The term mainframe computer was created to distinguish the traditional, large, institutional computer intended to service multiple users from the smaller, single user machines. These computers are capable of handling and processing very large amounts of data quickly. Mainframe computers are used in large institutions such as government, banks and large corporations. These institutions were early adopters of computer use, long before personal computers were available to individuals. "Mainframe" often refers to computers compatible with the computer architectures established in the 1960s. Thus, the origin of the architecture also affects the classification, not just processing power.
Mainframes are measured in millions of instructions per second or MIPS. An example of integer operation is moving data around in memory or I/O devices. A more useful industrial benchmark is transaction processing as defined by the Transaction Processing Performance Council. Mainframes are built to be reliable for transaction processing as it is commonly understood in the business world: a commercial exchange of goods, services, or money. A typical transaction, as defined by the Transaction Processing Performance Council, would include the updating to a database system for such things as inventory control (goods), airline reservations (services), or banking (money). A transaction could refer to a set of operations including disk read/writes, operating system calls, or some form of data transfer from one subsystem to another.