Strange Headline

IBM Mainframe Evolves to Serve the Digital World

…in The New York Times.

IBM mainframes, like other mainframes, actually are of course digital and everything they do is part of “the digital world.” Indeed, IBM’s entire history, going back to the pre-computer punched-card days, is all about digital information processing.

“Digital” is not really a synonym for “cool modern stuff,” any more than “analog” is a substitute for “old-fashioned boring stuff,” but journalists generally seem to use the words that way.

(In the case of the linked article, I suspect that the article-writer and the headline-writer are not the same individual. LinkedIn made the headline even worse by changing it to “IBM Evolves to Serve Digital World.”)

9 thoughts on “Strange Headline”

  1. I’m sure their former rivals from the long-vanished Digital Equipment Corporation are quietly smiling. It’s Digital’s world, and IBM just evolves to serve it…

  2. Coming from the biological side, I would note that purely analog systems can’t evolve via natural selection. Natural selection only works if the units of selection at some level have irreducible “chunks”. In living organisms, those irreducible chunks are genes. If the old school mainframes had been analog systems (which they weren’t) they couldn’t have “evolved” anyway.

    Of course, the popular conception of evolution is largely still stuck in the pre-1947 time before modern synthetic theory so I shouldn’t be surprised.

  3. Beyond the fact that the writer really didn’t know what the term “digital” meant, it was an interesting article. I am reading between the lines and wondering if the old 370 architecture – with their OS – OS/MVS ? – is gone? If so then Linux really rules it seems.

  4. IBM really has done a remarkable job of reinventing itself and thereby saving itself from decline/disaster, on at least 3 occasions:

    1)The transition from punched cards equipment to computers, in the 1950s—it would have been very easy for the dominant punched card player to ignore or under-resource the emergence of stored-program computers.

    2)The company’s decision to completely restructure its product line, in the mid-1960s, replacing specialized business and scientific systems of varying architectures with the single comprehensive System/360 line. A true bet-your-company decision.

    3)Lou Gerstner’s turnaround of the company starting in 1993…his book, Who Says Elephants Can’t Dance?, describes a culture which had reached levels of bureaucratic dysfunctionality such as one would expect to see in the darker corners of a really bad government agency.

  5. Gerstner really saved the company in the 90s – when it was thought that PCs would crush IBM. At that time they went heavily into service – systems management – I suppose like Ross Perot’s old EDS did (BTW what happened with them since pre-bankrupt GM bought them?) – I had thought that their mainframe business was purely legacy – dying – but this article says otherwise

    The biggest blunder they did in my memory was building Microsoft from a 10 man shop to what it is through their adoption of MS-DOS – and not asking for a percentage of Microsoft.

    But, they seem to be doing OK. I think Gerstner changed the corporate culture from “you will wear a grey or blue pinstriped suit” to more “casual”.

    I think IBM would send people home to change if they didn’t have one or the other.

  6. Gerstner’s book is interesting. (His prior experience had been running American Express and Nabisco, so he was by no means a “tech guy.”) He noted that when he first got to IBM, senior executives all had “special assistants” who were performing basically secretarial functions–all male, all young men with good degrees and, IIRC, mostly from “good families.” He got rid of the who job category and reassigned the individuals to more productive work.

  7. ..and I think the IBM BoD – facing the company’s extinction – deliberately went outside IBM to find Gerstner – deliberately sidestepping the IBM culture which was always to promote from within.

  8. There are 10 types of people in the world: Those that understand binary and those that don’t.
    I used DEC equipment in my first CivLant job, remember 773154 as a boot address to toggle in… Then ‘graduated’ to IBM machines, assembler, a shelf full of manuals, multitudes of utilities such as IEHDASDR to lay out disks, VTOCs, etc. I used IEFBR14 to allocate fixed files for all kinds of stuff, and would allocate a large empty dataset{remember that word?}, then the VTOC, delete the large area, reallocate it smaller, chunk by chunk to force all my ‘special’ system file stuff to be near the VTOC. You could hear the difference in the way the heads moved when the OS was running compared to just throwing all the files onto the disk.
    This on a 370-138 with 512k of memory. Max was 1 meg. Moved up to a 4341 and thought how great, but it was then crippled as Corporate took parts for other boxes. The 138 went directly from a monthly lease of $thousands to the junkyard.
    From IBM:
    Under a 48-month contract, the Model 138 can be leased for $8,730 a month with one-half million characters of main memory, and for $11,415 a month with one million characters. Monthly rental prices are $9,600 and $12,550. Purchase prices are $350,000 and $435,000.
    And now we can buy a machine with more horsepower, memory and storage for $100 it seems.

  9. @Tomw – I have often wondered: how many variants of 370s were there? I’m betting dozens. I learned on a 370/135 – with 256K memory – semiconductors had recently come out and they had this 6′ cabinet – of an extra 256K.

    I remember the IBM tech came out once – opened the back – and the tons of bundled wires – was surprising.

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