28 – 30 – How I.T. was

Discovery Trail 28 – 30 (John Crank Foyer, display of objects and photography)

Brunel University London Computer Centre – The first fifty years

28 Janet and technology

Janet Al-Karaghouli, IT Procurement for Brunel, with contemporary technology

The central computing service pre‑dates the setting up of the University by several years, having originated in the Brunel College of Technology Mathematics Department in 1957. The link with Mathematical Sciences remains to this day and the Computer Centre and Mathematical Sciences are both based in the John Crank building.

By 1966 the central service included a general purpose digital computer and access to the facilities available at the Atlas Computing Laboratory. The central ‘mainframe’ computer and access to specialised national computer facilities became the pattern of IT provision for the next 50 years, refreshed at about the seven-year point, and supplemented with personal computers and mobile devices as they became commonplace. The frequent enhancement of network infrastructure has been a significant part of all procurements.

The series of photographs on display represents a snapshot of the central computing service circa 1973. The images show the computer room housing an ICL 1903A computer with associated magnetic tape drives and other peripherals. The access to national services (a CDC 7600, at the time the most powerful commercial computer) is represented by the remote batch terminal being operated by Janet Al‑Karaghouli.

On display in John Crank:

Discovery Trail 29

IBM PC

When IBM went into the PC market, then term “personal computer” became synonymous with the IBM offering, though they were only manufactured for six years (1981‑87). Thereafter, the standard became compatibility with the IBM offering.

Apple IIe

This was Apple’s third offering (the e in the name stood for enhanced). It made its début in early 1983 and was not discontinued until late 1993 — a very long lifetime of sales for a computer.

Discovery Trail 30

Manual card punch

These machines allowed the code for individual characters to be punched out of cards. Electrical card-punches, which let a skilled operator enter data at typewriting speed, were about the size of today’s large photocopier-printers.

Acoustic coupler

This allowed data to be transmitted down an ordinary telephone line: at each end, the telephone handset would be clamped into the soundproof box, and the data would be conveyed as sound (just as a fax machine did). In large centres, the coupler would form part of the machine.

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