Large Installations Testimonies

Financial institutions, government departments and public service agencies in Ireland were slower than their counterparts elsewhere to introduce their first computers. In the early 1970s, however, organisations from these sectors caught up with the utilities, transport companies and universities that had got to grips with information technology in the previous decade. Banking, insurance and public administration soon accounted for the largest investments in computing.

Mainframe hardware and in-house software development prevailed. Magnetic disk and tape drives took over data storage from punched cards and paper tape. Visual display units were high-cost luxuries at the start of the 1970s, but became ubiquitous by the end of the decade. Personal computers superseded them on most desktops in the 1980s. The bigger organisations also established data networks, usually based on leased lines and proprietary communications protocols. This enabled offices and workplaces around the country to access up-to-date information.

For most data processing departments above a certain scale, this was the era of IBM’s System/370 architecture. From the mid-1980s onwards, however, two US vendors with assembly and configuration facilities in Ireland challenged its dominance. Amdahl’s IBM-compatible mainframes and Digital Equipment’s VAX clusters won landmark deals as the technology in the computer departments became more and more heterogeneous.

Largest Installations – Investments, Initiatives and Innovations

Interactive timeline unavailable. This is the text only version.

June 1970 IBM System/370 IBM announced its System/370 range of mainframe computers as the replacement for the hugely successful System/360. The first two models, which shipped in 1971, were high-end machines and were designed for easy migration from the System/360.

The name of the new series signified that these were products for the 1970s, but the System/370 architecture was to have a 20 year lifespan until the launch of the System/390 in 1990.

1970 UCD upgrades University College Dublin installed an IBM System/360 model 50 mainframe on its new campus in Belfield. This superseded an IBM 1620 computer.
1971 ESB upgrades The ESB upgraded the installation that supported its customer billing system from a pair of IBM 1401s to an IBM System/360 model 40 with 128K memory. It ran the DOS/360 operating system.

A separate technical computing organisation, led by engineers, was also active inside the electricity authority. The technical group’s priority in the early 1970s was the development of software to improve the transmission network.

1971 P&T reorganises The Department of Posts & Telegraphs formed a computer unit in advance of its first major installation. Its earlier experience was limited to two minicomputers that supported air traffic control at Shannon Airport.

The new unit drew its staff from an accounting department with experience of punched card technology and an engineering group that supported the national telephone network.

This department employed half of all civil service personnel. It had recently begun to use the bureau service at the computer centre in Aer Lingus and was producing its telephone bills there.

1971 Cara Data Processing Aer Lingus restructured its system services division into a subsidiary company, Cara Data Processing, which provided bureau services on one of the company’s two IBM System/360 mainframes.

The telephone billing section of the Department of Posts & Telegraphs and the Voluntary Health Insurance Board were major customers for Cara in its early years.

1971 DEC’s in-house mainframe Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) opened a facility in Galway to produce PDP-8 and PDP-11 computers for the European market. Manufacturing commenced in July 1971 and some months later the company installed one of its new PDP-10 mainframes there.

“When we built Galway, we included a very large PDP-10 computer in the MIS department – much larger than was needed to run the plant, and one of the biggest computers in Ireland,” says Dave Knoll. “This became a beacon that helped attract people and customers to the plant, and greatly enhanced people’s learning. We soon had stronger customer connections and a larger market share in Ireland than we had in any country.”

Source: Jamie Parker Pearson (ed.): Digital at Work – Snapshots from the first 35 years, page 124 (Digital Press, 1992)

1972 First computer at Dublin Corporation Dublin Corporation installed an ICL 1902A mainframe.
1972 (Date to be confirmed) First computer at Bank of Ireland Bank of Ireland introduced its first computer: an ICL 190x.

It installed this system at a newly constructed computer centre in Cabinteely.

August 1972 Central Data Processing Service The Department of Finance reorganised its computing unit under a new name: Central Data Processing Service (CDPS). Headed by Maurice O’Connell, its mission was to develop and co-ordinate electronic and other data processing systems for the public service, encouraging organisations to use CDPS facilities rather than establishing their own.

This mandate not only covered all government departments, but also the agencies that they controlled, including local authorities, health boards and state-sponsored bodies.

1973 CDPS bureau The Department of Finance launched its Central Data Processing Service on an IBM System/370 model 145 at a purpose-built facility in Kilmainham.

This facility provided batch processing for a variety of government departments and offices.

1973 (Date to be confirmed) Irish Life upgrades Irish Life updated its primary computer from an IBM System/360 to a System/370 model 135.
1973 First computers at AIB Allied Irish Banks installed two IBM System/370 model 45s, overseen by Finbar Donovan who had recently joined from Aer Lingus.

The first applications to go live handled share registration and payroll processing. These were followed by a much bigger application for cheque clearing and another for standing orders.

May 1973 Revenue data centre The Revenue Commissioners installed a dual Honeywell 6060 computer in a newly built data centre at St Johns Road, Dublin.

This £2 million model was originally developed by General Electric. It supported magnetic disk storage, a transaction processing system for online applications and two Datanet 355 processors to facilitate VDU access over leased lines. All of Revenue’s processing operations migrated to the new platform by November 1974.

Read Sean Connolly’s testimony

June 1973 First computers at Social Welfare The Department of Social Welfare computerised its general benefits section, using two Honeywell Series 16 model 716 systems.

Read Seamus Clince’s testimony

1973 First computer at P&T The computer unit at the Department of Posts & Telegraphs opened a data centre in Dundrum and installed an IBM System/370 model 135 there.

It had initially ordered a System/360, similar to the machines at Aer Lingus that already ran its telephone billing application. P&T subsequently opted for the System/370 platform after IBM announced it.

The department standardised on the PL/1 programming language at an early date, setting it apart from the other large IBM users in Ireland.

1974 Revenue moves Revenue’s data processing division relocated its systems development group to new offices in Lower Mount Street, Dublin.
1975 Savings bank online The Post Office Savings Bank, a long-time user of IBM punched card equipment, obtained an online connection from its base in College Street to the Department of Posts & Telegraphs computer centre in Dundrum. The savings bank had previously depended on batch processing services provided by IBM and later by the CDPS bureau.
June 1975 Amdahl 470 Amdahl Corporation, A California-based company founded in 1971 by former IBM mainframe designer Gene Amdahl, introduced its first processor.

The 470V/6 competed directly against IBM’s large System/370s with Amdahl claiming faster performance for a lower price. By naming its product 470, the company signalled its intention to maintain software compatibility with IBM’s equivalent hardware – a strategy that it pursued until the late 1990s.

1975 ESB upgrades The ESB upgraded the computer that ran its commercial applications to an IBM System/370 model 145 with 768K of memory.

This mainframe ran the MVS operating system which allowed multiple online and batch programs to run at the same time.

Read Vivian Young’s testimony

1975 AIB branches networked AIB established its first branch office connections, linking the computer centre to its high street premises.
October 1975 Commerce computer at UCD University College Dublin installed a Singer System Ten minicomputer for use by its commerce students.
1976 Revenue upgrades Revenue increased its processing capacity with the introduction of a dual Honeywell 6080.
1976 CIE strategy Transport group CIE, which had been an IBM mainframe user since 1967, turned to Digital Equipment as its primary vendor, introducing three PDP-11/70s to run a transaction processing system.

CIE subsequently became a major VAX customer for Digital Equipment.

1977 Mainframe for Thermo King Thermo King Europe, a Westinghouse subsidiary that manufactured on-board refrigeration systems for vehicles, installed an IBM System/370 model 125 at its production facility in Galway.
October 1977 IBM 303x IBM launched the 3031 and 3032 – two high-end additions to its System/370 range.
October 1977 Digital VAX Digital Equipment Corporation launched the 32-bit VAX computer and its VMS operating system. This product range became the core of the company’s strategy until the introduction of its Alpha architecture in 1992.
1977 CDPS upgrades The Central Data Processing Service, which ran the government computing bureau in Kilmainham, was one of the first organisations anywhere to place an order for the IBM 3031.
1978 ESB upgrades The ESB replaced its System/370 model 145 mainframe with a more powerful model 158.

This machine enabled the company to introduce online program development in place of batch processes based on punched cards.

1978 Mainframes for universities Trinity College Dublin and University College Dublin adopted the DECSYSTEM-20 from Digital Equipment. This 36-bit mainframe computer used a proprietary operating system

Pat O’Sullivan at Digital drew up a special agreement to facilitate the deal. This created a structured government purchasing plan that allowed the universities to obtain the machines at a discount price.

The existing computer operations in both colleges were based on IBM System/360s. Acquiring the Digital systems enabled them to provide processing services more widely across their campuses.

1978 New technologies at Revenue Revenue’s data preparation group installed Microdata key-to-disk equipment, enabling it to phase out paper tape for data entry. The organisation also introduced microfiche to retain printed records, sourcing Datagraphix technology.
December 1978 Guinness upgrades ICL announced that the Guinness brewery in Dublin, an ICL mainframe user since 1966, was updating its primary system to an ICL 2960. The new machine was valued at £850,000.
January 1979 IBM 4300 IBM announced the IBM 4300 series of mid-range mainframes – computers that were compatible with the System/370, but did not require the complex cooling technology that its bigger processors employed.
February 1979 Aer Lingus upgrades IBM announced an order from Aer Lingus for two IBM 3031 mainframes.
February 1979 CIJEC Representatives of the Irish Computer Society, the Irish Business Equipment Trade Association, the Irish Computer Services Association and the Federation of Computer Users in Ireland formed a new group, the Computer Industry Joint Education Committee (CIJEC), to examine the infrastructure for computer education in Ireland. Alan Mullally, head of computer services at Irish Sugar, chaired the committee.

CIJEC presented its findings in November 1979. It reported that Ireland was facing a significant shortfall in computer skills and recommended the introduction of new third level syllabi in computer programming and information processing. The proposals reflected the priorities of large user installations as well as the emerging software industry.

This initiative contributed to the establishment of certificate and diploma courses throughout the country in the early 1980s.

September 1979 Social Welfare strategy The Department of Social Welfare embarked upon a long relationship with Digital Equipment, starting with an order for PDP-11 minicomputers. It soon installed five systems in two sites with links to 150 terminals in seven locations and subsequently added a steady stream of VAXes, becoming an important reference site for the systems vendor.
1979 Bank of Ireland connects Bank of Ireland ordered Nixdorf 8864 network controllers for every branch throughout the island of Ireland and Great Britain.
October 1979 Guinness forms Rainsford Guinness established a new subsidiary, Rainsford Computing Services, to make the IT expertise in its Dublin brewery available to sister companies in the Guinness group and to other organisations.
1979 ESB upgrades The ESB continued to upgrade its mainframe, installing an IBM 3031 to meet increasing demand.
February 1980 First ATM at BoI Bank of Ireland introduced the first automated teller machine in Ireland.
June 1980 Bank of Ireland upgrades ICL announced a mainframe replacement deal, worth more than £2 million, with Bank of Ireland. This led to the installation of three ICL 2956/20 computers as an update from older ICL hardware.
1980 Ulster Bank upgrades Ulster Bank ordered two Burroughs B2900 computers, which subsequently enabled it to become the first bank in Ireland with online connections to all of its branch offices.
November 1980 IBM 308x IBM refreshed the high end of its mainframe series with the introduction of System/370 Extended Architecture. The first processor in this new generation was the 3081. The 3083 and 3084 followed in 1982.
November 1980 Amdahl 580 Amdahl announced the 580 series as its response to the new IBM 3081. The first 580 did not ship until August 1982.
1980 Sugar Company transitions The Irish Sugar Company replaced its ICL 1903A with an ICL ME29, but saw this new computer as a temporary measure.

The group was preparing to make a transition to IBM minicomputers and to replace in-house software with packaged applications. During the 1980s it installed a distributed network of IBM System/36s and subsequently upgraded these to IBM AS/400s.

April 1981 AIB ATMs go live AIB’s Banklink automated teller machine network started operations.
April 1981 Harland & Wolff upgrades The Harland & Wolff shipyard in Belfast updated its mainframe to an IBM 4341.