They wrote off the mainframe computer decades ago. So why did IBM unveil yet another number cruncher last week?
FORTY YEARS ago, on April 7 1964 - the world's first general purpose mainframe supercomputer, the IBM Systm/360 was unveiled.
As big as two refrigerators, and accompanied by a roomful of tape drives and punched card readers, the 360 was the leviathan of its day: with all of 2 megabytes (MB) of memory and 6 MB of storage, chugging at 2 million flips a second ( 2 MHz). Today's cheapest personal computers are at least 10,000 times more powerful.
It was the first machine that corporates around the world acquired and the series survived well into the 1970s. Between 1964 and 1968, some 20 commercial installations came up in India - and `IBM 360-trained' was the proud entry in one's bio-data that thousands in this country flashed, as their credentials to be considered for a job in the Information Technology arena.
Before the System 360, programming method for commercial and scientific machines was different. IBM offered the 1401 series for business and the pricier 7000 series for research - and the twain never met.
But the new system merged the two lines - essentially for production economics, to protect its huge $ 5 billion investment. It was a gamble that paid off, even as it profoundly influenced the very business of computing. The 360 - so named for the points of the compass - became IBM's best-selling product and, from 1964 to 1970, more than doubled its revenue from 3.2 billion dollars to $ 7.5 billion. During those heydays, IBM was shipping 1000 System360s a month, at prices which started at around $ 130,000 for the bare bones configuration.
In the later 1970s, the 360 became the 370 and...