Mainframes are very large computers that are built to be able to perform complex and critical applications. They are usually very large in both physical size and computational ability, and they can be some of the largest machines on the planet. However, given the continued drive toward greater computational muscle in a smaller physical package, many mainframes are not too much larger than desktop computers these days.
These large computers are designed to keep running with as little interruption as possible. They contain large numbers of self-maintenance features, including built-in security features and backup power supplies. Since mainframes are usually the most important computers in a company’s computational arsenal, they are routinely protected by multiple layers of security and power backup, both internal and external.
Among the self-protection measures commonly found in mainframes are an enhanced heat-protection mechanism. Since these computers run all day every day for years at a time, they naturally build up a large amount of heat that needs to be vented. The fans found in mainframes are some of the most effective in the business.
Because mainframes are at the top of the network system food chain, they routinely have the best and most up-to-date of everything, including processors, hard drives, video cards, network cards, and peripheral connections. With such a computer, which is designed to be super-fast, super-sleek, and super-powerful, read and write speeds have to be lightning-quick. Many have multiple processors as a result.
One of the most important functions of a mainframe is to be able to host applications and work with multiple users simultaneously. Not all computers can handle this, so mainframes are very important in a company’s electronic design, especially its network design. Very often, they are at the heart of computer networks.
In today’s on-demand, Web-driven world, mainframes are playing an even more central role in providing — and controlling — access to and from networks. The number of users that can access this computer at one time is seemingly limitless. Mainframes in this environment are also designed to host Web-based applications.
Mainframes typically can run more than one operating system at a time as well. This comes in handy when a company is running a Web-based system whose users include practitioners of Mac OS, Linux, and Windows XP. It allows a company to avoid having to exclude users because of OS issues.
Larger mainframes are not always user-friendly, unless the user is the system administrator. These computers are designed to stay running, not to be available for users’ whims. However, the lack of approachability is more than made up for by their increased ability to keep running in situations that would likely disable other systems.