MIT Admissions

Massachusetts Institute of Technology


Erick P. '17

Oct 6, 2015

MIT Computer Timesharing in the 1960’s

Posted in: Miscellaneous, MIT Facts

MIT science reporter John Fitch interviewing computer science professor Fernando J. Corbato at the MIT Computation Center in 1963.
    Today, in my 15.565 Digital Evolution: Managing Web 3.0 class, we learned of the philosophy behind cloud computing. Cloud computing is the means by which data is stored, accessed, and shared across a network of servers on the Internet rather than on your personal computer. Think "Dropbox" and even "Google". We learned that this mode of computing is not all that different from a similar concept called computer timesharing back in the 60's, although that looked at solved a different computing problem.   In the 1960's, computers only came in three sizes: large, really large, and giant. And the prices were super expensive. There were no "personal computers" and so in the workplace you would have to reserve a time slot to use the big office computer, bring all of your files down to it, do what you needed to do, then get off and let the next person on.   MIT helped advance a solution in the 1960's called timesharing.   Utilizing an IBM7090 High Speed General Purpose Digital Computer, different consoles in laboratories and people around New England were set up that allowed hundreds of people to share the same computer to do computations without leaving their seat, drastically boosting productivity and solving one of the largest computer bottleneck issues of the time.

MIT's Multics (Multiplexed Information and Computing Service) was their extremely influential early timesharing operating system. It started in 1964 and helped timesharing become the dominant mode of computing in the 1970's, before personal computers became popular. The last known running Multics installation shut down October 2000.
The location of Multics, along with the rest of the MIT Computation Center, was actually in Building 26, which is now home to MIT's most well-known lecture hall, 26-100. The construction of the building, as well as equipment and support staff, were funded in part by IBM,
How is timeshare computing similar to cloud computing? Think of your laptop. How many hours a day do you use it? What is your laptop doing all those hours you're not using it? It's asleep, what a waste of processing power. Cloud computing uses servers that stay on 24 hours a day. Multiple people can store their data on this server from far away and access it from anywhere. This let's people collaborate, share, and process data without needing to set up heavy infrastructure in their own homes. That's how Google serves it's hundreds of millions of users. That's how people can start their own websites without needed. And many agree it'll continue evolving as we push foward in the future of computing.
Insane stuff walking down the halls of Building 26, having been totally unaware of such important disoveries just a little over 50 years ago.

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