Mainframe Computer vs Server: 17 Differences

Mainframe Computer vs Server

A mainframe computer, just as the name indicates, is a specific type of computer that is large, powerful, expensive, and can handle tens of thousands of transactions per second.

On the other hand, a server refers to that specific type of computer that is linked to a Local Area Network or LAN, Wide Area Network or WAN and the internet.

Similar as they may sound, there are some differences between a server and a mainframe computer, which this article will tell you about.


  • A mainframe computer will be large and powerful but costly when compared with the servers.
  • The mainframe computers can store huge amounts of data as well as handle an equally huge amount of data while processing when requested by several users.
  • A server will provide centralized storage for data, information and programs.
  • A server can also control the access to different resources on the network including the hardware and software.

Mainframe Computer vs Server – The 17 Differences

Mainframe Computer vs Server          

1. Control

A mainframe computer typically handles and controls hundreds and thousands of users who are connected at the same time.

On the other hand, a server handles and controls access to software, hardware, and other resources available on the specific network.

2. Storage Provisions

A mainframe computer typically provides storage for huge amounts of data, information and instructions.

On the other hand, a server offers centralized storage for data, information and programs.

3. Size

The mainframe computers are extra large in size as compared to the servers and therefore consume a lot of floor space.

On the other hand, the servers are usually quite smaller in size than a mainframe computer and therefore consume less floor space.

4. The Cost Factor

The mainframe computers are more expensive as compared to servers because initial cost of hardware, cost of running, and cost for maintenance and upkeep is very high.

On the other hand, the servers are typically more cost effective than the mainframe computers.

5. Functionalities

The mainframe computer offers ways that are more reliable and scalable to perform the basic functions for the mobile and e-commerce world.

On the other hand, the servers offer several varied functionalities which include sharing of resources or data among the users as well as performing computations for the clients.

6. Designed for

The mainframe computers are uniquely designed in such a way that they can handle large amounts of data for processing, offer data storage and perform other tasks.

On the other hand, the servers are specifically designed to help businesses with data storage and along with that help them to improve their productivity and efficiency.

7. Abilities

The mainframe computers can handle different types of workloads and huge volumes of transactions in quick time with high reliability.

On the other hand, the servers cannot deal with huge volumes of transactions or different types of workloads with high reliability.

8. Used in

The mainframe computers are used in banking and credit card applications, back-end systems, high volume Online Transaction Processing or OLTP applications and more.

On the other hand, the servers are typically used in digital applications such as Edge, Big data, cloud and Internet of Things or IoT applications and other new and innovative technology applications along with analytics.

9. Cloud Options

Typically, the cloud options in the case of the mainframe computers are quite limited.

On the other hand, the cloud options in the case of servers are literally limitless and available in large quantities.

10. Workload Impacts

The performance of the mainframe computer is not affected even when the memory of it is overloaded.

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On the other hand, the performance of the servers gets impacted if there is any component in it that is overloaded with tasks.

11. Maintenance Issues

Maintaining the mainframe computers is not easy not only due to the cost factor but also for the fact that it is not easy to find an expert maintenance engineer and administrator.

On the other hand, finding a maintenance engineer and administrator for the servers is not that challenging since there are plenty of them available in the market.

12. Branded by

The mainframe computers are typically identified and branded by their respective hardware entities.

On the other hand, the servers are usually branded by the specific functions performed by the software.

13. Numbers in Use

Any organization will always have one mainframe computer that helps them in handling multiple and varied activities in quick time due to its processing speed and power.

On the other hand, an organization may have n-number of servers to perform several different functions related to their business operations.

14. Additional Supports

A mainframe computer will offer limited additional supports such as for virtualization, micro services and containers.

On the other hand, the servers are typically used in the micro services, virtualization and containers areas.

15. Data Handling Capacities

The mainframe computer can handle an exceptionally large number of transactions.

Ideally, it can range anywhere between 30000 transactions to a million per second or billions per day, depending on the types and features.

On the other hand, the servers can handle only as many as 300 transactions per second which would not cross millions of transactions per day.

It is quite high but nowhere near the data processing ability of the mainframe computers.

16. Native Workload Shift

You simply cannot move the native workload of a mainframe computer to a commodity server.

On the other hand, you can easily move the workload from a server to a mainframe computer that can typically run Linux and z/OS utilizing virtualization.

17. Communication

The communication in the mainframe computers is much better in comparison to the communication in the servers.

There are high-speed channels to facilitate such communications.

Typically, it is these channels that are interconnected that basically forms the structure of the mainframe computers.

In addition to that, the internal and external operations are managed by a specific subsystem.

On the other hand, the speed of communication in the servers is typically dependent on the internet connection to which the system is connected.

Which is Better –  Mainframe Computer or Server?

Mainframe Computer vs Server
The IT world is always on the lookout for better technologies that will improve their performance and that is the main reason that they are moving to the servers of late.

The servers are preferred more over the mainframe computers because these are:

  • Low cost option
  • Offer more flexibility and
  • Easier to maintain.

There is no doubt that the servers are at the forefront in the digital landscape and ruling the show, but the mainframe computers are also not far behind them.

These machines are also being developed continuously in order to keep up with the new technologies and provide the best performance by making the best use of their powerful components.

The mainframe computers are usually designed in such a way that it allows correct updating of the tables in the backend.

In contrast, the servers typically concentrate on fulfilling the requirements of the clients.

If there are multiple servers then the workload will be distributed. It may include a wide range of tasks such as:

  • File hosting
  • Domain Name System or DNS hosting
  • Application hosting and
  • Internet services in them which ensures a more streamlined operation.
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The mainframe platform is quite robust and therefore can work under extreme working pressure.

No matter whatever is the workload, even up to 80% or more of its total capacity, nothing seems to downgrade its performance.

However, if you compare this ability with the servers, its performance will be affected dramatically when its constituents or components are used beyond the permissible limit.

Nonetheless, the servers are able to perform much better when they are stacked.

This means that several servers connect to one single server in order to complete a task and provide the desired output.

In such an arrangement, the additional servers are typically used as a standby, more often than not.

The redundancy feature of the external storage helps it to resist failures.

A key feature that distinguishes the mainframe computers from the servers is that these large machines are usually powered by applications that are designed specifically for these computers and are written in programming languages such as COBOL.

Add to that, the mainframe computers also run their own operating systems such as z/OS.

The mainframe computers will offer you the best of both worlds. You will be able to access and use an exclusive set of applications which you will not be able to run anywhere else.

Apart from that, you will also be able to transfer and manage the workloads of commodity servers.

The mainframe computers can be used in situations where the servers will fail.

If you compare a mainframe with a server of equal capacity in terms of amount of memory, hard disk, and similar CPUs and connect them both to the same number of printers, terminals, or network, the mainframe computer will typically outperform the server.

And it will also cost you more. However, this does not mean that the cost benefit analysis will not favor the mainframe computer.

On the contrary and to your surprise, the cost benefit analysis will be more provided you use the mainframe computer for the right purposes such as for a large reservation system or in a large savings bank.

The servers, on the other hand, can be used by the employees of businesses as virtual desktops.

This means that the business will follow a more secure and modern way of functioning.

These machines will enable the businesses to fortify the collaboration percentage of the employees.

This is because these machines will be the platform that will show the modifications made in any document in about real time.

One good factor that differentiates the mainframe computers and the servers is redundancy.

For example, if a server computer needs some maintenance and has to be turned off for that matter, you can transfer the allocated resources to another computer.

This will ensure that your business and productivity continuity is not hampered.

Therefore, considering these specific points you may tend to think that the server computers will sooner or later hold a permanent and most crucial position in any given type of business ecosystem.

However, several industry experts favor the mainframe computer over the servers because these are very useful gadgets that enable a business to oversee all their transactions.

The servers, on the other hand, will need to be configured in order to perform any specific function as desired.

However, one specific point that may put the servers slightly on the top is that these can be hosted or supported on any cloud environment.

This enhances the usability of the servers by a significant margin, which the mainframe computers lag behind in.

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However, it all depends on the specific way you look into each of them and make your decision on the performance and benefits offered as well as your computing needs, infrastructure and preferences.

The most important point is that, no matter whichever option you choose, you will need to do it after proper consideration of all the aspects of it and compare them with that of the other very carefully and precisely.

It is only then you will be able to leverage the benefits that the particular computing technology has on offer.

For example, if you want to go with the servers, make it a point that you consider the downtime, which should be minimal, the specific requirements, which should match with yours, and the network quality and availability.

Other crucial points to consider while selecting a server computer are:

  • User scalability
  • Data security and
  • Application use and scalability and more.

Most importantly, you should keep the option open to incorporate the new remote and hybrid work culture. Your selection should support both appropriately.

On the other hand, a mainframe computer is best suited for specific types of setting such as:

  • Health care
  • Government organizations
  • Schools
  • Energy utilities
  • Enterprise resource planning
  • Manufacturing operations and
  • Online entertainment delivery.

The powerful features of the mainframe computers allow to be used in other areas as well such as:

  • Internet of Things
  • Personal computers
  • Laptop computers
  • Mobile phones
  • Automobiles
  • Smart appliances
  • Security systems and
  • Utility grids.

Ideally, in the current scenario, a mainframe computer is thought to be as a computing style rather than a technology that offers several benefits such as:

  • Centralized data storage
  • Better resource management
  • Robust hot sapping of hardware
  • Mission critical and high demand services
  • Higher security
  • Easier and higher availability
  • Backward compatibility with old software
  • Very big transaction processing and
  • Huge throughput.

Just like the server computers, every component in the mainframe computers offers multiple levels of redundancy. These components can be anything as follows:

  • The power supply
  • The backup batteries
  • The cooling system
  • The Central Processing Units
  • The cryptographic modules or
  • The Input/output components.

Now, if you wonder which among the mainframe computers and servers will rule the future of computing, it is best and safe to say that a hybrid approach and work culture is more likely on the cards.

There are several good reasons to say this. One of the most significant reasons is that such an approach will allow the businesses to access the data, applications that are used, as well as the systems of the employees more seamlessly.

The servers will provide an edge due to its unique attributes such as:

  • Affordability
  • Speed
  • Scalability
  • Automated backups and
  • Agility.

In addition, using the servers will also enable the businesses to provide secure access to their clients or users to sensitive data.

There is nothing to worry about because the centralized nature of data storing ability of the servers will add an extra layer of security to the data.


So, with all the differences along with a lot of additional facts and information about the mainframe computers and servers included and explained in this article, you now surely should not have any more doubts or confusions.

You can easily select the best option to be future proof.

About Taylor

AvatarTaylor S. Irwin is a freelance technology writer with in-depth knowledge about computers. She has an understanding of hardware and technology gained through over 10 years of experience.

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