Home opinion-and-analysis A-Meaningful-Look Big Blue sees Red -- Celebrating 40 years of IBM international technical support

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IBM recently celebrated the 40th anniversary of its international technical support organisation, ITSO, and  has committed to continue producing its core product, free IBM Redbooks, which these days are downloaded in the tens of millions.

The Computing-Tabulating-Recording-Company, incorporated in 1911, changed its name on 14 January 1924 to International Business Machines, alias IBM. If you want to find out some more, here's a handy IBM time line of important dates in IBM history, or try Wikipedia, and here's the official IBM Archives site.

Disclosure: I write this article having the somewhat biased attitude of an IBM retiree. I was fairly deeply involved with the subject matter of this article, so please indulge me if I appear overenthusiastic in this case.

I joined IBM Australia in January 1970, just in time for the announcement of the IBM System/370 mainframe, successor of the groundbreaking System/360 range and predecessor of the current System z range. (Here's a one-page snapshot history of the IBM 360/370/3090/390 mainframes.)

During 1970, the IBM System/3 was also announced in Australia (during 1969 in the USA). This was the great, great, great grandfather of the current IBM System i range (one of two lines within the current IBM Power merged systems range).

IT, or "data processing" as we then called it, certainly was very different back in the 1960s and 1970s -- although we definitely  considered ourselves to be working on the leading edge! Telecommunication line speeds were 2,400 or 4,800 or 9,600 bps, or as much as to 14,400 bps on a super-fast link (believe it or not, the "broadband" of the times).

The IBM System/3 came with 4K of magnetic core RAM memory and a single 14-ich disk platter of 2.4 MB capacity, expandable to as much as 16K of RAM and 10 MB of disk (if you could afford it).

There were innovations, then as now. For example, the IBM 80-column punched card, or Hollerith card, on the System/3 was replaced by an innovative 96-column card, as illustrated in this Wikipedia System/3 page.

Can you imagine that, 96 characters of data (in 3 tiers or rows each holding 32 characters) was able to be stored on a piece of cardboard only about one-third the size of the Hollerith card. What a spectacular advance (and a conserver of trees, though in those days none of us gave much thought to loss of forests).

I had the pleasure of working on all these system types over my years at IBM, as well as some others like the IBM System/7 (a real-time, process control system, one of the earliest to use semiconductor memory instead of magnetic cores, and very fast for its day) that rarely gets a mention.

But enough, already, of this potted history of IBM systems.



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Tony Austin

joomla statisticsWorked at IBM starting 1970 for a quarter century. Founder of Asia/Pacific Computer Services, closed at end of 2013. Still closely following the IT industry, but as an observer/commentator.