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back to article IBM Hursley Park: Where Big Blue buries the past, polishes family jewels

Would you like to work in a cross between Downton Abbey and Silicon Valley? For a small selection of IBMers, that’s the only way to describe their working environment, although the place we’re talking about is officially called Hursley Park. You can get there by turning off the M3 and rattling through some pretty English village …

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OS/2 Presentation Manager

I went to a presentation on OS/2 1.2 at IBM South Bank in the late eighties. Afterwards we went for drinks with some of the younger IBMers (this was when IBM was still the evil empire) and found out that they were all BSD UNIX geeks. We were chatting about software development and it turned out that they were doing OS/2 Presentation Manager development at Hursley.

They asked us about what systems we had, we told them we had an IBM 3090/600E (about £6M at the time), and they casually mentioned that they had about ten of those "in the cellar". We never got a tour either :-(

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Anonymous Coward

Storwize

You say... "The site has been instrumental in the development of IBM’s software technologies since the 1950s, as well as displays and storage, though those lines have now departed."

Storage has not departed. Hursley is the home of IBM's Storwize/SVC software-defined storage development, arguably IBM's most important storage asset.

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I thought MQ was developed/invented by DEC before they sold it on.

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Nope, IBM.

I used it on a couple of projects in the late 90s to interface between AS/400 and Windows servers for an early ecommerce site for vehicle leasing.

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Anonymous Coward

Origins of MQSeries

Sort of, IBM and SSI. Mainframe side was IBM and heavily based up DB2 - Monitors such as Omegamon for DB2 used to think MQ address spaces were DB2 (joke was that all Hursley did was to change DSN to CSQ!) 1993 IBM licensed SSI ezBridge which became the basis of MQ on the distributed side. By the late 90's the code base was almost all IBM's.

Full disclosure: Former Candle employee who used to support Omegamon II for DB2 and Candle Command Centre for MQSeries

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Re: Origins of MQSeries

I worked at Hursley off and on in the nineties on CICS OS/2 - ahem. but anyway moving on..... When MQ series first came out I remember a colleague in the states (who was regarded as a genius because nobody ever knew what he was on about) getting really excited and saying that it signalled the end of databases because all data would from now on always be in an MQ queue waiting to go to wherever it was needed next until finally they went innocently onto the "MQ queue of death". It was such a wild thought at the time I still don't know if he was on to something.

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Joke

although he did manage to get a snap of the onscreen code that represented his virtual brain dump.

Friends Come in Boxes. In this case apparently DOS boxes :)

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On the A3090

Good address for an IBM site.

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Re: On the A3090

But no A3081 or A3084 :-(

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Anonymous Coward

I know it was said in jest...

... but Hursley does actually have a gun club. In the trees on the far end of the site there is an abandoned shooting range from the Vickers days too.

The game birds still have nothing to fear as none of the target practise/clay shoots happen onsite.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: I know it was said in jest...

Actually, the range is no longer abandoned - the club reopened and cleared the range up a few years back. Only air-rifles mind you.

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: Re: I know it was said in jest...

Any particular reason they haven't got it re-cleared for proper shooting? Shouldn't be hard to do if it was once a live range.

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Sunken Gardens

Look like you missed out on your tour the Sunken Gardens with it's fish pond contaiing massive Koi Carp and beautiful surroundings - a place of tranquility few offices can provide.

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It's a pleasant place to work. The Gun club is a little out of the way.

Actually sat in the datacentre on page 4 at the moment. Brisk!

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Great Place

I visited there a few times when working with one of their Virtual Reality guys back in the 90s - very cutting edge at the time. Mostly of course down in a basement. What is it with IT and basements?

The VR itself was amazing - try an "escaping from a burning oil rig" simulation. I seem to remember the sweary, Scottish voice of the forman yelling instructions and actually forgetting that I was in a nice room in a posh mansion with a fat pair of goggles on.

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Go

You forgot to mention the smell

I was lucky enough to enjoy a tour round the museum last November and my overriding memory was the wonderful smell of all the old technology. When you head down into the basement it has that dusty aroma of ancient technology. The collection of equipment was indeed impressive and I hope hope to go back again to see the newer stuff which I was not able to get around to last time.

I hope you enjoy working there wchild because it definitely looked like a great office and environment to me.

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Not the only high tech in the area

Growing up in Winchester in the 70s, there were quite of lot of IBMers around, but they weren't the only high tech people in the area.

The IBA had their engineering base at Crawley Court, not to many miles to the north. They knocked down a big old country house and put up a new building, and that being back in the days when TV companies besides the BBC actually did real engineering, they did a lot of early work on digital television there.

The site passed to NTL after abolition of the IBA, and now belongs to Arquiva

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Memories

I worked for I've Been Moved in the 80s and spent my life fixing the current systems at the time: 370, Midrange, etc.Until the day came when a "PC" appeared in our office to be fixed. We had to volunteer someone to learn all about his new 'thing'. I also had the privilege of being on a program where we were sent to Hursley, Winchester, etc on a regular basis, being shown emerging tech - just to open our minds about it all. No payback expected, just enrichment. Wonderful times. Hursley was always a maze, but full of wonder in each building - sounds like it still is.

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you missed

pictures of all the Spitfire components that appeared to be lying around the house when IBM bought it

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Anonymous Coward

Re: you missed

There are still blueprints of a spitfire in one of the meeting rooms in the main house. There's also a whole bunch of oil paintings of stuff which are obviously made by Vickers and Supermarine.

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So unlike the IBM Scientific Centre, Peterlee...

There was briefly an outpost of IBM research in Peterlee. Unlike Hursley, it was a prefab (more of a prefab, even, than the rest of Peterlee). It also had a fish pond, but only as a result of the need to provide water cooling to the S/370 in the machine room. It was responsible for the first reasonably capable RDBMS (The Peterlee Relational Test Vehicle).

Despite the availablity of free housing, it did not prove particularly popular with some of the staff (and, more significantly, their spouses) who looked enviously at the environment in leafy Hampshire. It survived, it appears, only long enough to tick a political box.

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Re: IBM's skeletons in the basement

May be the museum should show a realistic waxwork of an engineer oiling

the IBM machinery at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

IBM's German branch, the Deutsche Hollerith Maschinen Gesellshaft, was deeply involved in the running of the Nazi bureaucracy consuming 1500 million punch cards a year.

Read "IBM and the holocaust" by Edwin Black.

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Re: IBM's skeletons in the basement

@harmjschoonhoven - are you going to do this trolling every time there's an article about IBM? It's getting a bit tiresome.

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Re: IBM's skeletons in the basement

And how many of the employees who took the business decisions to serve that customer are still working there do you think? How many of the engineers or technicians or clerks involved still work for IBM? How many of them are even alive?

Show me a business or organisation or even a person who's never done a bad thing, never made a poor decision. They can't be undone. If every bad thing resulted in a business closing, there'd not be many businesses left.

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Re: IBM's skeletons in the basement

@harmjschoonhoven, presumably you come from a nation which has never waged war or repression on another. I know mine has. I can't say I was personally involved, however.

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Re: IBM's skeletons in the basement

@harmjschoonhoven: Godwin's law says you lose.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: IBM's skeletons in the basement

Yes, all the invoices that went to IBM had "equipment and supplies for the extermination of Jews, gays, gypsies, etc..." written across the top.

Obvious conspiracy theory, is obvious conspiracy theory and doesn't stand up to even basic critical thinking:

Would the Nazi regime tell IBM about their extermination of the Jews (That's IBM the New York based company, that's New York where a whole shitload of Jews live) and how their equipment was going to be used? Would they do this to IBM, a foreign company, when they went to extreme lengths to prevent even the German people from knowing about the Holocaust?

The answer incidentally is: No, of course they wouldn't.

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Anonymous Coward

Other IT companies' country house offices

ICL also had several country houses as offices.

The old boys' school, Beaumont College, was a training centre - complete with indoor swimming pool and squash courts. Even in the 1970s you shared rooms in the house if you were a resident for a week - then they built a modern motel style accommodation block. Lecturers in the top rooms had a choice between summer overheating or the passing roar of Heathrow planes.

The superior Moor Hall, Cookham was the management training centre.

One of the above was reknowned for late night croquet matches with pint pots temporarily set on the lawn.

Dalkeith House, near Edinburgh, was set in large grounds that in spring bloomed with many naturalised flowers. The only modern bit was the machine room a short walk away from the main building. In the early 1970s the cavernous panelled office rooms were heated with large open log fires. It was a warren of passages and staircases. The armoury was a high office reached by a narrow circular stone staircase.There was a resident rodent catcher that resembled Garfield. He often scared people as they stumbled down the moonlight main stairs with the spooky shadows of waving tree branches visible through the big windows. The next neon-marked light switch was often behind a small marble wall table whose corners were at a pain-inducing height.

Which other UK IT companies had similar country houses in their time?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Other IT companies' country house offices

Depends if you count this as an IT company or not, but there's a large bank with IT offices in the Knutsford area with more than a sniff of Hursley about them on a summer day.

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Re: Other IT companies' country house offices

Plessey had a nice country house just a few miles from Hursley called Roke Park. Now used by Siemens.

Armdahl used a country house near Fleet that is now the Four Seasons Hotel, Fleet.

DEC did a lot of training at a place called Highfield house south of Reading on the road to Hook.

I am sure there are more.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Other IT companies' country house offices

A company had its IT department in a listed country house. They still had to allow the villagers access to the cricket field and (I think) the old church.

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Re: Other IT companies' country house offices

Norsk Data used Benham Valence at one point. When I did some work for them the huge basement was full of old kit that used to be broken up and stored as parts. Nice building, cracking canteen.

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Great location to work

I was briefly assigned to IBM Hursley from a local IBM Manufacturing Plant around 1979, then moved here permanently in 1987. I have worked here ever since. It's a really wonderful site. Every time my team has new visitors I proudly rush to show them around. From the Japanese style sunken garden with its Koi Carp, to the computer museum housed under the main building, walks through the surrounding woods, the on-site clubhouse and cricket pitch. It is a quintessentially British establishment housing some the cleverest, and nicest, people I've ever met.

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Nice place

I'm an IT Consultant for a 'gold partner' of IBM. So I've spent a lot of time down there - courses, presentations, and working also working on customer problems (IBM happily let you come in to the customer centre and work on their 390s/datapower boxes/etc if you need to.

I've been 'blue labeled' a few times too - i.e. working in South Africa for a few months, badged as an 'IBMer' since IBM lacked the skills for the product internally at the time (datapower).

Winchester is a nice place too - lots of pubs, etc.

I've always found the folk at Hursely to be a good bunch. Unlike the USA contingent who can be a bunch of wankers.

We are big into MQ and Messagebroker for example.

About 7 or 8 years ago the US based websphere group made a bid to try to takeover SOA within IBM - got everything renamed into the 'websphere' family - and made it clear to customer that MQ/MB was dead/dying and they should all use websphere messaging, websphere ESB, Process server, etc.

I remember being at a partner event in Dublin in around 2006 where I was told by a bunch of shiny america IBMers all about websphere ESB and how wonderful it is. Everytime I asked about why it couldn't do this or that, and why was it slower than MQ/MB, etc I was met with stony silence as if I clearly should be shutting up and accepting the shite they were coming out with.

It was clearly utter shite, and never going to happen. MB/MQ is rock solid mature tech that 'just works'. customer love it.

You could see it really rubbed some of the Hursely guys up the wrong way that US IBM websphere group was trying to shut them down.

8 years later: MB/MQ is going strong. I've never met a single customer who has every used Websphere ESB.

Long live Hursley.

stu

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Re: Nice place

>It was clearly utter shite, and never going to happen.

>MB/MQ is rock solid mature tech that 'just works'. customer love it.

MQ is really good, but its pricetag makes it out of reach for most projects. Software like Apache's ActiveMQ is comming of age and you can use it for IPC queues. Something I've always wanted to do with MQ, but it requires the expensive MQmanager.

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Skeletons in the closet

Googling IBM and The Holocaust should give an alternative view of IBMs past

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Skeletons in the closet

Yeah, but googling any baseless conspiracy theories gives you a different view about many things.

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Re: Skeletons in the closet

I don't think there were many companies from the time that are still around that have a whiter than white record.

The past really is the past. We have to learn from it and move on.

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"Does anyone's data centre actually look like this?"

When I was at the Press Association that's what our machine room looked like in London. It would probably have qualified as a museum, since it had some absolutely ancient machines still chugging away. These included a mysterious beige box that no one dared turn off since it had defied all attempts to hook up a console to it or login over the network.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Does anyone's data centre actually look like this?"

The disco machine room pictured in the article (nicely cabled, etc) looks like that because it's really for marketing and sales work. You too can have a machine room (eh, "private cloud") like this... if you never want to work on it or if you want to spend a lot of time and money making it look that way. I have seen sites who have permanently assigned engineers who make their hardware installations look as perfect as that, but they are really the exception rather than the rule. It's all a bit OCD and actually can mean things take longer than they should and likewise cost more at installation time (making cables to length isn't as cheap as making do and just coping with the imperfection).

The actual machine rooms of Hursley (of which there are predictably loads) mostly look like normal, commercial/industrial machine rooms. The biggest one of all (called the Data Processing Machine Room/DPMR) reminds me of the old IBM advert with a huge empty room with one zSeries in it running everything after it'd all been consolidated down. It's not 100% like that (not just a single machine), but it's getting remarkably close in some places: systems are getting more power and heat-dense, they aren't limited by space but by how much power and cooling you can get into the building. You could play a decent game of 5-a-side footy in that room if all the kit was taken out.

As you'll appreciate, any tour of the place will invariably miss out lots of stuff for commercial reasons, which is both understandable and a wee bit sad.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Does anyone's data centre actually look like this?"

While you are right that it's a marketing exercise, getting data centres right does make a big difference when it comes to actually maintaining the kit. Being able to pull servers out to hot-swap components does require proper cable management to be in place.

I've seen some very well-run data centres, including those with decent cooling management whereby it isn't freezing cold in the front of the rack and boiling hot at the rear. The DPMR isn't one of those, granted.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: "Does anyone's data centre actually look like this?"

I think you need to check your facts. That 'disco machine room' is not for "marketing and sales" work. The systems you see in there (System X / System Z / POWER / Pure Flex/App/Data / Bladecenters / XIV) are REAL test architecture for IBM's business partners to test their solutions on both on-site and remotely. The Innovation Center does not do sales, they simply provide the hardware for live tests. Believe me, if you actually got inside that machine room and took a look beyond the first row of servers you'd soon see that it's just as messy as your traditional data center. Most of the spaghetti is hidden under the floor and in the back rows. Believe me, I used to be an infrastructure technician in that disco machine room.

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"...A visit to the basement of Hursley..."

-----------------------------

"I eventually had to go down to the basement."

"Ah. That's the Display Department."

"With a torch."

"The lights had probably gone."

"So had the stairs!"

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Anonymous Coward

Yeah, but the Hursley Tiger is kept down there, you wouldn't expect us to let it into the main house, would you?

Actually, that's about the only thing the site is missing, a small zoo. Nothing too showey, Flamingos, maybe some Lima, a big cat or two.

I can't actually remember if we have any peacocks or not, but they'd look ace on the main lawn.

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Hursley Museum - Anyone Know Where To Find...

... a Lloyds Cashpoint machine, the IBM 2984, developed at Hursley especially for Lloyds Bank. The first true ATM.

I'm one of the volunteer museum curators and we'd love to show a Cashpoint perhaps talking to one of our AS/400s via CICS/400. We've asked Lloyds, but they don't seem to have kept one. Peter.

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Anonymous Coward

Ahhh, memories of fantastic toasted bacon sarnies

I used to lecture MQ at Hurseley ( and loads of other places ), and I always loved working there due to the second to none toasted bacon sarnies first thing in a morning. Yummie!

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