Mainframe, Distributed, Personal, Cloud: Back to Where We Started?

My days of selling ‘high tech’ products date back to the mid 80’s.  Since some of our blog readers were only 2 years old then, let me detail what our computing world was like.

CAD/CAM (computer aided design/computer aided manufacturing) was the product.  In order to do a demonstration of our CAD application, we had to reserve mainframe time from home office which was in Denver, Colorado.  The app ran on a PDP 11, quickly upgraded to a VAX 11-730.  WooHoo!  We would pray, yes literally pray, when the customer showed up for the demo in our office that the appropriate time change was taken into consideration as we were in Detroit and that NO ONE in the rest of the company was doing anything on the mainframe.

We were loaded with a whopping 2 MB floppy disk drive.  We proudly demoed how we could rotate a 2D image on a 19 inch monochrome screen.  Notice I didn’t say how long it took, just that we could do it!  We sold some of these monster machines.  It took massive amounts of real estate to house the mainframes that stored the information.

Then, along came Apollo workstations. Remember those? Ever hear of those?

Well, we were absolutely astounded that we could now ‘network’ several workstations together using token-ring technology.  Most of the data had to reside on a Storage Module Disk Drive (a whopping 300 MB) which was the size of a washing machine.  But, the fact that we could send data from one workstation to another was, well, amazing.   Sun eventually took over the market, but Apollo was the trailblazer.

Then came the PC.  (I think I’ve now caught up with most of you and your generations!) You all know how the PC started bulging with applications, data, capabilities – but it was a personal device even though it had huge towers and disk drives under our desks that stored and processed the data.  As the market matured and miniaturization came into full force, the laptop gave us mobility and much more memory capability. Hardware-wise, that’s still the focus today. I don’t know too many people buying desktop towers anymore.

But even further, now we put stuff in the cloud!!  My non-techie friends and I want to know where this cloud is.  Doesn’t it seem like we’ve reverted right back where we started?  Putting data into massive storage devices sitting in real estate…somewhere. This might seem basic to younger students of IT history, but for those of us who lived the transitions, it’s very interesting to see things come full circle (ideologically speaking)!  We used to laugh that someday CAD/CAM and other apps would be running on our wrist watches.  Our prediction wasn’t too far off – they just run on our phones instead.

My point?  I shake my head and laugh at folks who complain about speed of search engines or downloading an app (for a more humorous take, here’s comedian Louis C.K. observing that everything today is amazing and nobody’s happy).  I think back to the days of having to make a reservation days ahead of time in order to do the same thing.  Just imagine what your kids will tell your grandkids about the slow technology they grew up with.


Thus endeth my reverie. Happy new year, everyone!


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2 Responses

  1. […] early 2012 I wrote a blog entitled, Mainframe, Distributed, Personal, Cloud – Back to Where We Started? My hypothesis was how we have come full circle – mainframe back to “mainframe-like” in order […]

  2. Gayla,
    Ah, yes , brings back fond memories. I still love the looks when I when I mention keypunch cards and verifying- 1401,and card readers. Everybody use to hold their breath hoping the tray of cards didn’t get dropped.

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