After 40+ Years, The LexisNexis Mainframe Is No More

The LexisNexis you grew up with is, in a sense, dead. And it’s buried in Dayton, Ohio.

For decades, the legal research tool was run on a mainframe holding all the data you could possibly need. Lexis still provided an amazingly efficient database but its age began to show. There were little things rooted in the past, like how the editorial tools still presupposed a printed page at the end. But there were also bigger challenges in simply optimizing the database to provide consistent, outstanding results. It’s a project Lexis has eyed for years. The challenge, CTO Jeff Reihl explained at Legalweek, was that technology wasn’t always ready to support the overhaul. But now, $1.2 billion later, there’s a new Lexis for the modern age.

With an all new, cloud-based Lexis, the mainframe that served us all for generations has outlived its purpose and the company held an event to officially flip the switch shutting down the Lexis servers, placing them in a ceremonial graveyard at the Dayton data center — an exhibit of outdated technology that brought the company to today. The event became something of a reunion, with former staff who worked on maintaining the mainframe returning for the decommissioning. CEO Mike Walsh called it one of the most significant milestones in the company’s history along with the launch of Lexis on the Ubiq platform and the transition to the Internet.

LexisNexis is dead… long live LexisNexis.

Going forward, the vast 2.5 petabyte Lexis library will reside in the AWS cloud. The power provided by this move allows Lexis to develop new search techniques to provide better results. The burden used to be on the user to craft the perfect search. Generations of natural language systems began taking that burden off the attorney. With the aid of artificial intelligence, these systems keep making these searches more robust at divining intent and producing the right research for every question.

But now is the time to remember the mainframe that has now gone out of our lives. Some fast facts:

The mainframe was critical to the success of LexisNexis for 17,075 days, or 409,800 hours, 24,588,000 minutes or 1,475,280,000 seconds
At their peak, the LexisNexis mainframes handled approximately 71 million instructions per second
Search queries on the mainframe first surpassed 100,000 in 1989. The record number of searches was just under 13 million in the mid-2000s
In June of 1989, LexisNexis updated its searchable database 275 times. By October, new technology enabled updates every 15 minutes and 1,382 updates were performed that month
Records for the top daily and weekly database update were both set in 2019, with16,647 updates on February 26, 2019 and 94,156 updates in the week of March 25, 2019
On Dec. 31, 2019, the mainframe ran its last database update

Goodbye old Lexis… you had a hell of a run. Good luck to the next generation Lexis.

HeadshotJoe Patrice is a senior editor at Above the Law and co-host of Thinking Like A Lawyer. Feel free to email any tips, questions, or comments. Follow him on Twitter if you’re interested in law, politics, and a healthy dose of college sports news. Joe also serves as a Managing Director at RPN Executive Search.

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