiculous...smartphone fans won't need a desktop, and desktop users who need the increased capabilities don't need the dumbed-down, poke-at-an-icon-slide-your-finger interface of phones or tablets.

    Now there are choices, and everyone can use the one that's appropriate; none need to be pronounced "dead" just because the only use some have for their device is social contact 24/7, or being able to check the weather in Peru while walking down the grocery store aisle running into people.
  • Whats dead

    What does Microsoft Office 365 run on? Using it makes your PC, Tablet, Laptop just a DUMB Terminal connected to a mainframe. The only difference is that it is now using the internet instead of the phone data lines.