Bits & Bytes online Edition




Bits & Bytes turns 50!

Hermann Lederer, Andreas Schott

The first edition of Bits & Bytes appeared in March 1969. The occasion at that time was the installation of a powerful IBM 360/91 system delivered on January 2, 1969 at the Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in the newly built machine hall. The IBM 360/91 showed an incredible performance increase of 100 compared to the IBM 7090 installed in 1962 – which was also the most powerful machine worldwide at that time.

Figure 1: IBM 360/91 in the new machine hall 1969

Figure 2: Cabling of IBM 360/91 (1969)

Moore's law – formulated 1965 – was verified by the incredible performance increase of supercomputers in the last fifty years at the IPP and the Max Planck Society: a factor of 1 billion from 10 MFlop/s of the IBM 360/91 in 1969 to 10 PFlop/s of the current Max Planck supercomputer Cobra in 2019, with more than 100,000 compute cores. Bits & Bytes reflects well the progress in compute, storage, network and programming technologies of the last half century. It documents both dramatic changes as well as things that have remained constant. The June 1969 edition of Bits & Bytes reports about heavy fights among opponents and supporters of the Fortran programming language, stating: "The style reminds of medieval theologic debates". Wide area network (WAN) connections existed to Munich Max Planck Institutes, and to Karlsruhe (KFK) a 40 kbit/s connection. Compared to today's aggregated WAN capacity of around 200 Gbit/s at our centre, we observe a more than million-fold increase. A hundred editions of Bits & Bytes later, four decades ago, two further major development steps occurred: Firstly, the installation of a Cray-1 system at the IPP as the worldwide first vector computer for general basic research which enabled the development of the basic features of the Stellarator fusion device Wendelstein 7-X. Secondly, with the installation of the first automatic robotic tape system, a CDC 38500, with a capacity of 16 GB based on 2000 cartridges with 8 MB each, the era of mass storage started at the Rechenzentrum Garching – as our centre was officially christened at that time. The name lasted three and a half decades until the renaming to Max Planck Computing and Data Facility (MPCDF) four years ago, emphasizing now also the key importance of data.The MPCDF has meanwhile advanced into the top 10 academic data centres worldwide listed in the website of the High-Performance Storage System HPSS, and is the first placed German institute, with more than 100 PB of stored data – on around ten times the number of tapes with a capacity increase per tape of up to 1.5 million (12 TB for LTO-8). We hope you enjoy reading this jubilee edition 200 of Bits & Bytes.