I’m writing this blog post as a somewhat tongue-in-cheek response to various comments I’ve made over the years (and recently) about how IBM appears to have already created what’s new in tech, especially with reference to the mainframe. I’ll re-emphasise the light hearted nature of this post as clearly IBM can’t actually have created everything, however they are a very successful hardware company and as an example have recently released the latest incarnation of their mainframe platform, the z13. Apparently this system took 5 years to develop and $1bn in costs, so you’d expect it to be good. Bear in mind also that IBM continually tops the list in terms of patents filed in the US, by around 50% more than their nearest competitor. So, the company must be doing something right.
So exactly what can I claim was invented by IBM that we commonly use today? Here are a few examples:
- The Hard Disk Drive (1956)
- The Tape Drive (1952)
- Server Virtualisation – VM (1972)
- Containers – CICS (1968)
- SANs – ESCON (1990)
- NPIV – EMIF (ESCON Multi-Image Facility) (1992)
- Cloud Computing – Mainframe bureaux, using features like SMF (billing), RMF (performance management)
- Converged Infrastructure – a mainframe by definition!
- Information Lifecycle Management (ILM) – DFHSM
- Virtual Memory & Dynamic Address Translation – System/360
- Fibre Channel – Channel I/O and ESCON
- Intel VT (for virtualisation) – Memory key protection (System/370)
- CoreOS – SYSRES (system residence) volumes from System/360 onwards
- Software Defined Storage – DFSMS (1989)
- NoSQL databases – IMS, VSAM (KSDS)
- Thin Provisioning – STK Iceberg (which became RAMAC Virtual Array)
OK, I stuck the last one in as a joke, as IBM didn’t really invent it, they just licensed the technology from StorageTek.
I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who will try and argue that some of the concepts I’ve listed were implemented even earlier than the mainframe and that may be true (feel free to correct me), however I guess my point with this post is to show that many concepts in IT are not original or unique and in fact are just a rehash of things that have gone before. Now, if we blindly assumed that because IBM invented it then it was right, and if others “invented” it, then they were wrong, we’d have a rather backward looking industry. Instead I like to look at how technology is “re-imagined” in two ways.
First, hardware continues to evolve at an enormous rate, getting better, faster and cheaper. Just because IBM invented the disk drive doesn’t mean they have (or should I say had) the best products. Hardware evolution means we can do things we never thought possible before, including the rate of innovation brought in by incredibly cheap computing power (witnessed by the programming boom of the 1980’s onwards). That change in hardware drives more interesting software too. I would always look at new technology in the light of why it exists in the present, rather than dwelling on the past. That brings me on to the second point; application of technology. Implementing IT systems is only partially about the physical technology itself; a large part of the IT world is about process or the operational model. What previous incarnations of technology do provide is the ability to understand how things should be implemented operationally; many of the pitfalls found in current technology have already been experienced before and lessons learned. Learning from the past (rather than harking back to it) is our greatest benefit here.
The Architect’s View
I love new technology and I still get a buzz from trying out something new. However I am fortunate enough to have had a number of “careers” during my time in the IT industry, including mainframe, open systems, small and large organisations and industry verticals. This wealth of experience is invaluable as a frame of reference for evaluating and deploying new technologies. So the next time you see a mainframe systems programmer, don’t forget to thank him or her for where we are today!
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Copyright (c) 2009-2015 – Chris M Evans, first published on http://blog.architecting.it, do not reproduce without permission.