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US House Decommissions Its Last Mainframe 152

Posted by Soulskill
from the now-go-office-space-on-it dept.
coondoggie writes "The US House of Representatives has taken its last mainframe offline, signaling the end of an era in Washington, DC computing. The last mainframe supposedly enjoyed 'quasi-celebrity status' within the House data center, having spent 12 years keeping the House's inventory control records and financial management data, among other tasks. But it was time for a change, with the House spending $30,000 a year to power the mainframe and another $700,000 each year for maintenance and support."
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US House Decommissions Its Last Mainframe

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 10, 2009 @05:18AM (#29702307)

    Really? This is a story? They were running a server from 1997, and now they're running a server from 2009. Really guys?

  • by BBCWatcher (900486) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @05:21AM (#29702315)

    The article notes that the House of Representatives took at least 5 years to replace the applications on its 12 year old mainframe. The costs (i.e. taxpayer funds) to perform this migration work were not disclosed, but it's a pretty safe assumption those costs dwarfed any others. Moreover, the article seems to suggest that it took at least 20 other servers to replace a single 12 year old mainframe, and that's even using virtualization on the new servers. One wonders how many (more) servers the House could have replaced with a single new mainframe.

    But here's a more profound question: why is the House of Representatives running its own, separate data centers (primary and disaster)? Couldn't they at least consolidate with, oh I don't know, the Senate?!?! And, a related question: for all those 12 years, why didn't the House simply move its comparatively tiny mainframe workload to a bigger mainframe anywhere else in the federal government? (Yes, they can do that without also delegating any security control. Mainframes do that.) Quite simply, it sounds like the House was, and is, wasting a lot of taxpayer money. (Shocking, I know.)

  • by Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @05:21AM (#29702317)

    $700K/yr for software support and hardware maintenance isn't really out of line for a high-capacity system with 99.999% uptime.

    Maybe they don't need that level of reliability, but if they do five-9s, they will probably find that whatever system or group of systems replaces it will have similar support costs.

  • Replacement? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Teun (17872) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @05:22AM (#29702319) Homepage
    But the key question is: "Does the replacement run Linux"?

    Whereby the underlying question needs to: "Hopefully it's not replaced by a Microsoft 'solution'".

    /.

  • In theory... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 10, 2009 @05:35AM (#29702343)

    But here's a more profound question: why is the House of Representatives running its own, separate data centers (primary and disaster)? Couldn't they at least consolidate with, oh I don't know, the Senate?!?!

    I don't know. I kind of like the current situation: Two different significantly powerful political entities (House and Congress) to have their own separate data that the other entity has no control over. I could certainly see potential benefits from that in the times of major political upheavals.

  • Cloud? (Score:0, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 10, 2009 @06:06AM (#29702429)

    get rid of the mainframe..... spend some time on high end wintel servers and then .. move to the cloud... which seems to be nothing more than Mainframe V2.0

  • by mwvdlee (775178) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @06:08AM (#29702437) Homepage

    Sadly though, many of the management types just read "$700K/yr" and think "I like $350K/yr better, let's do that". Ignoring what they're actually getting for that money.

    It would be no problem to cut the cost by half for the mainframe... if you're willing to go down to average Windows server service levels.

    $700K/yr gets you how many people with how many workstations, hardware, software, facilities, managers, support people, etc.?

  • Full circle ? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Keruo (771880) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @06:15AM (#29702453)
    Hasn't the mainframe business already done full 30 year cycle?
    From what I've seen lately, virtualization is kicking in even on desktop field and normal PC's are being replaced with more power efficient thin clients.
    I know thin clients aren't same as simple terminals were with mainframes since they connect to the vm-servers using gigabit ethernet instead serial cable, and instead serving unix shell, they now provide entire desktop experience to end-user.

    But what's interesting for me is to see if the thin client concept really kicks in and restarts the cycle again.
    What will those PC devices be like in 10-15 years when the cycle continues and returns to favor personal computing devices again, instead just personal desktop, being hosted from some cloud colocation service.
  • Re:Full circle ? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Bill Dog (726542) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @07:14AM (#29702599) Journal

    IMO what drove the cycle to favoring desktop PC's away from dumb clients was being able to have applications with around as much power, only with a vastly richer user experience. I.e. there was a cycle at all because it replicated mainframe's positive and replaced mainframe's negative. I'm not sure what the impetus could be for another full cycle. Security management considerations and the ability to serve up that rich user experience might induce another half cycle. But it would take something that only decentralized computing could provide (at least initially and for a while), that we never knew we needed, to have another complete cycle. And then energy or other constraints (real or psychological) may prevent that -- the prior cycle occured during the prior mindset/assumption in America of limitless everything.

  • Units (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Random Destruction (866027) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @08:16AM (#29702797)

    The mainframe was consuming 10,000 to 15,000 watts an hour

    Uh... what? No wonder they had to pull this thing offline, that's 1.68 - 2.52 GW per week!

    It's been online for 12 years, so by the time it was shut off it must have been using at least 1.57TW.

  • by Vellmont (569020) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @10:43AM (#29703505)


    Moreover, the article seems to suggest that it took at least 20 other servers to replace a single 12 year old mainframe, and that's even using virtualization on the new servers. One wonders how many (more) servers the House could have replaced with a single new mainframe.

    Talking about costs makes good news. If you want to pick it apart with speculation, go right ahead. You might be right, but without real numbers and real analysis we'll never know. I think the real reason they switched is this:

    But the House decided not to buy another mainframe in part because its IT staff has more expertise running x86 and Unix boxes.

    "We really don't' have those [mainframe] skill sets in house anymore," Zanatta says. "We try not to maintain architecture that we can't support ourselves."

    How many people have you known throughout your IT career that have mainframe experience? I've known exactly two. One of which was my next-door neighbor while growing up who worked as a programmer for Unisys (now retired). The other was a young kid who was hired by company who still had mainframes, and was trained by the old guys who knew how to operate and maintain them. The other several dozen people I've known throughout my career have no real world experience with maintaining them. I knew one guy who had to learn AS400 in tech school (this was only maybe 10 years ago), though never applied any of it and now works with Windows and Unix.

    So the point is, how well do you think a piece of technology is going to work if you can't find anyone who knows how to work with it and maintain it? Sure, salaries are cheap in comparison to migrations.. but what are the costs of not being able to do what you want to do because you can't find enough people familiar enough with the technology to accomplish what you want?

    Technology always has been, and always will be about the people. Someday all our modern technology, operating systems and the like will die not because it's not "good enough", or is "too expensive" but because the people of that era will have moved on to New Technology Z, and hardly anyone understands Old Technology Y.

  • by zach_the_lizard (1317619) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @11:47AM (#29703911)
    They didn't tell me that! I ran it on one of my production servers, and now it's sucking up all the resources it can get. I keep trying to kill the process, but everytime I do, it just takes even more resources. I'm eagerly awaiting the next patch. The 2000, 2004, and 2008 patches didn't help my problems. I'm hoping the 2012 patch is better.
  • Re:So what was it? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Lorens (597774) on Saturday October 10, 2009 @12:10PM (#29704029) Journal

    No, it was an IBM (RTFA).

    As for price, well, some people have money, earn money using the tool that a computer is, and consider *correct* performance worth their money.

    Seen from a business view, it is *good* to know that if your system breaks down there *will* be a really competent guy (or two) on site in less than a hour. I've seen it happen. At 2300 hours on a Friday evening. It is *good* to know that if something really bizarre happens, and the front-line guys really don't know what to do, mobile phones and beepers are sounding on the other side of the world to assemble a team of the people who designed the system, and that if necessary their plane tickets *will* be waiting for them at the airport, and that a complete replacement system is being loaded on a truck as we are speaking.

    Don't get me wrong, I love Linux. Virtualized, redundant, load-balanced, backed up, and with the stamp of approval from "everyone who's looked at the code". But when your printing system breaks down, and your in-house engineers have eliminated your custom software and are having problems determining whether the problem is in the printing software or the drivers or the printer firmware or the printer hardware, and you can't send out your truckloads of bills representing hundreds of thousands of dollars a day, I'll wager you'll feel much better waiting for the guys from IBM than waiting for someone to reply to your "VERY URGENT PLEASE HELP" on the CUPS mailing list.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday October 10, 2009 @03:27PM (#29705431)

    Did you only read what you wanted to from the article? The 20 servers replaced 150, not this one server. Also, the reason they did not stick with mainframe technology was also mentioned. It was because they had limited skills in mainframe technology. Thus keeping mainframes, they'd have to hire people trained and experiences in mainframes (a dying breed). Please read the whole article and not just pick and choose the words you like.

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