NOTE: This article first appeared on LinkedIn.

Many years ago in a place far, far away was a computer science student who could command an IBM S/370 to do anything. He learned PL/I, the main language of the computer after learning FORTRAN IV, COBOL, and the assembly language. He even learned how to write JCL and CLISTs without a manual! This was the beast of a computer of its day.

But it was more pioneering than anyone every accepted… until now. While life moved first to a mini-computers and microcomputers, the mainframe model did not go away. Everyone was preaching client-server and saying that controlling the hardware was everything. The mainframe still required service licensing while the minis and micros had an ownership license policy.

Data centers and central servers have replaced the mainframe where it was possible. Services are centrally managed rather than distributed like in the day of the mainframe. To extend storage, we now request additional “elastic storage” rather than mounting tapes. And we can continue to run multiple environments on one computer system or cluster the same way we did under VM/370.

In today’s environment, we’ve replaced the 3275 display controller with the web server while the block mode web browser has replaced the block mode 3278 storage tube terminal. Of course, you did not have to use IBM’s displays like you do not have to use just Internet Explorer or Chrome. Teletype, ITT, and Hewlett Packard have been replaced by Firefox, Safari, and Opera. They are the same principles with prettier pictures on the screen.

Timesharing services have been replaced by something we nebulously call cloud computing, a term used to describe something magical using the same specious claims as the time sharing people did those so many years ago. With the cloud comes new ways for companies to extract capital from users in the name of convenience and alleged efficiency. It is the return of the rental license.

Mainframes continue to use the service license for their products. You do not buy a mainframe, it is leased from the company. You do not buy the operating system, it comes with a yearly license. If you want additional services like enhanced security, there is an additional charge of the license for that subsystem. If you do not like the service provided by the vendor, you can license a similar service from another vendor. All of these licenses are based on capacity and load. Use more than the license claims you will, a bill will be generated for you to pay. It did not cost the vendor any more money for that spike in usage, but you will pay for it anyway.

This type of software licensing was derided by what was then the nascent mini and micro communities. Fans of DEC, Data General, and Prime Computers would use this as a reason to migrate away from the mainframes onto mini computers. Later, fans of Sun, Hewlett-Packard, Apollo, and Silicon Graphics Inc. used the same tactics.

Cloud services are no longer owned, they are rented. If you exceed your limits, the “elastic services” will expand, but you are going to pay for those resources. Services are virtualized to take advantage of large hardware arrays that are then served through controllers called web servers and viewed in block-mode style in a browser.

In the 40 years since I first put my hands on a Poly 88 and learned to program in the original Dartmouth BASIC, this industry has improved the hardware, software, and added pretty pictures to the interface. Otherwise, there has been no progress as to how to design systems. The computing industry has been using the same paradigms that were invented at least 10 years before I entered the market.

California changed the way buildings are designed to protect the structures and occupants from the devastating effects of earthquakes. Automobile designers are making cars safer and more fuel efficient. But the computer industry has not changed the way it does business in over 40 years.

How is that working? Ask Target, Home Depot, Anthem, Chick-Fil-A, Sony, Staples, JP Morgan Chase, TJX, and everyone affected by those attacks.

If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome, then what does that say about the industry?

Image “IBM System 370-145 und Bandlaufwerke 2401” by – Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

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