Iowa State University

Inside Iowa State
February 19, 1999

Mainframe era winds down

by Skip Derra

In what best can be described as the end of an era, Iowa State officials quietly have deactivated the last mainframe computer that supported academics.

Earlier this month, the officials deactivated the Hitachi HDS mainframe that provided support to the library, including its tracking and upkeep of books and card files. The library, like most other departments and colleges, switched over to a "client-server" computer system, which offers greater power and much more versatility, said Peter Siegel, director of Academic Information Technology.

"The shutting down of the Hitachi mainframe brings to an end our use of mainframe computers," Siegel said. "The mainframe computer was the principle support for campus academic computing from the early 1960s until the early 1980s and provided major support into the 1990s."

Iowa State has used mainframes to support its academic, research and administrative efforts since 1962. But significant increases in power of microcomputers and workstations, coupled with the advantages of distributed computing and client choice, has made the mainframes a quickly aging technology in their final days of usefulness. Many universities are making the switch to the client servers, Siegel said. Iowa State still uses a mainframe to support administrative efforts, and it remains very effective, he added.

Siegel said the transfer to client servers allows users a wider range of services and more convenience. "It truly allows the desk-top computer to be the window to the world, where services come to you, rather than you having to go to the service."

Siegel said there are 400 server systems currently in operation at Iowa State. These systems provide support for several thousand Windows, Macintosh and UNIX client systems.

Iowa State will try to sell the Hitachi HDS mainframe computer.

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