In the 1960s, IBM designed a large scale computer system architecture which would forever change the world of big business. This mainframe was called System/360 and it allowed for the type of real-time processing and computational power that enabled the kinds of online features we take for granted today, such as credit card authorisations, airline bookings, grocery scanning and so forth. System/360 also helped power the US space program, enabling NASA to put a man on the moon. And while IBM's mainframes, accessed with user-friendly terminal emulation software, remain a crucial part of big business today, what many don't realise is that the Soviet Union also created its own clones of System/360, known as ES EVM.
When you hear somebody use the term 'Big Iron', they're probably referring to the IBM mainframes that rose to prominence in the 1960s. These computers are large, expensive and powerful, often taking up entire rooms with their own cooling systems. In the '60s, large corporations in key industries such as banking, telecommunications and airlines began using the large scale computer system architectures commonly referred to as Big Iron, and these architectures continue to play an important role today. In this article we'll look at the history of Big Iron, as well as how the traditional "green screen" terminals used to access them became obsolete, being replaced with user-friendly terminal emulation software.
There are certain enterprises in our society that have become so heavily relied upon by the masses that, should something go wrong, the effects would be enormous. We’re talking about enterprises such as banks, hospitals, airlines and telecoms. All of these entities rely heavily on computer systems to store crucial information and ensure their systems remain fluent and effective right around the world. When something goes wrong with these systems – even the slightest thing – it’s a big deal. It could be because of poor terminal emulation or any number of other reasons but, in the end, that entity is going to end up in the news for all the wrong reasons as millions of their customers are affected.
One of the most amazing thing about the short history of computers is that the early mainframes of the 1960s and ‘70s – supercomputers that took up entire rooms and required their own air conditioning systems just to keep them at the optimum temperature – were less powerful than the handheld smartphone that most of you are probably carrying in your pocket even as you read this. It’s even more amazing when you consider that the technology required to access these mainframes can now be emulated on smartphones. From 3270 emulation to Wyse and Stratus emulation, it’s all available from your handheld device. In a way, it's all come full circle.