When you hear somebody use the term 'Big Iron', they're probably referring to the IBM mainframes that rose to prominence in the 1960s. These computers are large, expensive and powerful, often taking up entire rooms with their own cooling systems. In the '60s, large corporations in key industries such as banking, telecommunications and airlines began using the large scale computer system architectures commonly referred to as Big Iron, and these architectures continue to play an important role today. In this article we'll look at the history of Big Iron, as well as how the traditional "green screen" terminals used to access them became obsolete, being replaced with user-friendly terminal emulation software.
There are certain enterprises in our society that have become so heavily relied upon by the masses that, should something go wrong, the effects would be enormous. We’re talking about enterprises such as banks, hospitals, airlines and telecoms. All of these entities rely heavily on computer systems to store crucial information and ensure their systems remain fluent and effective right around the world. When something goes wrong with these systems – even the slightest thing – it’s a big deal. It could be because of poor terminal emulation or any number of other reasons but, in the end, that entity is going to end up in the news for all the wrong reasons as millions of their customers are affected.
One of the most amazing thing about the short history of computers is that the early mainframes of the 1960s and ‘70s – supercomputers that took up entire rooms and required their own air conditioning systems just to keep them at the optimum temperature – were less powerful than the handheld smartphone that most of you are probably carrying in your pocket even as you read this. It’s even more amazing when you consider that the technology required to access these mainframes can now be emulated on smartphones. From 3270 emulation to Wyse and Stratus emulation, it’s all available from your handheld device. In a way, it's all come full circle.
When you hear terms such as 'IBM 3270 emulation' or 'Stratus emulation', you may balk. You know they have something to do with computers, but you probably haven’t the foggiest idea beyond that. Well, allow us to explain. These are examples of terminal emulation software. It may sound obvious but, to put that simply, this software mimics or 'emulates' terminals.