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The ES/9000

A Complete History Of Mainframe Computing
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The ES/9000

In late 1990, IBM replaced the illustrious 3090 with the ES/9000 line, which ushered in the era of fiber optics with a technology IBM called ESCON or Enterprise Systems Connection. Naturally, this was not the only new thing about these systems. In fact, Thomas J. Watson Jr. considered the ES/9000 as the most important release in the company's history. Even more important than the System/360, you ask? Well, Mr. Watson thought so.

So let us assume he was lucid and not simply issuing hyperbole. Certainly ESCON was an important technology. It was a serial, fiber optic channel that could transmit data at 10 MB/s and up to nine kilometers apart when it was released. Or maybe he was referring to the massive amounts of 9 GB of memory it could use? Or perhaps it was the ability to use eight processors in one sysplex, which allowed it to be treated as one logical unit? Then again, for the first time, one could create multiple partitions and allocate processor resources to each logical partition, and run any of the new (and compatible) Enterprise System Architecture/390 operating systems on them. Maybe that was it.

I doubt it was the performance, which was roughly 1.7 to 1.9 times the speed of the 3090/600J (the previous fastest mainframe from IBM) in commercial applications, 2.0 to 2.7 in scalar, and 2.0 to 2.8 in vector performance. Although impressive, we've seen similar jumps before between generations. None of this sounds so earth shattering that it should be the most important release in the most important computer company's history does it? Yes, by today's standards 9 GB is a lot and 10 MB/s over nine kilometers is faster than the Internet speeds to which most of us have access. Serial transmission has been around for a few years now, and virtualization is becoming more common all the time. Eight processors is a good amount, but dual-socket quad-core processors are not that rare anymore. And we'll soon have processors with that many cores. So, I just don't know.

Maybe it had something to do with it being released in 1990. You know, when the 486 was hot and George H.W. Bush was in the first part of his term. Before Yahoo! existed and about six years before the first article appeared on Tom's Hardware about Softmenu BIOS features for Socket 7 motherboards. Taken in that time context, it was a monumental achievement, with so many important advances in so many aspects of the systems. All in all, it's very hard to disagree with Mr. Watson. Would you have expected otherwise from such a distinguished and accomplished person?

But, although this marvel has technology that hardly seems old even by today's standards, our story is surely not done. But, what can top the ES/9000? It's hard to imagine, but then again, it's even harder to imagine a computer line staying the same for 19 years. So, let's take a look at the latest and greatest from Big Blue.

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