Friday, 30 May 2014

Inconceivable amounts of data: a glimpse at our history

In various guises, we've been providing central computing services to the University since 1966 - in 1969, a proposed upgrade which would have seen the purchase of a fourth 4Mb disk drive was rejected, as it was inconceivable that the University would ever generate that amount of data.

These days, we can see more than 8 terabytes of data fly across our wifi network in a single day, we provide email accounts with 30 GB of storage, and the central filestore is supplemented by Google Drive with unlimited storage for native documents.

You might be tempted to believe that reliance on IT facilities is a modern phenomenon, and certainly the current omnipresence of technology is a significant change. But we were providing a campus network, with access to external networked resources, by the end of the 1970s. By the 1980s some students were so reliant on the facilities provided that they turned to direct action when they were thwarted - a student whose programming error put an entire room of computers out of commission was thrown into the lake by his peers. He was suitably contrite, and sent a letter of apology to the Computing Service newsletter of the day, Printout. All things being equal, it's a source of relief that we now have social media to allow us to vent our frustrations in a more controlled manner.

The 1990s saw the arrival of PCs, the launch of the University's web site, and the introduction of IT training suitable for students across all disciplines - not just the sciences. In 2001, there was outrage from some as the University moved from Corel to Microsoft as its main office software. Concerns were raised about cost, and virus susceptibility, and the spellings M$ and Micro$o£t were seriously over-used in some quarters.

By 2009, we were preparing for the University's most significant expansion, with nearly two kilometres of cable used to create a link between Heslington West and the new Heslington East campus. Today, we are working towards pervasive wifi across the campus, and continue to upgrade the various IT facilities we provide. A lot has changed in the last five decades.

To find out more about our history, please visit 50 years of Information: IT or take a stroll past the timeline in the ground floor Fairhurst corridor.

For even more great pictures of monster servers, tiny terminals and startling fashions, browse through our collection of images in the Digital Library:

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