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By: Emma Mulholland

Next month, McMaster is saying farewell to its mainframe computer, which will no longer be open to general access as of March 18.

The mainframe computers have been used at McMaster since the late 1960s. The computer that is currently in the process of being decommissioned was initiated at McMaster in the 1980s.

“[The mainframe computer] refers to a specific machine, that actually sits in a space … in a larger, more abstract sense it’s a set of applications that are on a specific hardware, that use a specific operating system, coded in specific ways … it’s the whole operating system,” explained Sheldon Smart, Public Relations Manager with the McMaster Office of Public Relations.

Most of the technology used in the mainframe date back to the mainframe’s beginnings in the 1980s, and include applications no longer beneficial to the university. “We no longer use those applications, or we’re phasing them out. There are a few left that we’re just in the last stages of turning off, then we will get rid of that hardware,” said Smart.

McMaster is now transitioning a new Enterprise Resource Planning system. “[The mainframe] was quite high performance hardware in its time. Back in the day, mainframe computing was all there was. But now there are many options, some of which suit what we are doing here better,” said Smart.

Mosaic, the student service centre introduced last year, is part of the new ERP system. With the introduction of the ERP system, it is no longer necessary to maintain the old mainframe hardware and software, so the university is in the process of shutting it down.

“Mosaic uses different hardware, software and base operating systems than the previous system, the mainframe … we no longer need the mainframe — this is just part of a natural transition,” said Smart.

With the introduction of the ERP system, it is no longer necessary to maintain the mainframe hardware and software, so the university is in the process of shutting it down.

Mosaic’s ability to integrate information from various sources, such as student records and financial accounts, is representative of the new ERP system as a whole. “The hallmark of ERP is that it tends to combine multiple pieces: our finance system, human resources system, student administration system . . . they all interconnect with each other,” explained Smart.

The new system allows easier access to transcripts and the ability to independently choose class timetables. McMaster is not the first institution to make the move to more integrated systems. Western University and the University of Waterloo both use similar programs to what is now implemented at McMaster.

As with any new structure, it will take some time to get used to the new system. Regardless, there are many advantages to the new ERP system when compared to the mainframe, which was limited in its capabilities due its age.

“It will take some time for the university to become completely comfortable with all the new functions, but in comparison the system it replaced was set up in the early 1980s,” said Smart. Anyone who is interested in keeping track of the mainframe’s last days can visit the University Technology Services website to find a timer counting down to the mainframe’s official end, as well as a more detailed history of computing at McMaster.

Photo Credit: Sheldon Smart

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