On April 7, 1964, IBM announced the System/360. So in honor of its birthday as it gets into AARP territory, here's a tribute.
Reading the press release, it has a curiously modern twist, and of course, there's a total "Mad Men" retro vibe going on. Let's take a look at how the system was an early day cloud before things got split up with mini-computers and distributed computing, and is now falling back together as a unified cloud system.
- Single system — It was probably the only computer you had, which may be the case today if you buy totally into a cloud vendor. In a perverse way, it is throughly modern since you didn't have to choose your computer to run a workload on. It was the computer.
- Wide performance scale — OK, it was an example of scale-up, not scale-out computing, so that's retro, but it was a single system architecture that scaled in performance. No need to buy different systems for different jobs. A big win there. It was the x86 before there was an x86. Or rather, it was the 360.
- Solid logic technology — That sounds modern. But they were talking about transistors, a big improvement over vacuum tubes. But wait, today, we're talking of SSDs and NVRAM, so if you think of the changes that enable us to move away from rotating disks, we're experiencing the same kind of shift today (in mass storage, not the CPU, that is).
- Application versatility — Run any kind of job, business or scientific. That's quite novel for its time. We still have specialized HPC systems, and specialized systems with GPU for crunching numbers, but overall, we have general purpose systems that we take for granted. Chalk one up to these guys for making that common place. It would be horrible if an AWS VPC only ran Java programs and another VPC only ran PHP.
And now for the super finale, here are some extracts from their release on their networking/communications capability:
"The ability to respond to inquiries and messages from remote locations at any time." and "available to remote terminals, regardless of distance"
Holy cow — regardless of distance means latency is not an issue! "Any time" means total availability, no downtime, ever! But on the other hand, the transmission rate was slow. But I say that as a result, the system didn't have a bottleneck in communications, so had a well balanced communication subsystem.
But seriously, remote access is a big deal, if the prior choice was probably to walk over the computer room. We're so spoiled today but these guys started the journey towards "mobile computing anywhere".
And lest I forget, its grandchildren are still in business, with a different name, but definitely carrying on the legacy. Happy birthday.