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IBM Supercomputing Hardware

Fifty Years Ago IBM 'Bet the Company' On the 360 Series Mainframe 169

Posted by timothy
from the y'-tell-the-kids-that-today dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com (2995471) writes "Those of us of a certain age remember well the breakthrough that the IBM 360 series mainframes represented when it was unveiled fifty years ago on 7 April 1964. Now Mark Ward reports at BBC that the first System 360 mainframe marked a break with all general purpose computers that came before because it was possible to upgrade the processors but still keep using the same code and peripherals from earlier models. "Before System 360 arrived, businesses bought a computer, wrote programs for it and then when it got too old or slow they threw it away and started again from scratch," says Barry Heptonstall. IBM bet the company when they developed the 360 series. At the time IBM had a huge array of conflicting and incompatible lines of computers, and this was the case with the computer industry in general at the time, it was largely a custom or small scale design and production industry, but IBM was such a large company and the problems of this was getting obvious: When upgrading from one of the smaller series of IBM computers to a larger one, the effort in doing that transition was so big so you might as well go for a competing product from the "BUNCH" (Burroughs, Univac, NCR, CDC and Honeywell). Fred Brooks managed the development of IBM's System/360 family of computers and the OS/360 software support package and based his software classic "The Mythical Man-Month" on his observation that "adding manpower to a late software project makes it later." The S/360 was also the first computer to use microcode to implement many of its machine instructions, as opposed to having all of its machine instructions hard-wired into its circuitry. Despite their age, mainframes are still in wide use today and are behind many of the big information systems that keep the modern world humming handling such things as airline reservations, cash machine withdrawals and credit card payments. "We don't see mainframes as legacy technology," says Charlie Ewen. "They are resilient, robust and are very cost-effective for some of the work we do.""
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Fifty Years Ago IBM 'Bet the Company' On the 360 Series Mainframe

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  • Re:software (Score:5, Insightful)

    by serviscope_minor (664417) on Monday April 07, 2014 @08:29AM (#46682493) Journal

    We struggle trying to get someone new motivated to learn the technology.

    I wonder how the banks end up getting people working in banking. After all, it's dull (yeah, the maths in the software is generally not that interesting), high stress and ultimately pointless. I guess they find *some* way of motivating those people.

    Basically, if you're running mainframes, then your business is large enough (heck the individual computers are expensive enough) that you can afford to pay top dollar to motivate some very solid programmers to work for you.

    Offer a good package with good benefits for what is in your region (e.g. healthcare in the US, 5 weeks time off in the US---these things are standard elsewhere so other regions will need other benefits), a low stress, no overtime working environment (no regular crunches or whatever), decent work-life balance sort of thing and a decent pay package and you will find good people. Oh, and training, too.

    You won't get the youngsters who are happy to burn out on 80 hour weeks for a year who want to hack the latest cool thing in the latest fad tech but with a small chance of becoming a billionaire, but you will get very, very good, experienced and almost certainly older programmers who want a work-life banance. They might have families, hobbies or even just shifted priorities, you see.

    You might have to train them up, but that's not goint to cost all that much in the grand scheme of things.

    Basically, if you can't get the people it's because you're not prepared to pay (that includes money, benefits and training).

  • Re:software (Score:4, Insightful)

    by K. S. Kyosuke (729550) on Monday April 07, 2014 @08:32AM (#46682507)
    Use the free market solution: offer a sufficiently high salary!
  • by serviscope_minor (664417) on Monday April 07, 2014 @08:37AM (#46682553) Journal

    I'd estimate that it killed something like ten years of pushing research results into practice

    I don't see how. Apparently the CDC6600 was OoO in the 1970s. I think the main problem is that OoO requires a lot of resources.

    I think it took until the 90's because before then there were just not enough on-chip resources to make it worth doing out of order. There were other things that took higher precedence, like wider busses (moving up to 32 bit at the time), things like hardware multiply and divide, wider static issue, floating point in hardware, etc.

    In other words, OoO is only really worth it when your processor is so wide that you can't easily fill all the execution slots with static scheduling.

  • by jabberw0k (62554) on Monday April 07, 2014 @08:59AM (#46682675) Homepage Journal
    Sure, all those so-called "telephones" running on 99-cent "apps" are plentiful, like cockroaches, but if you're running one the million- or billion-dollar companies that let those awkward thumbpaint-smudge-laden gadgets actually do anything, you're talking mainframes one way or another (call them a "cloud" if you must).
  • Re:software (Score:5, Insightful)

    by serviscope_minor (664417) on Monday April 07, 2014 @09:55AM (#46683109) Journal

    As pre-canned software becomes more flexible and cheaper, and talent to tweak it into what you need, simply tossing out a perfectly functional system starts to make more sense.

    True, but the annals of software engineering are littered of examples of hugely expensive failures along those lines. It is possible, but it is almost certainly much more expensive and much more difficult than most people in a position to pay realise. I think part of the problem is it's basically a wholesale change in one go. This makes it very difficult to have a staged migration of any sort.

    Also, every company is unique, especially those big enough to own their own mainframe. Those are also likely to be old and have baggage. That generally means an "off the shelf" system requires so much customisation it's more like a rewrite from scratch using a large, expensive and probably badly written framework.

    Here there be dragons.

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