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Happy 31st Birthday, IBM i

Old computer

Happy birthday, IBM i. What’s the significance of this celebration that June 21st has for the IBM i community? IBM chose the release date of the AS/400 to celebrate the start of what has become the modern IBM i on Power Systems platform. So there’s an evolution. It happened to be the 21st of June 1988, and today, June 21, 2019, is the 31st birthday.

Every time we have this celebration, somebody asks the question, “Shouldn’t we go back further, because the System/3, it is claimed, was the origin of this particular platform?” Or maybe just go back to 2008, for Power Systems was brand new hardware on which IBM i was migrated to from the previous versions.

What about all the other amazing things that happened in our industry with this platform? Shouldn’t we celebrate all those birthdays? This session is about those birthdays. With a little bit of history going back, we might be able to discover some really exciting and wonderful things that happened on some of the days in history, and celebrate their birthdays too.

This chart has a history starting at System/3 and showing the evolution all the way through until we get to Power Systems in 2008. I did some historical research and discovered that the System/3 was not the beginning of this platform. It was a piece of hardware called a System/3000. It was built by IBM Germany.

I don’t believe this is an actual picture, but it’s a representation of what they wanted you to think it would be. It was released in the early 1960s. They wanted to develop a computer for small customers, and it was an electromechanical system with a small punch card. The punch cards were very small.

It was very interesting to see what was considered to be the latest and greatest in technology when we look back. And we should celebrate its birthday of course. We don’t really know the exact date, but we also know that it was only out for a very short time. The card reader had some major problems, and accountants were a little bit upset that their numbers were not balancing all the time. So it was withdrawn, and I think it was lost in the annals of history.

And so then came along the System/3, and we can celebrate that because we know the people who did it! They look amazingly well-dressed. What a team to put together a platform called System/3.

This was a bit of a marketing campaign for the IBM System/3, and the red made it stand out and look incredibly beautiful. System/3 actually came out on July the 30th, 1969 – so today, it’s 49 years, 10 months and 22 days old. Happy birthday, System/3.

The OS, the operating system, was called SC1. The smaller units, the Model 10 units, were shipped without any desk, but they had a card reader/sorter/punch for the I/O and the printer. The entry models had up to 4k of memory, but if you wanted to get a really big one at the time, you could have two fixed disk and two removable, and that was up to 10 Megabytes of storage. And they called it online storage at the time, because they didn’t understand the internet. So it was online in terms it was online to the computer, as opposed to card reading, for example. So happy birthday, System/3.

They still brag about the number of patents that actually happened, and there’s still a ton of patents related to System/3 from that time. What an incredible step for IBM into the world that we’re in.

3701105  CPU Architecture of the System/3.
3882701  5440 Disk cartridge locking latch.
3848235  5445 Disk drive attachment
3938101  I /O Architecture of the System/3
3805245  5424 Card reader/puncher attachment
3764994  54?? Bidirectional printing
3925770  541x Audible signaling device
3751041  Playing cards and 96 column cards
3953094  5444 cabinet configuration
3743294  Bridge hand dealing system and 96 column cards
4093983  5415 performance improvement.
3990064  5203 Alarm Indicator
3609305  Card reader for 80 and 96 column cards
3684164  5496 Data card puncher/verifier
3635608  5440 Magnetic disk assembly
3871576  5496 Data recorder and verifier
3312878  Packaging of SLT and MST circuit modules.
4328544  Point of sales machine with a S/3 micro-processor.

In my research, I’ve found that they’re actually writing and playing games on the System/3. I think it wasn’t in their spare time; I think they were actually testing. Yeah, that’s it. They were testing.

This is the card. It looks absolutely beautiful for the System/3, the punch card. And this actually came from an IBM 3700, was the name of the card, but that was incredible technology at the time.

Businesses were using this, so it’s been a long time for that system. This System/3 is in a museum, I believe in Germany, and it is one of the original System/3 models.

The next thing I want to look at is this modem that was able to be used with the System/3. And it’s actually a beautiful-looking piece of equipment. And it was quite a step to be able to communicate to other platforms and other pieces of hardware. This was in late 1973, so it’s been 45 and a half years since we had this particular modem, that actually was 1,200 baud. It would work over a switch telephone network. They had racks of these things to be able to communicate. Businesses were really ready for computers on the System/3 level.

Following the System/3, the System/32 came out. It was a little more compact, and it was a little more together, so you see the printer was directly connected to the frame. It had either 16k or 32k of memory, you could have one single hard drive that was either 5MB, 9MB or 13MB, and it had an eight inch floppy drive. The System/32 came out on January the 7th, 1975, so it’s 44 years, five months and some days. Happy birthday System/32.

Following on the heels of the System/32 being successful, the System/34 came out, and IBM upped their game in terms of advertising. They had a really interesting campaign and it looked quite beautiful.

The System/34 is up in the back there, and there’s a couple of printers and three terminals, so it was now the first system that had terminals on it. The operating system was SSP. You could have 128 kilobytes of memory, and four disk drives for a total of 128 meg. That’s amazing. The System/34 introduced some very famous things and tools that some have been lost, but we still have SDA and SEU, over 45 years old. This was in April 1977. The specific date is lost, so it’s roughly 42 years and two months. Happy birthday, System/34.

Of course, with the System/34 came the 5250 terminal, which for some people was their first introduction into this mid-range world from IBM. It was clunky, but it was a work of art for the people using it. At the time, it had 12 by 80 or 24 by 80 characters available on that 5250 terminal. And they had upper and lower case. That was incredible. And then all the amazing things. You could blink, characters, high-intensity, reverse video, or you could non-display them in the 5250 data stream or an underscore. And it had this thing called a column separator. The 5250 terminal also came out with the System/34, so it’s roughly 42 years and two months as well. Happy Birthday, 5250 terminals.

Businesses started wanting more and IBM built this new server called the System/38. For me, System/38 was my first business computer. This is quite an incredible machine. The OS was CPF and there were lots of choices of main storage. Included was a diskette magazine drive where you could include up to 10 diskettes in a magazine. Backups with diskettes were just incredible amounts of storage. The System/38 had a memory management unit that supported functionality called demand paging, that was to implement a single-level store architecture – this is the core of what we have in IBM i today. System/38 was released in July 1980. It was actually announced in ’79 and took a little bit of time to get released. It’s been out for roughly 38 years and 11 months. Happy Birthday, System/38.

It’s quite amazing that we’ve had this architecture for so long, and other platforms and hardware vendors and operating system vendors are trying their best to get to this technology – we’ve had it for almost 40 years.

IBM upgraded the System/34 to a System/36. The first model was 700 pounds, and cost over $100,000. The second model, called 5362, was only 150 pounds. The System/36 could use band printers and color terminals became. It was released on the 16th of May ’83, so we know the date of its birthday. Happy Birthday, System/36.

When IBM brought Distributed Data Management (DDM) to the platform in 1986, it was a middleware –  an environment for sharing data. System/38 programs were able to create, manage and access files on remote platforms. Remote platforms could create, manage and access files on the System/38. This was where we started to really, truly integrate across systems on this platform. DDM was available on IBM PC DOS and OS/2. You could have DDM on the System/370. Happy Birthday, DDM.

Then came the amazing AS/400. It is this moment that IBM has chosen to celebrate. This is the grainy picture that’s out there to show the initial models. There was only up to a B60. Eventually, they would get to a B70, and then they would grow from the Bs to the Cs to the Ds up to the F models. You migrate your System/38 CPF programs and you could run your System/36 applications in the System/36 environment. We know the exact date – 31 years ago today. Happy Birthday, AS/400.

The AS/400 felt like a bigger, smarter, better System/38, and we could run our System/36 programs. So it was an incredible achievement and was very popular with business. A lot of people still remember the date of the announcement, and because, it was such a disruption in the world of IT at that time, it’s a date that will last in history a long time. And I believe that’s why IBM has chosen that particular date to celebrate IBM i.

We also want to celebrate SQL on IBM i. Even though it has been around for a very long time, a lot of people are just now getting to use it.

In 2003, they were talking about what is SQL on the iSeries and AS/400 – how it’s an alternative database interface language to the one we were using that was internal to our RPG or COBOL languages. In 2003, SQL skills were considered transferrable across platforms. So you could bring in people from outside, and we really haven’t done that. It’s not been a thing until just recently. SQL was released for OS/400 around January 1989, so 30 years and roughly five months. Happy Birthday, SQL.

Another birthday to celebrate is CODE/400 – the first graphical on your Windows PC editor for RPG. It was a graphical development tool, which not only replaced SEU, but also replaced SDA. The LPEX Editor was workstation based (that was your PC), had token highlighting uinsg color, and multiple levels of undo – if you made a mistake, you could go back. LPEX would auto save to your PC, so if the system shut down you would have a saved version from fairly recently. You could also use filtering to find variables and it gave you this cool indented view of nested logic.

CODE/400 was announced at the Common Conference in the spring of 1992 and was available in OS/400 V5R1 as part of the WebSphere Development Toolset for iSeries. 27 years of GUI development on the platform! Happy Birthday, CODE/400.

The next thing to celebrate is the ILE, the Integrated Language Environment. For the beginnings of the platform, we had the original program model (OPM). Then for some of the languages they made an extended program model (EPM), which is no longer supported. IBM built the Integrated Language Environment to allow developers to develop in the multiple languages that were available on the platform – in a single environment. ILE was announced with OS/400 V2R3 –  that’s now 25 years, six months, and four days. Susan Gantner in the original AS/400 Magazine, right before ILE was released, said, “ILE is the most significant architectural change to the system since that launch of the AS/400 five years ago.” It was a major feature, and it remains a key part of application development on IBM i. Happy Birthday, ILE.

Another major announcement was the move from CISC-based systems to RISC-based systems. This set of instructions are from a software vendor – most of whom had specific instructions for the migration. This is two pages to move from CISC to RISC – very straightforward. IBM evolved their CISC based 48-bit processors to a new technology – Power PC – that was RISC based 64 bit. This migration happened with OS/400 V3R6 in December 22, 1995-  23 years ago. Dr. Frank Soltis, in the 2003 AS/400 Magazine looking back, said that RISC technology’s allowed iSeries servers to expand into different places, and including Java and Linux. Happy Birthday, 64-bit RISC.

The next thing to celebrate is Virtualization. We’ve talked and heard about LPARs – logical partitions – for a long time. This redbook was for the eServer iSeries version LPAR Configuration. LPAR provides virtual machines, They were available in OS/400 V4R4 in May 21, 1999 – over 20 years now. Happy birthday, LPARs

The Portable Application Systems Environment (PASE) must be celebrated. PASE has enabled IBM and customers to leverage open source tools and languages in IBM i. PASE was available with V4R4 of OS/400 from May 21, 1999 – over 20 years. Happy Birthday, PASE.

Beyond AS/400, IBM decided to rebrand their entire system of hardware servers and AS/400 became eServer iSeries. The i stood for integration. iSeries ran the same operating system – still called OS/400. We’ve had iSeries since July 28, 2000. So that’s 18 years, 10 months, 24 days. Happy Birthday, iSeries.

Not long after iSeries, there were some people in the community that thought PHP should run on IBM i. They were able to bring PHP to the PASE environment. The first known version release of PHP on IBM i was September 13th, 2005. That’s nearly 14 years ago we’ve had open source. Zend still supports PHP on IBM i today. Happy Birthday, PHP on IBM I, and thanks Mike Pavlak.

iSeries was around for six years, then IBM rebranded their entire server range. System i was announced with an even better looking picture! The operating system was renamed to i5/OS. System i was available on February the 14th, 2006, so that’s over 13 years, four months, seven days. Happy Birthday, System i.

Then, in an homage to AS/400, IBM merged System i and System p servers. This new platform was named Power Systems. i5/OS was evolved to IBM i and ran alongside AIX and Linux on these Power Systems servers. Since those Power6 servers were released, IBM has upgraded them regularly, and today Power9 is the core technology in IBM Power Systems.

With Power Systems, they actually removed functionality from i5/ OS to leverage in the VIOS – a software layer between the hardware and the operating systems. This ensured IBM i could take advantage of the integration and virtualization at multiple levels.  Power Systems have been available for 11 years, 2 months, 19 days. Happy Birthday POWER Systems.

When IBM released POWER Systems, we were now users of IBM i. This is the only operating system that has a motto “for Business”. The initial version was IBM i 6.1. IBM i was available on April 2, 2008 – huge day in the history of our platform – one that is starting to be recognized as probably the biggest day in the history of our platform. IBM i on Power Systems was an amazing step forward in technology.

In the following eleven years, IBM has given us multiple versions of the IBM i operating system. After IBM i 6.1 was IBM i 7.1- over nine years now. Six months later, IBM released a Technology Refresh (TR1) which included major functionality. In the past, that level of functionality upgrade was only available with a brand new operating system version. That point in time was very important to IBM i, and the TR enhancement process continues. IBM i has just had a 7.4 release and TR1 for IBM i 7.4 is expected within six months. IBM i 7.2 has been available for four and a half years. IBM i 7.3 has been available for over three years. IBM i 7.4 is available today on the 31st anniversary of the announcement of the AS/400. Happy Birthday, IBM i.

Since the evolution to IBM i on POWER, IBM has released a fully free format version of RPG, a major step forward. This was a new RPG syntax that allowed programmers to do away with a fixed column format, and it made the code easier to read and easier to learn. As a major functionality release, it was released in IBM i 7.1 Technology Refresh 7. Fully free format RPG has been available for over five and a half years. Happy Birthday to fully free format RPG.

IBM i has been a cloud server, hosting applications in the cloud, providing cloud services from Software as a Service to hosting. Using POWER System’s Virtual Servers on the IBM Cloud, you can now self-service your own IBM i partition. This will be initially used for more development and more testing, where spinning up an IBM i partition will be more available. IBM i Cloud has been available now for 26 days. Happy Birthday, IBM i Cloud.

A quick review of the history of RPG. We’ve had RPG for some time. Initially released in 1959 – over 60 years ago. RPG 2 was announced for the System/3 – 50 years ago. 25 years ago with OS/400 V3R2, RPGVI was announced – at that time, RPG no longer stood for report program generator – it’s just RPG. RPG /free has been available for 18 years. Nine years ago, RPG Open Access was available – that’s been quite transformative enabling us building our own I/O functionality to integrate and expand the capabilities of RPG beyond the standard OS functionality. Five years ago IBM released fully free format RPG. Happy many birthdays to RPG.


System/3 ~50 years
System/32 ~44 ½ years
System/34 ~42 years
5250 Terminal ~42 years
System/38 ~39 years
System/36 ~36 years
AS/400 31 years
Power Systems 11+ years
IBM i 6.1 11+ years
IBM i 7.1 9+ years
IBM i 7.1 TR1 8 ½+ years
IBM i 7.2 4.5+ years
IBM i 7.3 <3 ½ years
IBM i 7.4 <1 day


This article is to celebrate the birthday of IBM i. On the birthday of the AS/400 from 31 years ago, IBM i 7.4 is announced. Few of us could have imagined, some 40 years ago, what IBM i would become.

Susan Gantner was quoted in eServer Magazine, iSeries edition in September 2003 “This architecture’s capability to adapt to technology advances and ever changing requirements is unique.” Those words were 16 years ago, they have been proven correct, and will prove to be valid for many more birthdays to come.

I found several code names for the platforms along the years.

  • System/3000 = TINY
  • System/3 = Project 3.7
  • System/38 = Pacific
  • AS/400 = Silverlake

Cheers to all the names that this platform has been given. Happy birthday, IBM i.

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