Evolution of the Mainframe

In 2023, the mainframe is the central technology of the  biggest businesses on earth, but they also have a long and storied history. They’ve been around long enough, in fact,  to have had a cameo appearance in the show Mad Men (shout out to the IBM/360). But even in 1969, when that episode was set, IBM’s Big Iron division had been in operation for over a decade. By comparison, PCs are still in their infancy. 

Today’s trivia takes you back to the very early days of the mainframe—when vacuum tubes, magnetic drums, and tape drives were the AI processors of their day. Take the quiz to test your mainframe history IQ.

1. An early ancestor of the modern mainframe, the Automatic Sequence Controlled Calculator was also called:


2. The ASCC weighed five tons, filled an entire room and cost about $200,000 to build. It was developed throughout the 1930s and was ready for use in what year?


3. The Z3 was a German electromechanical computer designed in 1938, and completed in 1941. What was the German Government’s response at the time?


4. IBM’s “big iron” Data Processing Division (DPD) was formed in what year to focus on the development and marketing of mainframe products?


5. The IBM 701 represented a huge leap in information technology. It was one quarter the size of the SSEC (introduced four years earlier) and how many times faster?


6. Which of these companies was not a mainframe manufacturer in the 60s and 70s?


7. Considered by some to be the world’s most successful computer, IBM System/360 was initially delivered in what year?


8. How much did IBM invest in the development of S/360?


9. InfoWorld‘s Stewart Alsop infamously predicted that the last mainframe would be unplugged in what year?


Sonja Soderlund is an Oregon-based B2B freelance writer. Whether writing about mainframe computers, educational technology, or sustainable retail, she strives to bring clarity to complex issues. Connect with her at sonjasoderlund.com or LinkedIn.

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