HelpSystems Blog

The Early Days Working on the AS/400

Back in the mid-80s, fresh out of school and just about shaving, I secured my first job as a Junior Operator in IT – I was so excited, what new skills would I learn?

My employer operated a two shift pattern – day shift and late shift.  On my first week, when all the office staff had gone home, one of my more senior colleagues removed the tiles from a raised floor so that you could see through to the lower level.  What was he doing?  Was it something I would have to do…?

He then proceeded to open the double fire-exit doors, and drove his car into the building, onto the raised section of the floor!

What was going on, I was too young and naïve to ask.  He then serviced his car.  Definitely nothing to do with IT!  I did not even have a car, so would not need to learn that skill.  Although wish I had watched more closely now…

Can you imagine being able to do that today, with all the security cameras, and time sheets that need to be completed, and you have to have set procedures to even lift a box.

Those were the days!

Then I secured a contracting role for the AS/400.  I had read about this new technology from IBM in a magazine, but had never seen one.  But having experience with System 38 they thought I could handle the AS/400.  In those days, there was no research available on the product, no blogs I could glean information from.  It was a case of ‘…here it is, now you look after it.’  It was certainly a baptism of fire!  But I survived.

In a later role, working for a brewery with the largest data centre in Europe for the AS/400, the company were expanding fast.  I had to connect one AS/400 to another AS/400 to obtain double the processing power. I did this using OptoConnect, which was leading edge technology at the time.  But what this created was a nightmare to deal with on a daily basis.

For example, as there were two AS/400s this meant that there were also two HA systems! So once a month for the IPL procedures it was a technical minefield. I would have to fight with colleagues to try and get the day off, no-one wanted to do this task.

I also recall, again for the same brewery, once a month having to go into a stuffy, smelly ‘shed’ to test the back-up generator – what did this have to do with IT?

And in another role, we had numerous issues with the AS/400 mistakenly being switched off!  Do you recall they had a power off button, but if you turned one rack off it took the others down too?

There was one incident of an IT manager leaning on the switch, turning it off.  The production machine was shut down immediately. Oops!  And another where a colleague was carrying a ‘rack’, as he went through the door, the rack he was carrying hit the data center emergency power off button and all 26 machines were turned off.  We were supposed to have only ½ hour of downtime a week…

Eventually a protective cage was built around the switch – thankfully this worked.

Finally, what about ‘Dumb Terminals?’

These were basically just a session on the AS/400 that was ‘daisy chained’. But you could only have seven devices on each controller and if you then set up a duplicate address in error a dumb terminal would lose connection to the AS/400 – you would hear the ‘bleep’.  Then you would have to try and work out which terminal you duplicated by a system of trial and error.  In those days, this ‘daisy chain’ technique was the only way to get connectivity.  Nowadays we have networks!

There were also several occasions that I had to solder the connections on the twinax termination, as the quality of the connections was poor.  What did I know about soldering? I was in IT but I soon had to learn.  Thankfully there were no incidents, but again can you imagine allowing this to happen today?  Health and Safety would not be impressed.

I also found many strange things on the floor of the computer room, the strangest was a rat and the best was money that mysteriously belonged to no-one.

Those were the days…IT roles 25 years ago and the birth of the AS/400.

All funny anecdotes aside, in my opinion the IBM i is one of the best platforms available, it is robust and with companies developing new products compatible with it, I know it will continue to go from strength to strength.  Happy 25th year IBM i – what will I be doing for your 50th birthday?”