NASA’s space programs have been around for decades now, and behind all their explorations and missions, have been large spacecrafts and rockets. Behind the scene, however, there have also been computers – mainframes as they’ve been called. Traditionally, mainframes were large computers, often designed to do application-specific operations. NASA will now be turning off the last of their mainframes – an IBM Z9, according to NASA CIO, Linda Cureton’s blog post. Mainframes were best known for their reliability and their performance. All of the tasks that mainframes handled are now being handled by more complicated pieces of hardware that are able to run most of these processes under virtual environments, like virtual machines and using thin clients.

The last mainframe - the IBM z9 being shut down

The last mainframe – the IBM z9 being shut down

Linda writes that the mainframes of today are like refrigerators, but the old ones used to be many times that size. Linda used to be a system programmer for mainframes at the NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Back then, the IBM 360-95 mainframe was used to perform calculations necessary for space flight. Things have evolved since then and some of the easier tasks can now be handled by even mobile phones using apps designed to do the same task. The IBM 360-95 was capable of doing a lot – calculating 14-digit multiplications, for example at 330 million times a minute. Linda clarified that although NASA has chosen to shut down its last mainframe, there’s a constant need for dedicated, reliable, secure computing machines that are designed to perform a set of tasks.

The IBM Z9, the one being shut down is one of the newer mainframes to be launched. They were first launched in 2005. These mainframes didn’t come cheap. The z9 started with a price tag of around 50 lakh and high-end models were much more expensive. The z10 was the successor to the z9 and was launched in 2008. NASA has been spending a ton of money maintaining and buying these mainframes. It appears, more affordable and efficient options are now taking the place of these sophisticated machines.

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