Converse All Stars and the Mainframe

I came of age during the 1960s and like most American boys, I was immersed in sports. While I played football and baseball, basketball was my true love. I worshipped heroes such as Oscar (the Big “O”) Robertson, and Wilt Chamberlain. Burned in my memory is the pure form of a Jerry West jump shot or the unstoppable nature of a Lew Alcindor sky-hook, which retained all of its lethalness even after he changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

I emulated everything about these Hall-of-Famers, which was somewhat difficult as I was vertically challenged and had a shot that, charitably, could be described as shaky. What I believed would propel me to athletic greatness was the purchase of my first pair of the iconic Converse All Stars, also referred to as “Chuck Taylors” by “those in the know” for their signature logo.

For the uninitiated (or those too young), the Converse All Star basketball shoe revolutionized the way the sport was played. Its unique sole and tread pattern enabled athletes to stop on a dime. Its light weight allowed players to jump higher. And the high top support of the ankle improved lateral stability so much that players could perform all sorts of spectacular moves.

This technological break-through fundamentally transformed the sport.

Approximately the same time as The Big “O” was scoring 26 points in the 1964 NBA All Star Game, IBM was readying an announcement that would shape the business world for the next half-century. On April 7, IBM CEO Thomas J. Watson, Jr. literally bet the business on the System/360 mainframe, a radical departure from the very nature of computing.

At the time of this announcement, customers were faced with a daunting decision when making a computer purchase. Do they choose a cheaper, less functionally rich system that they might possibly outgrow? Or do they choose a more powerful, more expensive machine that they might never fully utilize?

The S/360 introduced the concept of “product family,” meaning a company could start small and upgrade into larger sizes of machines as their business needs changed. This family satisfied the needs from small to large and low to high performance. They all used the same instruction set and as customers progressed to larger systems, the chore of rewriting software was eliminated.

This mainframe family revolutionized entire industries.

  • The world’s first automated passenger reservation system, Sabre, is still the basis for today’s web-based travel industry.
  • The Automated Teller Machine (ATM) was a radical departure from the way customers withdrew or deposited money.
  • The lunar landing and liftoff, possibly man’s greatest accomplishment, owes its success in part to the mainframe.

Fast forward 50 years. Converse basketball shoes are infinitely better than previous incarnations. Improvements to the outsole, mid-sole, and durability make the shoe an even better performer on the court. But a curious thing happened: Chuck Taylor’s morphed from an athletic shoe into a fashion shoe.

Movie stars, rock stars, hipsters, millennials – all looking to be chic, cutting edge, trendy – can now be spotted wearing their beloved Chuck Ts. Recognizing this, Converse created a website where you can create your own, personal shoes with a mind boggling selection of unique color combinations.

Back in 1964, who would have ever envisioned this shoe gracing the red carpet of a gala event like the Oscars?

The mainframe has undertaken a similar journey as it has been constantly reinvented over its first 50 years.

  • Performance has improved over 78,000%.
  • Memory capacity has increased over 786,000 times.
  • Fortune 500 companies – banks insurers, retailers, for example – have bet their businesses on the OLTP performance, reliability and security of the mainframe.

What we also discovered is the mainframe is particularly well suited for analytics. Previously, data was extracted into a data warehouses for analysis. Information quickly, however, became outdated. Lack of currency resulted in poor business decisions.

What if we moved the analytics to the mainframe? After all, this is where the majority of the world’s transactions occur. Historical information can quickly be accessed, but also real time information can be ingested. Business models can be continually updated, resulting in more accurate decisions.

z Systems analytics enables businesses to:

  • Be more proactive, and better predict customer behavior and anticipate needs.
  • Recognize fraudulent activities and take necessary steps.
  • Turn data into a competitive advantage.

Chuck Taylor and the IBM Mainframe…even more relevant today than 50 years ago.

Author’s Name and Title: Chris Spaight, System z Big Data and Analytics Marketing Manager

Author’s Short Biography: Chris is responsible for the worldwide marketing of System z Analytics and Big Data Marketing. In his role, he serves as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) in advocating, evangelizing and championing the IBM mainframe in the fast-paced analytics segment. He has spent nearly 28 years in the Information Technology industry, with considerable experience in both hardware and software platforms. Chris also has a deep passion for endurance athletics and when the opportunity avails itself he can be found swimming, cycling or running.

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