What would the world be like without mainframes?

Business leaders may think that today’s ‘smaller, faster, better’ approach to technology means that mainframes no longer have a place, but they’d be wrong. 70% of Fortune 500 companies rely on mainframes for everything from loyalty card programmes to logistics and order management, but the technology is not just the reserve of large businesses. Chances are your business is reliant on a mainframe even if you don’t realise it.

If all the mainframes were suddenly switched off tomorrow, you would certainly notice. Planes may not fall out of the sky, but it would most definitely be harder to buy a plane ticket and check in at the airport. Here are just a few of the things that would happen in a world without mainframes…

Banking and financial transactions

96 of the world’s top 100 banks use mainframes, so banking would be at a virtual standstill. ATMs wouldn’t function and forget about using your credit card – 99% of these run on mainframe-based systems. Paying for things and getting paid would suddenly become nigh on impossible.

This includes paying your employees and suppliers – virtually any financial transaction requires a mainframe, so in a world without them business would look very different indeed.

Online orders and logistics

It’s not just financial transactions that would suffer. The ordering process as we know it would not function without the help of mainframes. Even the smallest cloud-based e-commerce company would be affected if mainframes disappeared. These businesses may not have a complex order management system like the big supermarkets or department stores, but their delivery or logistics companies almost certainly do.

The logistics industry was built on mainframes. It relies on their computing power to get orders from point A to point B as efficiently as possible, tracking their process along the way. So, while a mainframe doesn’t have a physical presence in the home or shared office of an online storefront business or even a pop-up shop – these traders would have a lot of disappointed customers without one. Orders would eventually arrive at their customer’s doorstep, but any food would likely be spoiled or special occasions long past before the packages were received without help from mainframes.


Switching off mainframes wouldn’t lead to the lights going out completely – at least not straight away. But while the power would still be on, finding and fixing any issues would become much more problematic. In addition to customer billing issues mentioned earlier, problems such as power outages, downed phone lines or broadband would be much more challenging – and time consuming – to solve.

Utilities companies would have to go back to using hand-drawn maps to locate which junction boxes on which streets were causing the problem. Not to mention, they’d need to hunt down hard copy files of the location of their closest engineers to dispatch to fix the issue. You get the picture - suddenly listening to 20 minutes of ‘easy listening’ hold music starts to look like a much better alternative than days without power or the internet!

In all seriousness, a world without mainframes would be a world with a lot more waiting, a lot less predictability or convenience and a difficult one for all of us to navigate. It would be riskier if disaster struck, as well. Insurance companies rely on mainframes to keep customer policy details and information, so filing a claim on a theft, flood or car accident could take years. While the technology is not perfect, it is constantly evolving and we won’t be seeing mainframes disappear anytime soon.

Looking to the future

Mainframes have become an indispensable part of business and everyday life and, despite what the naysayers may say, they will continue to be. They work hand-in-hand with the cloud and underpin – and power – current business necessities like transactions and logistics.

In fact, mainframes are providing a platform for new and emerging technologies like artificial intelligence. Companies like IBM have been exploring machine learning and AI for decades and its latest mainframes support these technologies, providing a foundation for businesses to further automate analytics, speed up transaction times and improve customer service.

By Guy Tweedale, regional VP, Rocket Software .