We Don’t See Mainframes as Legacy Technology

Half-century milestone for IBM mainframes, by Mark Ward at BBC News

IBM System/360 Model 65 Computer, 1965 (via Computer History Museum)


Most interesting about these quotes, is that they’re referring to mainframes right now, not 50 years ago.

“I don’t think people realise how often during the day they interact with a mainframe,” he said.

Mr Heptonstall said mainframes were behind many of the big information systems that keep the modern world humming and handled such things as airline reservations, cash machine withdrawals and credit card payments.

The machines were very good at doing small-scale transactions, such as adding or taking figures away from bank balances, over and over again, he said.

“We don’t see mainframes as legacy technology,” said Charlie Ewen, chief information officer at the Met Office, which has been using mainframes for 40 years.

IBM System/360 – 50th anniversary

IBM recently celebrated the 50th anniversary of the System/360 mainframe, which was announced on April 7, 1964.

IBM press announcement text for the System/360, 1964

IBM System/360 at the Computer History Museum

The System/360, or S/360 is discussed in this IBM video, “IBM Centennial Film: They Were There.”

Also from IBM, System 360: From Computers to Computer Systems:

Most significantly, the S/360 ushered in an era of computer compatibility—for the first time, allowing machines across a product line to work with each other. In fact, it marked a turning point in the emerging field of information science and the understanding of complex systems. After the S/360, we no longer talked about automating particular tasks with “computers.” Now, we talked about managing complex processes through “computer systems.”

Grace Hopper documentary – “The Queen of Code”

The Queen of Code at FiveThirtyEight

Also, an interview with the director of the short film at NPR, on All Tech Considered:
Grace Hopper, ‘The Queen Of Code,’ Would Have Hated That Title

The moth, or first computer “bug” mentioned in the video and audio above.

There’s also a Grace Hopper GitHub sticker (shown below) called the “Gracehoptocat.” The sticker was given out at the Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing.

"Gracehoptocat" - GitHub sticker

[sidenote: The video clip on FiveThirtyEight has a Javascript embed code, which won’t work on WordPress without some tinkering. Thankfully, “The Queen of Code” video is also hosted on YouTube as shown in this post.]

Just a Little Acronym We Thought Up

xkcd comic on Douglas Engelbart and the “Mother of All Demos” in 1968




The video below is the “Mother of All Demos” at the Internet Archive

1968 Demo – FJCC Conference Presentation Reel #1 by SRI International

5 MB of Data on 62,500 Punched Cards

large stack of punched cards
“Programmer standing beside punched cards” “This stack of 62,500 punched cards — 5 MB worth — held the control program for the giant SAGE military computer network.” ca. 1955 (via the Computer History Museum)

Explaining data storage in a visual way has always been difficult, but especially so with the transition to magnetic tape in the 1950s and 1960s.

Photographs of punched cards help show the enormity of the task at hand, and also the materiality of the information.

5 megabytes of data seems pretty insignificant nowadays, when terabyte hard drives are a common feature in personal computers.

1 TB = 1,000,000 MB (now that would be a lot of punched cards!)

From the Computer History Museum’s online exhibit on Memory and Storage

Punch Card Jam Needs Some Force

In 2010, representatives from the Computer History Museum visited a company in Texas still using an IBM 402 mainframe for everyday accounting jobs.

forcing punch cards in mainframe
“Jam needs SOME force” (image caption at http://ibm-1401.info/402.html)
jammed punch cards - front view
“Card Jam Front View” (image caption at http://ibm-1401.info/402.html)

The photographs on for the CHM trip are pretty interesting, especially the punch card jams: http://ibm-1401.info/402.html

The article below mentions the CHM trip to Texas, and a few other old computers still in use:

If It Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix It: Ancient Computers in Use Today, by Benj Edwards at PCWorld

The biggest problem with maintaining such ancient computer systems is that the original technicians who knew how to configure and maintain them have long since retired or passed away, so no one is left with the knowledge required to fix them if they break.

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: