Storage

Dinosaur sighting: The days of Big Iron

Model 360/30

In the early 1970s, I worked in operations at Montgomery Ward's computer center in Chicago. It was the era of Big Iron, dominated by IBM, whose System/360 line of mainframe computers was used by government, larger corporations, and big universities. If you were part of this era, the images in this gallery may bring back a lot of memories. For an additional nostalgia fix, check out the article 10 things I miss about Big Iron.

The picture above shows the Model 360/30 CPU and operator's console (left), tape drives, card reader/punch, and disk drives (right, back to front). We had several of these systems. One handled all the daily shoe orders nationwide, in 32K (yes, that's K) of RAM.

Courtesy of International Business Machines Corporation, © International Business Machines Corporation.

43 comments
dpbaird
dpbaird

As used here,  I guess that "big iron" must refer to the size of the installation not the power of the hardware nor the functionality of the software. .  The System/360 Model 30 was the smallest of the System/360's announced April 7, 1964 (less powerful than the PC this is being written on).  The two 2311 disk drives had a total capacity of 14.5 megabytes and the variable length Count Key Data formatting that could be used to simulated mag tape operations with a search capability on the primary key. The Mod 30 did have the capability to attach electromechanical terminals like the Teletypewriter.  I joined the project as a hardware product planner in time to participate in the 1962 design competition.  Chapter 24, Case Study: System/360 Architecture, in Fred Brook's "The Design of Design " is a good short summary of the origin of S/360.

dasdbobb
dasdbobb

I cut my teeth on the ols system36/as400. Although still in use today, it has grown up so much i wouldn't recognize one if I hadn't kept up on the newer systems. Ahhh the headaches!!!

Otto Roth
Otto Roth

It has wheels! (Sit back and Relax while your computing is done!) BUT only 4 (One on each of corner! This resulted in a lot of injuries when leaning back and the chair jumping out and you landing on your back! Law now requires chairs to have at least 5 wheels/legs (Only useable on completely flat floors else chairs would have only had 3 legs (Milkmaid Stool - The cow has the udder!) that will stand on any uneven terrain!

baja463
baja463

... there was IBM 305 RAMAC, my first computer. In 1961, I sat at the 305 console, wondering if this was a good career move. Banging card punch, rapping printer, overheated vacuum tubes, fanning cards for the reader ... has 50 years really passed? Still in the biz, but now with a pocket device that can run processing rings around that first tempermental old iron horse.

RCrossett
RCrossett

Very nice photo spread. It brought back a lot of memories.

rampisad
rampisad

I got started on these working at a large insurance group. Most vivid memory is that my recommendation for an additional 16K of memory had to go to the board of directors for approval (with great debate)! We thought they were better that 360/ stream, because they had 4Mb disk packs. WOW!

father.nature
father.nature

That 360/165 brought back memories. Worked around Ohio State's I&R mainframe in 1971 - it had a bank of Selectrics located in the auxillary machine room and wired into that hulking monster - Time Share Option, very advanced. My girlfriend's research partner got on a TSO one night and figured out the shut-down command and entered it. It printed out, "Goodbye!" and the whole floor erupted with frantic technicians. He still got his PhD on time and with it a job at Sandia. How times change!

Lost Cause?
Lost Cause?

The PDP 1140 and 1145 were the first Mainframes I had anything to do with. We ran a $1 billion Copper Smelter in the bootheel of New Mexico usinig the power of the PDP 1140 and 1145 in the 1970's and early 80's. Everything was gradually upgraded and updated. This was the most modern Copper Smelter of its day.

parksdevcorp
parksdevcorp

As I'm getting older, I've fogotton many of the OS commands I use to type on the console. I got the cool chance to work as a "system operator" on a 360, and then a 370 just out of high school. But I remember like yesterday loading and unloading tapes and disk drives. We had a pretty big system with 1MB of ram. Large programs like G/L were 300K. Cobol, Pl1, and Assembler were the thing of the day. Pl1 was my favorite for a long time.

dayen
dayen

Old days do I remember I think I do ?? the packs were dangerous I like the new computers better The women never saw one in computer room GM Lansing Michigan when women got computer at GM us computer guys were not allowed near them. only talk to them on the phone then EDS took over I am an old robot programer

lat18
lat18

I would like to make a correction to the article. IBM is NOT International Business Machines, but Imitation Burroughs Machines. I used to work all the military systems in Hawaii for Burroughs circa 1980. These pictures bring back a lot of good memories. Thank you! John McMahan

Chipv
Chipv

I am only 45 and i can remember the first program i wrote in Cobol. I used a selectrix typewriter to punch cards, and then fed them into the card reader. A simple function to input name address state zip and 1 calculation was 385 cards. God forbid if you forgot to number your cards!. The biggest code disaster had was 10000 cards knocked off my desk. I at least numbered the first 900, and the last 100 was easy to piece together, it was only 2 days work! :)

Slartibartfast
Slartibartfast

I think I can add something to that; the console is a 1052, the tape drives are 2401's with a 2821 controller (far left), the disks are 2311's (I see others indicate the disks are 1311's but weren't they only used on 1401's?).

dalexnagy
dalexnagy

I've worked as a systems programmer with a 360/30, 360/65, 370/165, 370/168, 3033 (with an AP), 3083, 3090, 4341, and up. I've had the pleasure of working on DOS (IBM's version), OS/MVT, VS2 (SVS), MVS, JES2 & JES3, and writing code for MVS & JES2 & JES3. What great memories!

ksorensen
ksorensen

Where have you been that you've not seen women working computer ops? I've worked on IBM systems for 26 years and started as an operator. I carried those boxes of greenbar paper and swapped out the disk drives with no help, and was proud to do it. For a while I managed Computer Operations and I had about 50/50 men to women on the team. From what I've seen at multiple companies, that is about the norm.

joefine48
joefine48

What no Burroughs? They had big iron as well.

JohnOfStony
JohnOfStony

I never worked with IBM machines but in 1974 I was designing integrated circuits using a Data General Nova with two 14 inch disks, one fixed, one removable and I seem to remember each 14 inch disk had a capacity of 1.25 Megabytes. We used tape for daily backups. Was the IBM disk back higher density than this? I ought to mention that each of the two terminals had a cathode ray storage tube as the display so the computer didn't have to keep refreshing the display (refresh could take several minutes depending on the amount of detail). Adding to the display didn't need a refresh but deleting anything involved the tube erasing everything and then a complete refresh. It was not acceptable to do a refresh without consulting the user at the other terminal first!

lavertu
lavertu

One organization was growing fast and when they ran the 'books' when the total was >$100 million the system could'nt handle it as the biggest number it could handle was about $99 million. Didn't have this problem with a Burroughs B3500!!

jcqs.bchrd
jcqs.bchrd

Yes good meories of the old days. I worked on a 360/30 with only 16k of RAM, and, beleive meor not, no disk, but only tapes, 2415...

joefser
joefser

One of the pictures pointed out the "Emergency power off pull knob" A special feature on the NASA Mod 75s was a lock box over this knob so it couldn't be accessed during a mission. Don't remember a 360/91.

nickweavers
nickweavers

CRAM stood for Card Random Access Memory. Long boxes that looked like the old school wooden pencil boxes with the sliding lid were used to store 256 long magnetic cards measuring something like 10"x2". The cards had a row of 4 semi circular holes arranged along the top about 2mm in from the edge. each card was addresses by having some of the holes open to the edge of the card on one side of the hole or the other. To load the cards into the reader you slid the lid off the storage box and pushed the cards onto 8 semi circular rods. The computer could read any one of the 256 cards by twisting the rods through 90 degrees either clockwise or anti clockwise. The card then dropped down into a hopper, was sucked tight onto a spinning drum, and the data read or written by a static head. Once the I/O to the card was done, the reader pealed the card off the drum and fed it back up the shoot and onto the rails. The sound was amazing, and only overwhelmed by the gattling gun sound made by the barrel printer that had characters arranged in a helical pattern on the print barrel. Paper was fed up line by line and hammers were made to strike the paper and ribbon against the barrel at the precise time that the right character spun into line at the position under the hammer. The CPU had 80K of ferrite core memory with cores the size of small shirt buttons. Southampton City Council ran the whole cities rates and rent programs on this machine for at least a few years. When I joined I worked as a operator on the new IBM 360/125 that was being brought up to take over in the next room. The thing that was so great wasn't just the incredible leap in technology that was so obvious between the machines, it was in the way that humans always find a way to have fun with it. In the case of the NCR, they had written programs that would cause a transistor radio placed on the CPU to play Xmas carols using interference from the switching in the cores. They also created the most amazing printouts of images like Marilyn Munro, Mickey Mouse and Jesus Christ crowned with thorns using various characters and overprinting to get the right grey shades. No one had invented digitisers then, so how they did this beats me!

Dail
Dail

I was working on a PDP11/40 (1976)a few months ago. It was used to control a Flight Simulator. Got the PDP to work but the interface to the Flight Sim was beyond repair. We replaced all 9 racks (3x PDP, 5 x Flight Sim INT)with 3 PC's running microsoft Flight Sim. On this side of the pond we cut out teeth on ICL International Computers Ltd, Ah memories.

Sensor Guy
Sensor Guy

was an old IBM 1620 at the old San Juan Naval Air Station in Puerta de Tierra that was used by Navy engineers for calculations, but sat idle a lot of the time because the engineers preferred to use their slide rules. My Dad worked at the Naval Station and got the Navy to let me use the machine to learn FORTRAN 2.

mic
mic

As operators we were never patient enough to let those disk drives spin down normally when changing the disk pack. We would open the drive cover while the disk was spinning and then press our palms on the raised center portion of the pack to slow it down more quickly. Always made the IBM Systems Engineers scream very loudly.

jkappes
jkappes

As I recall, those 1311 disk packs held 2 megabytes off data. Our 1311 drives used to leak fluid terribly, so bad that the IBM techs could not fix it. They left us a case of automatic transwmission fluid to top it off when it started acting up. True story.

PSepulveda
PSepulveda

The IBM 370/155 & 165 had no virtual memory capability. When the 370/135 came out several months later it had virtual memory. The users of the 155s & 165s were mad as hell. IBM announced that they would do a field upgrade (to 155-II & 165-II) to provide virtual memory capability. However, this was a disaster. IBM shortly came out with the 370/158 & 168 which had virtual memory.

JimTheGeordie
JimTheGeordie

In the days of Big Iron, when a lot of programming concepts were new, one could get a genuine feeling of excitement and power, which one simply does not get in these days of remote servers. In the 1970s, I took over the design of a complex concrete roof over an underground carpark. The person who came up with the concept did not really understand the model and I had to recompute the stresses etc. from scratch. We ran a PDP10 in single-user mode overnight, data input was a 10-foot deck of cards and the software was the latest and greatest 3D finite element program shipped in from UC Berkely, with the assistance of CSC. Magic moments!

sboverie
sboverie

I started work as a customer engineer working on Burroughs medium sized computer systems. The skill set needed in those days was strong electronics training, component level troubleshooting, ability to read schematics, use oscilloscopes to find bugs and understand truth tables and Boolean logic. In the PC/Mac environments, all you need is a bit of electrical knowledge, follow ESD procedures, know how to use software diagnostics and replace sub assemblies. No need for scopes, wiring diagrams instead of schematics and no need to know what is in the sub components you are replacing. What changed, CEs are less skilled in hardware but more proficient with software.

john.randle
john.randle

This was my first computer on active duty in the 1960's. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AN/FSQ-7 (aka IBM-705) . It required a 4 or 5 story block house with a dedicated water chiller air conditioner system to cool the vacuum tubes. It was a fully redundant system and we affectionately called one side "Bonnie" and the other side "Clyde". Programming was done in assembly code, although we did have a JOVIAL compiler available.

pivert
pivert

Accounting, where this was primarily used for, still works more or less the same. Only a lot more info is stored (needed to be compliant with another 3 or 4 letter acronym). I lost the whole accountingdata with those tape drives: everything was dumped on tape, processed and loaded back (disks were expensive). But I ran the first step twice on the same tapes because there was an error. So the tape was erased... There were a lot of red faces when I entered the next morning... Yes, the tapedrives were the coolest part of the computerroom.

wjweldon
wjweldon

I learned to program on an IBM 1620 at Ohio Northern University from 1968-1972. Fortran 2 was the language of choice, but there was some SPS assembler as well. The flashing lights were great as were the 300 LPM printer and the card punches. Not to mention the chaff flying everywhere.

parksdevcorp
parksdevcorp

I had a college summer project to convert a IBM fortran program to a PDP 11 in Fortran 77. "The Deep" - a sanitary sewer plotting system on a big drum plotter. Lots of fun.

parksdevcorp
parksdevcorp

yes, I remember doing that too. fun times.

denniswilliams
denniswilliams

I too remember working with guys who wouldn't wait for 2311's to spin down. I had a couple of colleagues who would drop the lids on to still spinning disk packs as this would screw them on, the disk would stop spinning somewhat abruptly as the end of the thread was reached and the packs hoisted out. This occasionally resulted in cracking the pack lid and on one memorable occasion beating the drives read/write head retraction and wrecking the drive. That particular practice suddenly stopped after that incident. Nobody seems to have mentioned the 2314 drives shown in 370 pics. Did anybody else get warned by engineers not to open more than two upper drawers simultaneously as the entire rack could topple over?

Itsaburgthing
Itsaburgthing

We were on of the few companies who had a S/195, the most powerful and impressive machine. IBM did not give it a DAT box so we had to move on to 168's.

parksdevcorp
parksdevcorp

That's interesting - I didn't know about the virtual memory. The latest one I worked on was a 370/155 (If my memory serves me correctly). It's good to know there are still some of us old folks out there.

JCitizen
JCitizen

Thanks for relating that - very interesting!

Snuffy.
Snuffy.

@pivert: "Yes, the tapedrives were the coolest part of the computerroom." And the noisiest! I spent many hours in a data center with 15 9-track drives running for hours on end. You couldn't hear yourself think!

GruntingDwarf
GruntingDwarf

"It's good to know there are still some of us old folks out there." It's bad to know there are less of us old folks every year. (Sorry, the Xmas & NY spirit & all that...)

awarren2002
awarren2002

were all louder! My husband worked on these machines from 1956 to 1987 for IBM. It made a good life for us, but his hearing is shot.