A man's tie gets wider ... then thinner. A lady's skirt gets longer ... then shorter. What goes one way must then go the other. It's a law of the universe, and it's a good thing. Otherwise, men would be wearing ties as wide as a bedsheet and women would be wearing skirts below their shoes. And that, my friends, would be a tad uncomfortable, not to mention ridiculous.

In the IS world, we centralize, then we decentralize. Now we're back to centralizing.

What's really happening is that we've learned some lessons from client/server development that tells us there are many ways to make soup. It's showed us these little, inexpensive Intel PCs aren't as cheap as we thought they were, and UNIX servers aren't as open as everyone believed. It's not that client/server is dead. Actually, very little dies in the information systems field. We're still making half-inch open -- reel tape drives this year ... and next.

The bottom line is that the world is speeding up. Einstein said this is a universal phenomenon. It's not just computers making us faster. We're all in some vortex orchestrated by an intelligence far greater than our feeble minds can fathom. As a result, there is little time to do everything we plan to do. IS deparments simply have no time to convert from mainframe systems to client/server systems and meet the demand for new applications that are piling up in the inbox.

Even if NT were to become the most scalable operating system ever, and Intel machines become 100 times faster, there still won't be time to convert mainframe applications to Wintel. Just like the year-2000 problem, there just isn't enough time and manpower to do the job. Forget the cost. If all taxpayers were willing to donate their life savings to their communities, there still wouldn't be enough time. Since the advent of IBM's System/360 in 1964, the world has spent $2 trillion in mainframe development. Some estimates say it's more like $4 trillion. Hey, a trillion here, a trillion there ... oh well.

All you have to remember is that if something is hailed as a panacea, rest assured ... it won't be. There was a book called Distributed Processing -- End of the Mainframe Era? It fortold the demise of the mainframe, because of a new powerful technology called the minicomputer. It stated its case succinctly. Mainframes were on their way out. That was 20 years ago. When the figures are finally tallied for calendar 1997, the amount of mainframe MIPS shipped is expected to be 70 percent greater than in 1996. Sure. There were the bleak years during the early 1990s when client/server was the rage. There was negative growth for mainframes, and IBM would love to

forget that it lost $16 billion in that grim era. But 1994 was a turnaround year, showing a 28 percent growth in mainframe MIPS shipped, which jumped to 65 percent in 1996. They're baaack and they're here to stay.

There's more to it than just being locked in. Organizations are starting to appreciate what a mainframe really means -- rock solid reliability and scalability that doesn't quit. Following is a synopsis of what mainframe technology is all about and who's doing it. We're talking about traditional IBM mainframes, not large HP, DEC or Sun servers or others that claim mainframe capabilities.

THE PLAYERS ARE IBM, AMDAHL AND HITACHI

In 1964, IBM announced System/360, the first computer system series that was ever developed. Having bet the company on this new "family" concept, T. J. Watson Jr. launched an architecture that remains largely intact 34 years later. There have been various IBM-compatible mainframe vendors over the years. In the late 1970s, RCA was the first with its Spectra 70 systems, but the computers were unreliable and never a threat. In 1970, Dr. Gene Amdahl, chief architect of System/360, formed his own company