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Thanks to IBM Z for sponsoring this episode. To learn more about the annual student contest, go to . To learn more about IBM Z and how mainframes shape the world, go to

It's a supercomputer! It's the cloud! No, it's a modern mainframe! Mainframes may just seem like a movie plot device, but they process billions of ATM transactions, flights, and the large majority of credit card transactions each year!

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This episode of SciShow is brought to you by IBM Z.

Learn more about the Mainframe, including its performance, scalability, and security capabilities, at [♪ INTRO]. Every day, as you go about your life, you interact with one of the most important pieces of tech in the modern world.

Whether you're taking out cash from an ATM, booking a flight, or doing some online shopping, this often-overlooked piece of hardware is helping you do it. And no, I'm not talking about your shiny new smartphone or the latest supercomputer. I'm talking about mainframe computing.

Commercial mainframe computers have been around since the 1950s, but they've stuck around. New models are coming out all the time, and they're the driving force behind so many everyday things. And once you know what mainframes do for you, you'll see why.

Modern mainframes are about the size of a refrigerator, and they tackle thousands of problems all at once. Each year, they process billions of ATM transactions, flights, and the large majority of credit card transactions. Their whole reason for being is to take in external data and process it quickly.

And they can do that because of how they're structured. Although they actually keep their information in multiple places, you can think of mainframes sort of like warehouses that store data. They're what's called a central data repository.

And any device that's connected to that repository can access its information. In some ways, this isn't that different from, your family's computer, where four or five different users might access the same hard drive. But mainframes take this concept to the extreme.

These hubs can be connected to a bunch of input and output devices, including things like personal computers, ATMs, and those self-service kiosks at the airport. Basically, anything with a display screen and an input device like a keyboard, mouse, or touchscreen. Data can come flowing in from thousands of devices, and a mainframe will process it all and quickly spit out a result.

These things are powerful. And even with all the new technology that's come along, nothing has been able to do their job as securely and reliably as a mainframe itself, not even supercomputers! Now, these devices might seem similar at first, since they're both incredible machines that process a lot of data, but they're not the same thing at all.

And a supercomputer can't do a mainframe's job. Supercomputers were made to be fast and solve complex problems. They don't typically deal with a bunch of real-time transactions the way mainframes do.

So while supercomputers can perform trillions or quadrillions of calculations a second, way more than a mainframe, they use all that processing power to work on one extremely complex problem at a time, like modeling weather or how a disease will spread. They weren't designed to solve multiple problems at once. And that's where mainframes excel.

Now, on the other end of the spectrum, it might just seem like mainframes are extra powerful versions of personal computers, or PCs. But that's not true, either. It is true that we can use PCs to perform a lot of tasks we used to need giant computers to do.

But no matter how good your gaming desktop is, it's not about to replace a mainframe, either. For one, mainframes can carry out a lot more tasks without crashing. That's because your laptop probably only has one or two processors, with a few cores each.

Meanwhile, a mainframe can have well over 100 cores. Also, you know how sometimes your computer just grinds to a halt? Usually that means it's time for a reboot to fix any software bugs or flush out the memory.

But a mainframe can go years without a reboot because it has lots of redundant parts. So support staff can physically swap out the ones that run into trouble without restarting the whole thing. So, from little PCs to huge supercomputers, there's just nothing quite as good at processing thousands of simple problems, in real time, as a mainframe.

Of course, there is one contender we haven't mentioned yet; one people love to talk about: the cloud. If you use Google Drive, Microsoft 365, Netflix, or an iPhone, you're probably already familiar with the cloud. Cloud computing basically means that you have apps, software, and data living on external servers, and you access them through the Internet, rather than keeping everything on your hard drive.

So it's super convenient for accessing files from multiple devices or collaborating with other people. But again… it doesn't take the place of a mainframe. You could use the cloud to process a bunch of transactions, even billions a day like a mainframe.

But it comes at a cost. Like, for one, your business has to rely on having a good Internet connection. Which isn't always a given.

Then there's the risk of being hacked. If your business uses cloud services, they're typically counting on someone else to securely set up the server and protect it from malicious attacks. But mainframes are more secure by design.

Among other things, they can use their processing power to encrypt all data all the time. Some companies are solving these problems by running their clouds on mainframes, but that definitely means they're not getting rid of their mainframe anytime soon. Mainframes are reliable and secure, and they're still really useful in lots of industries, from things like hospitals to finance.

Some businesses are using a kind of hybrid approach, where they keep some of their data in the cloud but keep running transactions through good-old mainframes. And in a way, that's why mainframes have stuck around so long. As much as computing has changed, this more-than-70-year-old technology is continuing to evolve and power our lives.

Thanks to IBM Z for supporting this episode. IBM Z is an enterprise computing system built for processing high-speed transactions, as well as for availability, security, and data privacy. You can find out more about the mainframe's reliability, who uses them, and why they're a big deal at

And if you're interested in learning more, you can check out IBM's Master the Mainframe. It's an annual academic contest and year-long learning program. To find out how you can participate, go to

It's a fun way to experience hands-on mainframe technology, and there's no prior knowledge required! [♪ OUTRO].