IBM Mainframe Celebrates 50 Years

By Tiffany Trader

April 8, 2014

Fifty years ago, IBM unveiled the first System/360 mainframe, considered to be “the most important product announcement in the company’s history.” Despite the rapid pace of advance in the computing field, not only are mainframes still very much in use today, the launch of the System/360 introduced technical concepts that would become part of the fabric of modern computing.

As EnterpriseTech editor-in-chief Timothy Prickett Morgan writes, “that these virtual card wallopers are still around is a testament to the fact that software is sticky, that change is difficult or sometimes not worth the trouble, either technically or economically, and that gradual evolution is what makes IT products endure.”

The System/360 came to fruition after three years of development, under the direction of then IBM chairman Thomas J Watson Jr, assisted by chief architect Gene Amdahl, project manager Fred Brooks, and launch manager John Opel.

IBM invested two years of revenue into the project. As TPM writes, this was a gutsy and expensive undertaking, a bold move the likes of which is seldom undertaken by public entities. A project that was budgeted at $675 million – for factories, hardware and software development – ended up with a 1961 price tag of $5 billion (worth about $39 billon in today’s dollars).

The risk paid off handsomely, better than anyone could have imagined. Writes TPM: “IBM was breaking ground in so many new technologies, from chip manufacturing to software development, that it would have been hard to keep to the schedule and within the budget. The System/360 also turned IBM into a chip manufacturer on a large scale for the first time, and it also made the disk drives and reel-to-reel tapes that are visually synonymous with the mainframe in culture.”

In the first five years post-launch, IBM sold 4,000 of the mainframes and had orders for 20,000 more. It did not take long for Big Blue to recoup its extravagant initial layout. Profits grew by 20-25 percent per year in the late 1960s, dipping in the 1970s as peak demand dampened. At that point, IBM started pushing System/3 minicomputers, which ate into mainframe sales a bit. The result, writes TPM: “two healthy – although unfortunately incompatible – product lines, which incidentally live on as the Power Systems and the System z mainframe today.”

The 360 name reflected the machine’s general purpose nature. System/360 was intended for companies both big and small and for commercial as well as scientific use. The idea was radical, one machine that could span a wide performance range and could run the same operation system and application software to solve a wide range of business and scientific problems.

The System/360 also was revolutionary for another reason. IBM essentially merged its five product lines into one compatible family using an architecture that featured 8-bit byte addressing, which lives on in every computer today.

“After the S/360,” writes the company, “we no longer talked about automating particular tasks with ‘computers.’ Now, we talked about managing complex processes through ‘computer systems.’”

“It was the first product family that allowed business data-processing operations to grow from the smallest machine to the largest without the enormous expense of rewriting vital programs… Code written for the smallest member of the family had to be upwardly compatible with each of the family’s larger processors. Peripherals such as printers, communications devices, storage, and input-output devices had to be compatible across the family.”

The early IBM mainframes ran the performance spectrum from one to 50MHz. Memory ranged from a minimum 8KB up to 8MB in the high-end models.

While some view mainframes as old and outdated, 80 percent of the world’s corporate data is still managed by mainframes. Although the first model was revolutionary, today’s descendants are many times more powerful. Today’s largest mainframes can execute 52,000 business transactions per second. 40-50 new businesses every year get on a mainframe.

At a press event held in New York City today celebrating the half-century milestone, Steve Mills, IBM Senior VP & Group Executive, Software & Systems, ran through some of the highlights of the IBM mainframe 50 years after its introduction.

  • 23 billion ATM transactions per year are processed by the mainframe, worth more than $1.4 trillion.
  • $6 trillion credit and debit card payments processed annually.
  • 3 billion travelers a year access mainframes in making their arrangements.
  • 30 billion business transactions are processed daily.

Throughout the five decades since the mainframe’s debut, IBM has continued to emphasize compatibility. “Applications must continue to work properly. Thus, much of the design work for new hardware and system software revolves around this compatibility requirement,” maintains IBM. In cases where it cannot provide that backwards compatibility, IBM aims to give users at least a year’s warning that software changes will be required.

Subscribe to HPCwire's Weekly Update!

Be the most informed person in the room! Stay ahead of the tech trends with industy updates delivered to you every week!

Google Launches Site to Share its NYC-based Algorithm Research

August 22, 2017

Much of Google’s algorithm development occurs in groups scattered throughout New York City. Yesterday, Google launched a single website - NYC Algorithms and Optimization Team page - to provide a deeper view into all of Read more…

By John Russell

Dell Strikes Reseller Deal with Atos; Supplants SGI

August 22, 2017

Dell EMC and Atos announced a reseller deal today in which Dell will offer Atos’ high-end 8- and 16-socket Bullion servers. Some move from Dell had been expected following Hewlett Packard Enterprise’s purchase of SGI Read more…

By John Russell

Glimpses of Today’s Total Solar Eclipse

August 21, 2017

Here are a few arresting images posted by NASA of today’s total solar eclipse. Such astronomical events have always captured our imagination and it’s not hard to understand why such occurrences were often greeted wit Read more…

By John Russell

HPE Extreme Performance Solutions

Leveraging Deep Learning for Fraud Detection

Advancements in computing technologies and the expanding use of e-commerce platforms have dramatically increased the risk of fraud for financial services companies and their customers. Read more…

Tech Giants Outline Battle Plans for Future HPC Market

August 21, 2017

Four companies engaged in a cage fight for leadership in the emerging HPC market of the 2020s are, despite deep differences in some areas, in violent agreement on at least one thing: the power consumption and latency pen Read more…

By Doug Black

Tech Giants Outline Battle Plans for Future HPC Market

August 21, 2017

Four companies engaged in a cage fight for leadership in the emerging HPC market of the 2020s are, despite deep differences in some areas, in violent agreement Read more…

By Doug Black

Microsoft Bolsters Azure With Cloud HPC Deal

August 15, 2017

Microsoft has acquired cloud computing software vendor Cycle Computing in a move designed to bring orchestration tools along with high-end computing access capabilities to the cloud. Terms of the acquisition were not disclosed. Read more…

By George Leopold

HPE Ships Supercomputer to Space Station, Final Destination Mars

August 14, 2017

With a manned mission to Mars on the horizon, the demand for space-based supercomputing is at hand. Today HPE and NASA sent the first off-the-shelf HPC system i Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD EPYC Video Takes Aim at Intel’s Broadwell

August 14, 2017

Let the benchmarking begin. Last week, AMD posted a YouTube video in which one of its EPYC-based systems outperformed a ‘comparable’ Intel Broadwell-based s Read more…

By John Russell

Deep Learning Thrives in Cancer Moonshot

August 8, 2017

The U.S. War on Cancer, certainly a worthy cause, is a collection of programs stretching back more than 40 years and abiding under many banners. The latest is t Read more…

By John Russell

IBM Raises the Bar for Distributed Deep Learning

August 8, 2017

IBM is announcing today an enhancement to its PowerAI software platform aimed at facilitating the practical scaling of AI models on today’s fastest GPUs. Scal Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Storage Breakthrough Paves Way for 330TB Tape Cartridges

August 3, 2017

IBM announced yesterday a new record for magnetic tape storage that it says will keep tape storage density on a Moore's law-like path far into the next decade. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

AMD Stuffs a Petaflops of Machine Intelligence into 20-Node Rack

August 1, 2017

With its Radeon “Vega” Instinct datacenter GPUs and EPYC “Naples” server chips entering the market this summer, AMD has positioned itself for a two-head Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

How ‘Knights Mill’ Gets Its Deep Learning Flops

June 22, 2017

Intel, the subject of much speculation regarding the delayed, rewritten or potentially canceled “Aurora” contract (the Argonne Lab part of the CORAL “ Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Nvidia’s Mammoth Volta GPU Aims High for AI, HPC

May 10, 2017

At Nvidia's GPU Technology Conference (GTC17) in San Jose, Calif., this morning, CEO Jensen Huang announced the company's much-anticipated Volta architecture a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Reinders: “AVX-512 May Be a Hidden Gem” in Intel Xeon Scalable Processors

June 29, 2017

Imagine if we could use vector processing on something other than just floating point problems.  Today, GPUs and CPUs work tirelessly to accelerate algorithms Read more…

By James Reinders

Russian Researchers Claim First Quantum-Safe Blockchain

May 25, 2017

The Russian Quantum Center today announced it has overcome the threat of quantum cryptography by creating the first quantum-safe blockchain, securing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, along with classified government communications and other sensitive digital transfers. Read more…

By Doug Black

Quantum Bits: D-Wave and VW; Google Quantum Lab; IBM Expands Access

March 21, 2017

For a technology that’s usually characterized as far off and in a distant galaxy, quantum computing has been steadily picking up steam. Just how close real-wo Read more…

By John Russell

Nvidia Responds to Google TPU Benchmarking

April 10, 2017

Nvidia highlights strengths of its newest GPU silicon in response to Google's report on the performance and energy advantages of its custom tensor processor. Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Groq This: New AI Chips to Give GPUs a Run for Deep Learning Money

April 24, 2017

CPUs and GPUs, move over. Thanks to recent revelations surrounding Google’s new Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), the computing world appears to be on the cusp of Read more…

By Alex Woodie

HPC Compiler Company PathScale Seeks Life Raft

March 23, 2017

HPCwire has learned that HPC compiler company PathScale has fallen on difficult times and is asking the community for help or actively seeking a buyer for its a Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Leading Solution Providers

Trump Budget Targets NIH, DOE, and EPA; No Mention of NSF

March 16, 2017

President Trump’s proposed U.S. fiscal 2018 budget issued today sharply cuts science spending while bolstering military spending as he promised during the cam Read more…

By John Russell

Google Debuts TPU v2 and will Add to Google Cloud

May 25, 2017

Not long after stirring attention in the deep learning/AI community by revealing the details of its Tensor Processing Unit (TPU), Google last week announced the Read more…

By John Russell

CPU-based Visualization Positions for Exascale Supercomputing

March 16, 2017

In this contributed perspective piece, Intel’s Jim Jeffers makes the case that CPU-based visualization is now widely adopted and as such is no longer a contrarian view, but is rather an exascale requirement. Read more…

By Jim Jeffers, Principal Engineer and Engineering Leader, Intel

Six Exascale PathForward Vendors Selected; DoE Providing $258M

June 15, 2017

The much-anticipated PathForward awards for hardware R&D in support of the Exascale Computing Project were announced today with six vendors selected – AMD Read more…

By John Russell

Top500 Results: Latest List Trends and What’s in Store

June 19, 2017

Greetings from Frankfurt and the 2017 International Supercomputing Conference where the latest Top500 list has just been revealed. Although there were no major Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

IBM Clears Path to 5nm with Silicon Nanosheets

June 5, 2017

Two years since announcing the industry’s first 7nm node test chip, IBM and its research alliance partners GlobalFoundries and Samsung have developed a proces Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

Messina Update: The US Path to Exascale in 16 Slides

April 26, 2017

Paul Messina, director of the U.S. Exascale Computing Project, provided a wide-ranging review of ECP’s evolving plans last week at the HPC User Forum. Read more…

By John Russell

Graphcore Readies Launch of 16nm Colossus-IPU Chip

July 20, 2017

A second $30 million funding round for U.K. AI chip developer Graphcore sets up the company to go to market with its “intelligent processing unit” (IPU) in Read more…

By Tiffany Trader

  • arrow
  • Click Here for More Headlines
  • arrow
Share This