University at Buffalo - The State University of New York
Skip to Content

Retiring the Mainframe

Article by Rachel Lim 

Published October 22, 2015

On June 19, 2015, UB officially shut down the IBM mainframe, transitioning to deliver the IT services it provided over to a number of smaller and more flexible machines.

Rachel Lim (UB Student, Class of 2015) was born and raised in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. She is proficient in speaking and writing three languages- English, Mandarin and Malay. Rachel is currently pursuing a bachelor's degree in business administration with a focus in financial analysis and marketing.

What exactly is a mainframe? A mainframe is a very large computer—whose size has varied from many square feet to that of a large refrigerator—that dominated computing applications and platforms in the 1970s and 1980s, garnering a reputation for reliability. UB’s major systems including the Student System and Human Resource and Financial Systems ran on the mainframe since the early 1990s.

In 2012, the HUB Student Center replaced UB’s mainframe-based Student System. It was immediately followed by the Business Systems Transformation project, which replaced the mainframe HR and Financial Systems. Most of UB’s business and student applications now run on distributed IT servers located on UB’s machines, or are delivered on demand via the Internet. Some applications are provisioned externally and hosted by vendors.

The environmental and software licensing costs for operating mainframe computers are exorbitant. And since mainframes are an older technology, the availability of technicians to maintain and support them has become scarce. Not only are distributed IT servers easier to deploy and more cost effective, they’re also significantly easier for technicians to manage and maintain compared to the traditional mainframe.

The time has come

The process of removing the mainframe is more complicated than you might think. UB initially considered a shift away from mainframe computers in 1995, with plans for retirement by 1999. But undergoing a digital transformation that combines old and new technologies is challenging.  It comprises much more than switching off a power button and dismantling the hardware.

UB had to identify the specific needs required in order to supply the same or better service that the mainframe technology delivered. Project teams identified the best solutions for each IT service before moving forward with the mainframe’s retirement.

Staff from UBIT and UB’s functional business offices participated in these transformational projects. The sheer number of people involved and technical challenges faced as part of this digital transformation effort marks a significant milestone for the university.

Thanks to the hard work of everyone involved, UB’s new technologies and platforms provide a strong foundation for delivering modern services with much more flexibility and openness.