Tuesday, April 8, 2014

50 years ago, IBM created mainframe that helped bring men to the Moon

Tice passed me an email that has done some traveling so the topic may be known to you but let me pass some of the links for your consideration, and thanks Tice.

The subject is about the IBM 360 computers that were used to help send the Apollo astronauts to the Moon.  One of the comments from the IBM sources is about how the various iterations of the IBM 360 should allow for compatibility with older systems.

Along those lines, I was notified that Microsoft support for Windows XP ended as of April 8, 2014.
I don't think my old HP tower is up to Microsoft 8.1.
- LRK -

50 years ago, IBM created mainframe that helped send men to the Moon
System/360 brought new era of compatibility, and its programs still run today.
by  - Apr 7 2014, 12:45pm PDT

50 years ago today, IBM unveiled the System/360 mainframe, a groundbreaking computer that allowed new levels of compatibility between systems and helped NASA send astronauts to the Moon.
While IBM had been making its 700 and 7000 Series mainframes for more than a decade, the System/360 "ushered in an era of computer compatibility—for the first time, allowing machines across a product line to work with each other," IBM says. "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."
Before the System/360, "businesses bought a computer, wrote programs for it, and then when it got too old or slow they threw it away and started again from scratch," IBM spokesperson Barry Heptonstall told the BBC.

Half-century milestone for IBM mainframes
6 April 2014 Last updated at 19:39 ET
By Mark Ward 
Technology correspondent, BBC News

The IBM mainframe is celebrating its 50th anniversary.

The first System 360 mainframe was unveiled on 7 April 1964 and its arrival marked a break with all general purpose computers that came before.

The machines made it possible to upgrade the processors but still keep using the same code and peripherals from earlier models.

Later this year the British rival to IBM's machine, the ICL 1900, also celebrates its 50th anniversary.

Despite their age, mainframes are still in wide use now, said Barry Heptonstall, a spokesman for IBM.

"I don't think people realise how often during the day they interact with a mainframe," he said.

Mr Heptonstall said mainframes were behind many of the big information systems that keep the modern world humming and handled such things as airline reservations, cash machine withdrawals and credit card payments.

The machines were very good at doing small-scale transactions, such as adding or taking figures away from bank balances, over and over again, he said.

Mainframe strength: Continuing compatibility
Mainframe customers tend to have a very large financial investment in their applications and data. Some applications have been developed and refined over decades. Some applications were written many years ago, while others may have been written "yesterday." The ability of an application to work in the system or its ability to work with other devices or programs is called compatibility.

The need to support applications of varying ages imposes a strict compatibility demand on mainframe hardware and software, which have been upgraded many times since the first System/360™ mainframe computer was shipped in 1964. Applications must continue to work properly. Thus, much of the design work for new hardware and system software revolves around this compatibility requirement.

The overriding need for compatibility is also the primary reason why many aspects of the system work as they do, for example, the syntax restrictions of the job control language (JCL) that is used to control batch jobs. Any new design enhancements made to JCL must preserve compatibility with older jobs so that they can continue to run without modification. The desire and need for continuing compatibility is one of the defining characteristics of mainframe computing.

Absolute compatibility across decades of changes and enhancements is not possible, of course, but the designers of mainframe hardware and software make it a top priority. When an incompatibility is unavoidable, the designers typically warn users at least a year in advance that software changes might be needed.


System/360 Announcement

The following is the text of an IBM Data Processing Division press release distributed on April 7, 1964.

A new generation of electronic computing equipment was introduced today by International Business Machines Corporation.

IBM Board Chairman Thomas J. Watson Jr. called the event the most important product announcement in the company's history.

The new equipment is known as the IBM System/360.

It combines microelectronic technology, which makes possible operating speeds measured in billionths of a second, with significant advances in the concepts of computer organization.

At a press conference at the company's Poughkeepsie facilities, Mr. Watson said:

"System/360 represents a sharp departure from concepts of the past in designing and building computers. It is the product of an international effort in IBM's laboratories and plants and is the first time IBM has redesigned the basic internal architecture of its computers in a decade. The result will be more computer productivity at lower cost than ever before. This is the beginning of a new generation - - not only of computers - - but of their application in business, science and government."

More than 100,000 businessmen in 165 American cities today attended meetings at which System/360 was announced.

The Apollo Missions

IBM was heavily involved in the Apollo missions, providing computers for multiple ground locations including Cape Canaveral, Florida, and Houston, Texas, Mission Control Center. Perhaps the most visible contribution, however, came in the form of the instrument unit or guidance system for the famed Saturn V rocket that propelled humans to the Moon.

Designed by NASA, and built and programmed by IBM at the Space Systems Center in Huntsville, Alabama, the Saturn instrument unit (IU) was the computer nerve center for the launch vehicle—controlling the Saturn rocket until Apollo was safely headed to the Moon. It determined when to fire the Saturn’s three rockets, when to jettison them and where to point them. Included in the IU’s equipment complex were devices to sense altitude, acceleration, velocity and position, as well as the computer to lay out the desired course and give control signals to the engines to steer the Saturn on that course.

Apollo flights had so much information to relay, that their computers had to report in an electronic form of shorthand. Even in shorthand, however, it took a circuit capable of transmitting a novel a minute to get the information to NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center—now the Johnson Space Center—in Houston, Texas. Receiving this enormous amount of data was a powerful IBM computer whose sole task was to translate the shorthand into meaningful information for Apollo flight controllers. The IBM System/360 computer absorbed, translated, calculated, evaluated and relayed this information for display. It was one of five System/360 machines used by NASA for the Apollo 11 mission. The same System/360 computer that processed the data for the first lunar landing from 240,000 miles away in Houston, also calculated the liftoff data needed by astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin to rendezvous back with the command module piloted by Michael Collins for the flight back to Earth.

And all of this before a smart phone.  :-)

I am sorry to say I never got to run on an IBM 360.  I did get to play some with a  card read only, IBM 1401, while stationed at Andrews Air Force base in the Naval Air Reserve way back in 1969.
Thanks for looking up with me.