Saturday, April 7, 2012

x30 Years of Great Ideas and Counting

Today is the 48th anniversary of IBM's announcement of the System/360 mainframe on April 7, 1964, if you count in decimal like many mainframe applications and users do. However, if you count in hexadecimal, or base 16, like many computer scientists, including mainframe systems folks, do, then today is the 30th (or "x30"th) anniversary of that announcement. This seems like a good opportunity to reflect on some of the great innovations and ideas that have continued to come from the mainframe, up to and including the most recent SHARE conference in Atlanta.

First, though, let me offer a tip of the hat to Pandoria13 for comments received on the last blog. Also, I'll point out that I've enable monetization of this blog, and would be interested in feedback on this step.

Of course, the System/360 mainframe did not emerge in isolation - rather, it arose as the culmination of many years of advancement and culture, drawn fom earlier mainframes and ideas, and being the "love child" of IBM, SHARE, and the organizations that were taking the journey of defining what an ideal business computer should do and be.

In fact, unlike UNIX, Linux, Windows and MacIntosh, technologies around which a culture formed, the mainframe was the manifestation of an already-existing culture which has continued to be a core part of that platform.

So, some of the original innovations associated with the mainframe in the 1960's and 1970's were also present, at least as concepts, in other earlier and competing platforms at the time. But they generally received their most enduring manifestation in what became today's leading-edge mainframe, including:

  • Virtual memory
  • Virtual machines
  • Full system integrity and security

And, of course, many, many more.

Which leads us to the latest and greatest insights at SHARE. Though I must confess that some of the best ones I got were from an excellent interview with John Ehrman, a father of modern mainframe assemby language, for the mainframe history book that Dr. Steve Guendert and I are working on. Learning about the sources and outcomes for decisions about how the underlying language of the machine grew and adapted was fascinating.

The keynote about how "Boring Meetings Suck" by Jon Petz followed by a session later in the afternoon where he elaborated was also of interest, and a motivator to be more effective in business, including mainframe IT.

Of course, there were many interesting technology keynotes, sessions and discussions.

Two of the sessions that most grabbed my attention were a Wednesday morning one for new mainframers, where a room full of high school and university students got to learn about the mainframe thanks to the IBM Academic Initiative and some related presentations (including a quick one I was able to give about zNextGen), after which they got to check out the Technology Exchange; and a session about local mainframe user groups - which I hope leads to further discussion.

The evening receptions were great opportunities to network and share and learn information about the latest and greatest on the mainframe.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I realize that many of the sessions make good starting points for future blogs, so I think that's where I'll leave it for today... stay tuned!