Mainframe vs Server: Differences You Need to Know

Mainframes and servers form the basis of efficient business operations. Therefore, it is helpful to dive deep and compare mainframes vs. servers. Let us follow an old-school approach and understand what these terms mean.

Introduction to Mainframe

The mainframe can be defined as a class of computers with a more extensive user base that supports multiple transactions while delivering superior performance. It is equipped with an enormous processing power and storage unit to finish numerous data operations simultaneously efficiently. Mainframes generally find their applications in large-scale organisations whose operations are backed by highly functional ERP systems. Banks and financial institutions also utilise mainframes to complete trillions of transactions and deliver uninterrupted services. Likewise, digitised businesses use mainframes to support their daily routine activities and customer interactions. In a nutshell, mainframes are the synonyms for rugged, robust, and dependable computers.

Introduction to Server

On the other hand, a server is a hardware that can connect to the LAN (Local Area Network), WAN (Wide Area Network), or the internet. The server acts as a hub of data and applications that users can access. This data and applications are stored on the servers using different networks. The servers can be classified into several categories: mail server, file server, applications server, web server, database server, print server, management server, and proxy server. The USP of servers is that their hardware components can easily exchange with any other computer part. Servers store boot files and the actual necessary data is collected and kept in common storage. Servers are identified based on the software loaded onto them and not by their hardware configurations.

Mainframe vs. Server – An Overview

A staggering distinction between the mainframe and the server is that the mainframe is an expensive supercomputer capable of handling requests of hundreds of people simultaneously. It acts as a home to critical data, algorithms, and information. In contrast, a server is centralised storage for programs, applications, and data that grants or controls access to hardware, software, and other resources on the network.

As a mainframe plays an instrumental role in ensuring business continuity for giant corporations, it requires high and regular maintenance. Organisations should trust only the skilled professionals with the mainframe maintenance task. No remarkable prowess or knowledge is necessary to check the functioning of servers. However, it is still advised that businesses monitor the server’s activities to ensure high availability of the information. Usually, the nomenclature of the mainframe is done based on its hardware. However, the software defines the type of servers.

Mainframes find their usage in conventional applications and transactional areas (OLTP). Servers are utilised for completing modernised operations such as business analytics (OLAP). Servers are commonly used to send emails securely, take backup of critical data, share files and ensure smooth functioning of e-commerce stores and websites.

Servers can also be used as a virtual desktop for employees, and hence it enables businesses to embrace a modern and secured way of functioning. The servers are used to uplift the collaboration quotient of the employees as, in most cases, it acts as a platform that shows changes or modifications in any document in almost real-time.

Many tech pundits prefer to call the mainframe a workhorse, as it oversees all the organisation’s transactions. Servers need to be configured to perform an intended function. Mainframes support virtualization, containers, and microservices to a certain extent. Servers are extensively used in virtualization, containers, and microservices. Servers can be supported or hosted on any cloud, and this attribute takes the usability of servers to the next level. Mainframes are not designed for cloud environments.

Some Key Differences

A clear explanation of the primary differences between mainframe and server is presented here.


As discussed at the very start of the article, a mainframe handles high volumes of data. It is mainly used in banks and financial institutions, and hence transaction integrity is a must. Mainframes are built in a manner that the tables at the backend are correctly updated. The servers are more focused on catering to the client’s requirements. Multiple servers distribute the workload – file hosting, DNS (Domain Name System) hosting, application hosting, and internet services amongst themselves to ensure streamlined operations.


A mainframe computer is identified by its number-crunching power and data handling capabilities. The server, as mentioned above, is labelled based on the software installed on it. The application server, database server, and proxy server are some categories in which the servers are classified.

Load Factor

The mainframe is built on a robust platform and can work under extreme conditions. For example, there would be no performance downgrades even if the components are loaded up to 80% of their capacity. However, server performance is affected when existing constituents are used beyond a specific limit. Also, servers can function well in a stacked fashion. In short, multiple servers connect to a single server to achieve the intended outcomes. The additional servers are often used in a standby manner. The external storage is equipped with the redundancy feature to withstand failures.


There are high-speed channels that are interconnected to form the structure of the mainframe. A subsystem manages the internal/external operations. The speed of communication in a server depends upon the internet connection to which it is connected.

Who will dictate the future?

As the current corporate world is resorting to a hybrid work culture, it has become necessary for businesses to provide seamless access to applications, data, and systems for their employees. Servers have an edge above the mainframe because of attributes such as affordability, scalability, speed, agility, and automated backups. Furthermore, with the use of servers, clients or users can be given secured access to confidential data. The centralised data storing capacity of the server adds a layer of data security.

Redundancy is another differentiating component of mainframe vs. server. For example, if any server computer needs to be turned off for maintenance purposes, transferring the allocated resources to another server is possible, guaranteeing business continuity. All these points make it quite clear that sooner or later, servers will acquire a permanent position in any business ecosystem.

An organisation will only be able to leverage the above-stated benefits if they choose a server after proper consideration. A business should select a server that offers minimal downtime and suits their specific requirements. Check the network quality and availability to ensure that the new hybrid and remote work culture is supported appropriately.

Application and user scalability and security are other crucial points that should govern the selection of a server. Moreover, a diligent choice of server provider is also necessary. It acts as a technology consulting partner and steers businesses in the right direction as far as the server’s maintenance, deployment, and implementation are concerned.

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