Mainframe computers, created in the early 1940s, initially were bulky machines that required cooling-sensitive rooms. The 1951 UNIVAC was the size of a one-car garage -- unheard of in the 21st century where small, mobile and fast is the norm. IBM -- one of the first manufacturers of mainframes -- continues to design and develop complex systems used in many businesses and organizations. Although personal computers are used by the masses, mainframe computers are an important behind-the-scenes aspect of major businesses.
E-Business and E-Commerce
Both e-business and e-commerce use mainframe computers to perform business functions and exchange money over the Internet. Banking institutions, stock brokerage firms, insurance agencies and Fortune 500 companies are just a few examples of public and private sectors that maintain information and transfer data via mainframes. Whether a business processes millions of customer orders, performs financial transactions, pays employees or tracks production and inventory, a mainframe computer is the only machine that has the storage, speed and capacity to run successful e-commerce and e-business activities.
Chances are, anytime you go to the doctor, schedule surgery, refill a prescription or inquire about your health insurance benefits, this information is being accessed from a mainframe computer. Mainframe systems also manage patient privacy, as required by Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act regulations. Doctors can access test results for mammograms, MRIs and electrocardiograms quickly and easily, speeding up patient diagnosis and treatment.
The military -- one of the first users of mainframe computers -- continues employing this technology in combat and for keeping the country's borders secure. All branches of the armed forces use mainframes for communication among ships, planes and land; for prediction of weather patterns; and for tracking strategic locations and positions using a Global Positioning System. Satellites that were once a science fiction fantasy continue to operate mainframe computers in their intelligence and spying efforts.
Academics and Research
Public and private libraries, as well as colleges and universities, use mainframe computers for storage of critical data. The Library of Congress, dating back to 1800, offers Congress a plethora of resources through its mainframe databases. American Memory is part of the library's online resource to the public and features access to sound recordings, moving images, prints, maps and documents. Higher academic institutions store student data including grades, transcripts and degree information.