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Michigan State University's 3090 Upgrade

In the mid-1990s, Michigan State University upgraded its main academic mainframe. The old machine was a uniprocessor 3090-180VF, a machine with a vector facility that was purchased because it was thought that the VF would be needed to provide adequate computing power for scientific work, given that the previous academic mainframes were CDC number crunchers. The new machine was a faster diadic 3090-200J, with no vector facility. These photos were taken by Dennis Boone on a wet, chilly Saturday morning as the new replaced the old. These scans were taken from the prints, rather than from the negatives, and the color balance of the film was off due to the fluorescent lighting. Scan resolution is not very high. I should re-do these from the negatives.

The Computer Center building has an elevator, but it is a bit small and under-spec for use in lifting large, heavy mainframe equipment. As a result, the traditional method of getting such gear in and out of the building was to remove a window in the data center, and use a forklift to hoist the cabinets through. As the data center is on the second floor and the only vehicle-accessible window is above the loading dock area on the first floor, the spectacle is one of ... concern to those responsible for safe delivery. To quote one of the nervous IBM managers who was present that morning, "we're self insured for this job."

The 3090 family was a mid-late 1980s design. The main 3090 chassis was a T-shaped set of cabinets which were bolted together upon delivery. In addition, the complete machine included a water cooling system cabinet, a maintenance processor cabinet, and in some models, disk cabinets to support the maintenance processor. The maintenance processor is an outboard computer system whose job is to babysit the main CPU: sequence its power-up, load and execute diagnostics, load firmware, start the IPL process, monitor its environmentals and error checking systems, and phone home to IBM to report serviceable issues. In the -180VF, the the MP consisted of two 43x1 CPUs which utilized a pair of 3370 disk units; these components operated in a redundant fashion. Later models often used x86 laptops or desktops. Some of these x86 systems were OS/2 based.

IBM brochures G320-9705-01 and G580-1005-0 describe the 3090 family, including a look at some of the chip and cooling technologies inside.