Finding the Death of the Mainframe

Stewart Alsop, editor for Infoworld magazine in the 1990s eating his words, “Death to the Mainframe,” 2001 (via Computer History Museum)

I came across a blog post discussing the 50th anniversary of the IBM System/360, and it mentioned a prediction about the so-called “death of the mainframe.”

I had seen the photo before, of Stewart Alsop literally eating his words “Death to the Mainframe” with a knife and fork, but I had not seen the original quote in print, and I couldn’t find a citation.

Alsop’s Wikipedia page is in disrepair, and the quotation listed there didn’t have a proper citation — neither did the image at the Computer History Museum.

Back issues of InfoWorld magazine are online at Google Books, but searches there were not helpful. I kept finding references to the prediction, but not the original statement itself.

Then I happened across this forum discussion about the “Death of the Mainframe” on Google Groups, and one of the members noted that the original statement did not happen in the InfoWorld magazine, but at a conference.

The first reference in print to the death of the mainframe by Alsop is in the February 22, 1993 issue of InfoWorld magazine on page 4. The article reads:

Last week, we held the second InfoWorld Editorial EXPOsure, where 35 vendors from the Northwest showed hot new products to 26 of our editors and reporters and more than 70 of our readers (plus an odd assortment of other insiders and cognoscenti).

We also had a fun panel featuring columnists Cheryl Currid and Brian Livingston, along with four of our staff. The panel gave a lively discussion about the role of the mainframe in future information systems. I predicted that the last mainframe will be unplugged on March 15, 1996.

last-mainframe-alsop-infoworld-february-22-1993
Alsop predicted the last mainframe would be unplugged in 1996 – InfoWorld, February 22, 1993.

[citation] Alsop, Stewart. “Microsoft’s Hermes: key network management system or myth?” Distributed Thinking, InfoWorld magazine. February 22, 1993. page 4. http://goo.gl/PGqoGf

Mainframes are so 50 years ago

mainframes are so 50 years ago

I came across this tweet as an advertisement in my own Twitter feed. It’s meant to be ironic, mainframes are still around, it’s more so the way they’re perceived that’s changed.

The comments are funny too:

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Careers and digital lifespans

Campus digital workhorse running final laps after 35 years, by Barbara Palmer, Stanford Report, 2003

The remarkable thing is not that the mainframe will be retired — the 35-year-old system is “like a jet slowly losing its engines,” said Dick Guertin, a software developer who has worked at Stanford since 1970. What is amazing, say those whose work lives have spanned much of the computer revolution, is that the mainframe system and the ground-breaking applications designed here to run on it have held up so well for so long.

At its peak, there were 30,000 accounts, including noncampus users, on the mainframe. Some of what McWilliam is doing requires real detective work, since many of the people who opened the accounts have long ago left Stanford or retired.

Also — Forsythe Mainframe Retirement

The mainframe era officially ended on December 15, 2003 when the last of the mainframe accounts was closed down.

It was physically demanding labor

Donald Scott (from left) joins Herb Becker and Caesar Williams in formally cutting power to the CDS mainframe computer.
Donald Scott (from left) joins Herb Becker and Caesar Williams in formally cutting power to the CDS mainframe computer.

Hello, Goodbye – CDS Bids Farewell to Mainframe, Ushers in New Beginning

In 1998 the Catalog Distribution Service of the Library of Congress shutoff its mainframe computer and switched to a new system.

During the 1970s, the mainframes were used primarily to print catalog cards, which CDS once produced by the tens of millions. In those early days, as many as 30 staff members were required simply to service the units, performing such tasks as changing tape reels, threading tape and programming. “It was physically demanding labor,” said Mr. Billingsley.