Last Of NASA’s Mainframe Computers Shuts Down
February 14, 2012

Last Of NASA’s Mainframe Computers Shuts Down

NASA has shut down its last remaining mainframe computer, a powerful IBM Z9 system that has provided reliable data for the agency for the past several years, according to the space agency´s CIO.

NASA has described the Z9 mainframe as reliable, highly available, secure, and powerful. They were machines that NASA used for its transaction oriented needs that required loads of input and output such as reading and writing data from storage devices.

“This month marks the end of an era in NASA computing,” NASA CIO Linda Cureton said in a blog post Saturday after the agency shutdown the last mainframe at Marshall Space Flight Center.

These bulky, refrigerator-sized computers were once the backbone of many large corporations and agencies and served their purposes well, but most companies are now switching to smaller and cheaper Linux and UNIX systems that are also much faster and easier to manage.

NASA, which has relied on huge mainframe behemoths since the early days of space exploration, said it will follow suit and utilize the cheaper and faster systems of the new computing era. NASA officials haven´t mentioned what they will do with all the retired hardware, but they are likely to be auctioned off.

IBM, fighting to maintain a foothold in the computer data industry, has boosted performance in its systems and has added new technology to make it more attractive. But many industry leaders have compared the once powerful giants to dinosaurs, calling them obsolete. While many companies have moved on to the new breed, the IBM dinosaurs do remain a fixture in some corners of the industry.

Cureton, who once programmed an IBM System 360 mainframe in assembly language at the Goddard Space Flight Center, came to their defense, saying they aren´t so bad really, and they have their place.

“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,” she said. However, “all things must change,” she noted, and NASA is no longer in need of such systems.

That doesn´t mean mainframes aren´t still a valid computing platform, Cureton added. “Even though NASA has shut down its last one, there is still a requirement for mainframe capability in many other organizations,” she said. “The end-user interfaces are clunky and somewhat inflexible, but the need remains for extremely reliable, secure transaction oriented business applications.”


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