Working on the ICL 2900

ICL 2900 in situ

Back in the late 80’s I worked on the ICL 2900. This was a cluster of machines that made up a mainframe. The retro orange panels and the air-lock that we had to pass to get to the resources, made it feel like something from a sci-fi movie.

We were in a purpose built building. I dread to think how much it cost, which was a waste of money in the long term because in about 3-4 years, desktops will be making an appearance and the mainframe will be a thing of the past.

But the management knew what they were doing. I think.

This building had major security facilities, like crash barriers to prevent people from driving into the building. There were security guards on site. The building was a fortress. But, looking back an unnecessary one. I think the organisation saw that they could be a terrorists perfect target, but this was far from being the case.

I was the Job Controller, someone who had to line up resources and manage the scheduling for this beast (or beasts - I forget how many mainframes we had, but it was around 4, iirc). It was a great job - I had a lot of fun and met a lot of great people. It taught me how to manage resources and people’s expectations. There were operators who worked 24/7 around the clock feeding these machines with the resources they needed (paper, tapes, etc). My role was to create the schedule for the Ops team. We also had guys from ICL on site. They were the ‘gods’ who could fix anything that might come up. Developers were on call via a pager system, and could dial in to fix issues.

Issues - there were a lot. But, they weren’t seen as something big. They were expected and people just got on with it. Sometimes, you would have to write a short description about what had happened and how we could avoid it again, but usually, things just got fixed on the spot and things carried on.