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Historical Overview

Bendix G-15

Acquired in 1958 for scientific research use and operated as a 'bookable personal computer' (the user had to become familiar with machine level operation and programming), it was supported on a part-time basis through the Unit for Applied Mathematics.

Card Sorter & Tabulator

Student records were processed using a punched card manual information system from the early 1960s until the system was moved to the IBM 7040 computer in the mid 1960s. Student record data was keypunched onto cards, and a variety of different sort operations were carried out using an IBM card sorter. Reports were generated using an IBM Tabulator machine, programmed (wired with a patch panel) to move the information from various fields on the cards into the appropriate columns for printing.

IBM 7040 Computer

The IBM 7040 was purchased in 1964 to replace the Bendix G-15 for research use. A large educational discount from IBM (60%) together with a NRC funding policy providing for one general-purpose computer for each University through an annual, earmarked grant (percentage of total NRC grants to McMaster) enabled the purchase. It was used primarily by researchers in science and engineering, free to NRC grantees. It was meant to be a system for "skilled users", but some assistance with the operating system and Fortran was provided.

The configuration of the 7040 was highly unusual in that McMaster acquired a number of hard disk systems instead of the much more common approach of using a large number of tape drives for all intermediate storage needs (core memory was small and extremely expensive). Hard disk platters were heavy, over a metre in diameter, with massive hydraulically actuated heads. A Watfor compiler provided rapid compilation of small Fortran programs; larger research programs used IBM Fortran (multi-pass), typically requiring five minutes to compile a modest program.

Computer Centre

A separate Computer Centre with a Director (Dr. G.L. Keech) was established in 1964 with the advent of the 7040. The Director was a part-time faculty member, as were two additional associates (Dr. W.H. Fleming & Dr. D.J. Kenworthy) appointed to assist in developing the system and helping users.

CDC 6400

Major pressure to increase computing capability in the mid-1960s came from rapidly growing demand for more research computing in science and engineering, a demand for instructional computing in science and engineering, and a developing dependency on computing for administrative uses. As well, potential users wanted to run packaged programs without having to invest a large amount of time becoming computer skilled.

The first CDC 6400 was purchased in 1968 and located in the Senior Science Building, primarily for use by computer skilled engineers and scientists. Administrative computing needs were met by transferring the IBM 7040 for administrative purposes.

The CDC SCOPE 3.1 operating system provided batch multi-processing; limited timesharing capability was added later with INTERCOM in 1970.

RJE to the CDC 6400

Instructional computing was served by a remote job entry (RJE) station (card reader and printer) for student use located in the Engineering Building, and a second station was later located in KTH.

IBM 370/155

The IBM 7040 was replaced in 1972 with an IBM 370/155 machine that provided database management, transaction processing and limited timesharing access for administrative computing. The IMS database system came into extensive use in 1972.

HP 2000

In 1974, an HP 2000 with 32 ports providing BASIC language timesharing was installed for the Faculty of Business (the HP 2000 and support staff were moved to KTH in 1976). An HP 2000 was established in the Faculty of Health Sciences in 1973, replacing an IBM/1130. The Computational Services Unit (CSU) was looking after four HP 3000 machines by the end of 1985, alongside the HSCVAX 11/750.

Second CDC 6400

In 1977, a second CDC 6400 with the NOS operating system was acquired to provide timesharing on 64 ports for instructional use. Professors Fleming and Redish developed the McMaster Interactive Multi-language Executive (MIME) environment to teach Fortran programming. In 1978, an instructional timesharing centre was established in the Burke Science Building on the site of the former Science Library. By 1981, the 6400 had 65,000 words (60 bit) of memory (10 characters per word), and a disk capacity of 400 million characters.

IBM 3031

In 1978, the IBM 370/155 was replaced by an IBM 3031 for administrative computing. By 1981, the configuration was 4 million characters of memory, 2740 million characters of disk storage, 5 tape drives, and roughly 50 3270 terminals.


Optical card reading was first provided on the HP 2000 in 1978. In 1985, a National Computer Systems (NCS) Sentry 7001 scanner was acquired in conjunction with the Registrar's Office to process examinations and tests. The Sentry scanner read up to 900 paper forms an hour. In 1989 the equipment and software was updated again. In 1998, customers were surveyed and the software rewritten to make it more maintainable and to meet current needs.

Calcomp Plotter

From the early 1970s, graphical output was provided on the CDC 6400 by writing a magnetic tape from Fortran programs which called subroutines in a plot library to lift and lower the pen, draw lines and curves, etc. Once the Fortran job was complete, the tape was mounted on a Calcomp pen plotter to draw the graphs. The Calcomp 1081 machine used in the 1980s could handle 36" wide paper and three or four different pens.

Versatec Plotter

A Versatec thermal paper plotter was acquired in the mid 1970s and attached directly to the Cyber computer with a channel connection. This allowed much more rapid plotting (since no tape was involved and the plot was done while the Fortran job was running), although at much lower quality. The computer rasterized the image once all of the lines for the graph had been calculated. In June 1984, the separate plot libraries were rasterised, allowing plots to either the Calcomp or the Versatec with the same set of subroutine calls.

Cyber 170/730

In 1979, a Cyber 170/730 was leased to replace the first CDC 6400. Both CDC machines ran the NOS operating system, and the 730 had 64 timesharing ports as well. The machine had 131,000 words (60 bit) of memory (10 characters/word), with a total disk capacity of 900 million characters. This machine was remained in service until January 1987 for research and teaching use.

IPACS & the McCalla Task Force Report

In 1981, the McCalla Report (President's Task Force for the Planning of Academic Computing through the 1980s) discussed the need for increased resources for instructional computing, as well as its ongoing importance to research and administrative computing. It recommended distributed minicomputers (VAX 11/780) networked together, alongside the CDC machine. It suggested a new planning structure, the Computer Management Board, and Dean's Advisory Committees on Computing. The Computing Centre was split into two parts: Information Processing & Academic Computing (hence the new acronym IPACS). It suggested research users should become financially self-supporting over a period of a few years, in the light of NSERC funding policy changes.

SSCVAX 11/750, JHEVAX 11/780 & KTHVAX 11/780

Over the summer of 1982, a 64-port VAX 11/780 for Engineering, a 48-port 11/780 for the Arts area to be located in KTH, and a smaller 11/750 within the computer centre to support the regional systems were acquired. The principle affirmed by the McCalla Task Force was that these machines were to be University resources primarily for instructional computing needs. Research use would be accommodated provided instructional use was not compromised. JHEVAX had 7 Mb memory and four 256 Mb disks; KTHVAX had 4 Mb memory and three 256 Mb disk units. VT100 terminal clusters were located in JHE and KTH.

KTHVAX was phased out in the summer of 1989, with residual KTH regional VAX computing being moved to the HSCVAX 8530 machine which had ample free capacity for a year or two thereafter. JHEVAX was removed in June 1990. VAX based computing was consolidated onto the SSCVAX 6420 machine until it was phased out a couple of years later.

Cyber 815

In the summer of 1983, a CDC Cyber 815 for two years alongside the Cyber 170/730 to maintain the level of research computing while responding to the growing demand for instructional computing, and to evaluate the Cyber 800 series alongside the VAX technologies. The 815 had 262 thousand words of main memory and was configured to share disk storage and communication processors with the 730. It was removed at the end of May, 1985 leaving the 170/730 to handle the combined Cyber research and teaching load (sufficient instructional computing had been off-loaded onto VAX systems and the PC cluster that this was viable.


In September 1983, the McMaster Interactive Multiplexing Instrument (MIMI) began to provide terminal switching to allow the selection of one of a set of host computers by command from any connected user VT100 terminal. The unit could accommodate up to 112 terminals at up to 9600 bits/sec.


On December 23, 1983 the University switched from Bell to a private branch exchange (PBX) telephone switch purchased from Rolm. This provided digital as well as analogue connections that could be used to link terminals to host computers. By 1985, this capability had largely supplanted the need for MIMI. In December 1985, Rolm donated a fifth node for the Computerised Branch Exchange (CBX), adding capacity to expand both voice and data communications.

Science Research VAX & Health Sciences VAX

In early 1984, the VAX 11/750 support machine was used to provide a limited amount of VAX regional computing for Science. Later in 1984, a VAX 11/780 (SCIVAX) was acquired to replace it, and the 11/750 transferred to CSU becoming HSCVAX. At the same time KTHVAX memory was increased to 7 Mb and 72 ports, while JHEVAX ports were expanded to 80. Finally, in early 1985 the JHEVAX CPU was replaced turning it into a VAX 11/785 (about 1.5 times faster).


McMaster joined NetNorth in the Fall of 1984 with a 2400 bit/sec link between the Research VAX 11/780 and York University. NetNorth linked several dozen computers at 14 universities with BITNET in the USA. The three VAX machines were linked via optic fibre and a star coupler to provide ethernet networking between, and hence each VAX could access the NetNorth link off-campus.

Student PC Labs

In September 1984, a 30 PC cluster was established in the BSB student terminal area for instructional use. CS-2A3 (COBOL programming) was the first course taught as a pilot project on this facility using Watcom Cobol. The Humanities Instructional Computing Centre was established in Humanities through a donation of equipment and software by Texas Instruments of Canada to provide a foreign language lab. In the summer of 1985, the BSB PC cluster was expanded to accommodate the Computer Science service courses 1B3, 1A3, 2A3 and 2P3; the clusters in Humanities and Engineering were expanded as well, and 15 terminals to the KTHVAX were replaced with PCs. By September 1987, the BSB area had 92 IBM PCs for the programming courses, and three other clusters for general use.

Microcomputer Centre

In September 1984, the Computer Centre and McMaster University Bookstore joined forces to establish the Microcomputer Centre in the Bookstore. IPACS placed a consultant in the area to advise customers on hardware and software requirements.

IBM 4381-3 (MVS)

Over Christmas 1985, the IBM 3031 mainframe was replaced with an IBM 4381-3 dual-CPU machine of roughly 5 MIPS speed, 24 Mb memory, and close to 20 Gb of disk capacity (3380 disk), compared to 7 Gb on the 3031. Under MVS, IMS, TSO and ISPF were provided, primarily for administrative computing. The relational database DB2 was introduced later in 1986.

IBM 4381-3 (VM/CMS)

VM/CMS was provided on the 4381 to enable academic use, along with a communications link to the SSCVAX. Later, PROFS would be added under VM/CMS to provide Email on a cost-recovery basis. By the Fall of 1988, there were 250 administrative users of PROFS, each paying $8 per month.


The FPS-264 attached processor was connected to the 4381 to provide large-scale computation -- fast numerical processing for programs written in FPS Fortran, compiled on the 4381, and run in parallel on the attached FPS-264. It had a peak rate of 38 MFlops. The FPS-264 would later (August 1987) be moved and attached to the research VAX machine where it remained in use until the summer of 1989.

Ethernet at McMaster

In 1984, the Faculty of Engineering began to use ethernet to connect the JHEVAX with other computing equipment in the building. In May 1985, Science began an ethernet project to link the Senior Science (ABB), Nuclear Research, General Sciences and Burke Sciences buildings, attaching to SSCVAX, various microcomputer and terminal clusters and Xerox word processing equipment. The Department of Computer Science & Systems installed an ethernet in GSB distinct from the Science ethernet. A small ethernet in FHS linked Clinical Epidemiology machines to HSCVAX. Early in 1986, there were discussions underway to develop these separate ethernet legs into a coherent campus ethernet, linked by bridges. By October 1986, a three-level hierarchical branched ethernet (HBE) was in place linking the VAX systems, terminal servers providing serial-line access to the ethernet, TI, IBM and Zenith PCs in various locations and shared disk servers. Plans were in place to extend the campus ethernet to HSC, psychology and Life Sciences, CRL, GH, UH, KTH, CNH, TSH, and to Mills and Thode Libraries.

In the summer of 1991, IB2 bridges and AGS+ devices allowed collapse of the backbone, greatly reducing points of failure. In 1994 an FDDI ring was installed and some initial routed subnets were put in place to prevent broadcast noise in one LAN (e.g. due to ethernet card failure) from causing the whole network to suffer. In 1995, all subnets were behind routers and the FDDI backbone ran at 100 Mbps. In 1998 this was replaced with two 7513 devices and a 100 Mbps 'fast ethernet' backbone.

VAX 8600

In April 1986 SSCVAX, the research VAX 11/780, was replaced with a DEC VAX 8600 with 16 Mb of memory and more than four times the computing capacity. Several DEC graphics systems were installed to explore the potential for graphics processing.

Local Area Networks

The PC cluster for service teaching in BSB was first linked by a Watstar token ring network in 1986. In 1987, there were 92 PCs on the Watstar network and 28 Zenith microcomputers in BSB-241 on a 3Plus ethernet network, along with 13 IBM PCs in BSB-240. Similar 3+Plus LANs in KTH (42 PCs) and JHE (20 PCs) allowed the micros to function as terminals to the VAX and IBM systems, as well as running PC software. In September 1990, the BSB token ring network was replaced with ethernet and the NFS protocol for file sharing and printing. NFS also replaced 3+Plus in elsewhere, providing a single standard system in all student lab areas.

CIS and the AVP/Computing

On July 1, 1987 the AVP, Computing position was filled by Dr. J.J. Drake. In June, IPACS was renamed Computing and Information Services (CIS). The Operational Planning Committee (OPC), consisting of chairs of the Faculty Computing Advisory Committees acted to advise the AVP, Computing.


In December 1987, the ageing VAX 11/750 in Health Sciences was replaced with a VAX 8530 with 20 Mb memory and 1.35 Gb disk.

Unix Workstations

In 1988, CIS hired a Unix Workstation Specialist to assist the many research groups acquiring their own Unix workstations and adapting their large-scale computational problems and model building to these environments. This was an extension of the policy articulated in the McCalla Task Force Report that research computing become self-funding - there was no longer to be any strong requirement for shared central computers for research computing.


McMaster became a charter member of ONet , an Ontario regional TCP/IP network linking the major Ontario universities (starting with a 19.2 kb/s line) in the summer of 1988. This was an extension of the Decnet link to the Cray supercomputer in Toronto (OCLSC - Ontario Centre for Large Scale Computation), which contributed funds to bring line speed up to 19.2 kb/s from the 9600 bits/s the institutions felt they could afford. Through ONet, members could link to Cornell and the NSFnet. In the summer of 1989, bandwidth was increased to 56 kb/s.

In November 1989, NRC announced the national research network backbone CA*net to integrate provincial networks to operate at only 56 kb/s. In 1996 federal funds ( CANARIE ) were made available to enable research-intensive institutions to access the National Test Network (NTN). An ATM network (UNI*net) was established working with Bell Advanced Communications and operated by ONet. McMaster had a 5 Mb/s circuit for Internet communication as well as a 10/30 circuit for CA*Net II research.

VAX 6420

In the summer of 1989, plans were made to replace the overloaded SSCVAX 8650 machine with a VAX 6320. Installation was delayed until mid-December to avoid disruption during term, and the machine installed at that time was a Vax 6420 with two CPUs, each rated at 7 VUPs (VUP approx. VAX 11/780 speed) and 64 Mb memory.

Multiflow TRACE 14/300

In the summer of 1989, the FPS-264 attached processor was replaced with a 'mini-supercomputer' Multiflow TRACE 14/300 Unix-based large-scale computing machine. It had 64 Mb of memory, and VLIW (Very Long Instruction Word) architecture. Peak performance was 60 MFlops, double precision.

Unix Workstation Labs

Late in 1989, a small senior teaching cluster of five MIPS X-stations attached to a MIPS M120 server was provided in BSB, primarily for Math graduate teaching, with funds from a Provincial grant for departments with increased grad enrolment. A cluster of Sun Unix workstations was installed in Engineering in summer 1990, financed by the Mechanical Engineering Department, primarily for CAD software.

Morris - Library Catalogue

In November 1990, the McMaster Online Research Retrieval Information System (MORRIS) was inaugurated on the IBM mainframe under MVS -- an online catalogue system listing most of the Library holdings (serials were added later). This was the culmination of a project begun in the Fall of 1988 that involved entering all of the card catalogue data into the NOTIS system, the most widespread on-line public access catalogue (OPAC) in North American academic libraries. The existing Library Circulation Data (LIBDAT) application on MVS remained in place, since the catalogue and the database of items in circulation were separate. (LIBDAT was first made accessible to users outside the Library who could access the IBM mainframe in January of 1988.)

In 1997, the MORRIS catalogue was moved off the mainframe to a library server system, enabling keyword search within the catalogue. The server-based software was called Horizon and in September 1998, the circulation data was incorporated into the catalogue system so that the data was visible within the same application. The MVS LIBDAT system is expected to be retired in the summer of 1999.


In 1992, a Unix workstation from SGI was configured to act as a mail server host system and machine upon which customers could logon and run the Pine mail client software. This replaced PROFS Email when the VM/CMS 4381 machine was decommissioned for administrative users, and came to provide Email for all faculty, staff and graduate students who wanted an account. The SGI machine was later expanded to four CPUs, and then as service demand grew further, replaced with a Sun 1000 machine, and in 1998 with a Sun Enterprise 450.


In the spring of 1992, a Research Statistical Application Server (RSAS) was installed in KTH B108 with X-terminals and a Sun Unix server to take over the residual IM 4381 VM/CMS research computing, and provide a platform to demonstrate graphical applications alongside non-graphical statistical packages.


The McMaster University Student Server (MUSS) was acquired in the fall of 1993 to provide Email accounts for undergraduate students, patterned after McMail for faculty, staff and graduate students. In order to comply with University privacy policy, account names were changed to numeric student identifiers in 1996. Inactive accounts are generated automatically for all registered students using Registrar's data. Students must activate the account for use using a self-registration process accessed through MUGSI. In the summer of 1998, students were provided with extra disk space and a mechanism to create their own web pages on MUSS.

Electronic Classroom

A classroom in Burke Sciences was converted in the summer of 1993 to allow individual displays for up to 35 students, as well as larger monitors around the room, whiteboard, overhead projection, and computer graphics projection. Liked by a dedicated T1 telephone circuit to Guelph, it was designed to allow video-conferencing between similar rooms at Guelph and Waterloo to enable shared teaching between them.

DocuTech Printer

In 1993, Printing Services acquired a Docutech Network Production Publisher, a fully integrated, high speed (135 pages/minute), digital reprographic system, which was attached to the campus network and enabled high-volume printing, collation and binding. The Custom Courseware Publication Service was offered in the Fall of 1993 through the Bookstore (Titles) in partnership with McMaster Media Production Services. In 1994, the service won a CAUBO Award for best use of information technology. The Print Shop now operates four networked Docutech printers across the city in a co-operative venture with Mohawk College and the Hospitals to provide printing services.

Kodak Photo-CD Writer

In co-operation with Kodak Canada, Media Production Services acquired a Photo-CD writer to enable the production of photographs in CD-ROM format for archival, multimedia development and delivery purposes.

Meridian PBX

The Rolm PBX telephone exchange was replaced in December 1994 with a Northern Telecom Meridian exchange and new hand set equipment across the University. This provided Meridian Mail, a voice messaging capability to most staff.

FreeNet & the Consortium

In 1994 the Hamilton-Wentworth FreeNet formed, and in 1995 McMaster support provided a location for equipment and connection to the Internet at reduced cost. The McMaster Consortium was born when the Hamilton Public Library (HPL) joined in this Internet access cost-sharing arrangement. Initially HPL was connected to McMaster with ISDN lines at 128 kb/s. Over 1995-96, the school boards built internal networks and developed YouthNet and joined the Consortium, along with the City of Hamilton, the Region of Hamilton-Wentworth, the Wentworth Libraries and the Dundas Public Library (through the HPL connection). In 1997, optical fibre was provided through Weslink Datalink Corporation to connect McMaster, HPL, HWCDSB and HWDSB so that high speed ATM links replaced the ISDN circuits.

Oracle Database Server

Client-server computing was explored by Data Services, starting in the early 1990s, as a means of extending data access to the administrative community in a simpler way, avoiding the 'applications backlog' and the resources needed to develop a traditional mainframe application, by using Oracle tools on a PC. Also, there was speculation in the trade press that client-server computing could ultimately be a lot cheaper than mainframe-based computing.

A Sun server machine running Sun O/S was acquired along with the Oracle database manager and matching client software (SQL*Net) which allowed applications running on a PC to authenticate with the database server and submit data queries. Data from the master DB2 databases on the mainframe was extracted in a batch job nightly, and a static snapshot of that data was provided within the Oracle database the following day. Any change requests could be submitted to run in batch mode on the mainframe the following evening.

Electronic Forms Applications

Initial applications of the Oracle database server used the Oracle Forms product on the PC to provide a Journal Entry System (JES), and subsequently forms for Roll 3 Payroll. These were successful in eliminating expensive paper based manual processing and providing more interactive and direct access from departmental offices across the University to a heavily-used admin application.

Subsequent applications added using this technology include Cheque and Purchase Requisition forms.

A new set of software from Oracle called the Gateway is designed to allow dynamic access to the master DB2 databases on the mainframe. Access from a PC will use a web browser interface, rather than SQL*Net and Oracle Forms. (This will require Windows 95 or 98 clients.) Applications are being developed using this new technology, and the older forms based approach will be phased out over time.


The McMaster University General Student Information (MUGSI) system was developed to provide access to personal information for students using any PC and a web browser. Authentication requires student number and a PIN (akin to automated teller machine access). Information available includes such items as grade reports, degree audit information, financial account information, personal information (mailing address, etc.), and a self-registration mechanism to obtain accounts to access student computer labs, modem pool, printing and proxy accounts.

Enhanced Modem Pool (EMP)

In 1994 an enhanced modem pool service was initiated. Through connect time charging, revenue was generated to add additional modems as demand for service grew, and as technology changed. Students self-register for a modem pool account using MUGSI and place funds into their account through Titles Bookstore (same charging mechanism as is used for printing in the student computer labs).

Web Campus Proxy Server

In 1996 a proxy server was provided to enable access to off-campus web pages from public stations, as well as from office computers without an off-campus access agreement in place. Proxy accounts are available to students through the same MUGSI self-registration process as printing and EMP accounts.

IBM System/390 Multiprise

An IBM model 2003-6 was installed in December 1997 to replace the 4381 and update the MVS operating system to recent software versions capable of handling the year 2000, this upgrade was a prerequisite for projects to bring all other major administrative applications at McMaster into year 2000 compliance.


A project was started in 1998 to assist the executive offices to move towards a more modern, standardised desktop computing environment which would facilitate easy document interchange, and would include Calendar and Scheduling software and client Email integrated with the Office suite of common applications (word processing, spreadsheet and presentation packages).

Service Bulletins

Citrix Receiver Client Update

UTS asks Citrix users to upgrade Citrix Receiver Client to the most current version by February 28, 2017. See UTS Citrix website for installation and removal information.

Mosaic Upgraded Interface

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Hours: Monday - Friday
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Phone: 905-525-9140 x24357 (2HELP)
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