Manufacturing mainframes: Component fabrication and component procurement at IBM and Sperry Univac, 1960-1975

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Abstract

In the golden age of mainframes (1960-1975) one of the foremost issues facing mainframe computer firms was manufacturing - despite this fact, system design has received nearly all the attention of scholars to date. The greatest manufacturing concern of these mainframe producers was component technology: the selection and provision of memory, especially main memory. As this period progressed, semiconductor memory was coming to dominance. Increasingly, firms' performance in the expanding market for mainframes pivoted on their memory component decisions. International Business Machines (IBM) had become the dominant mainframe producer, and its particular response to the semiconductor memory challenge has taken the role as the default or natural position. A comparison of IBM's experience with that of their fiercest mainframe rival during this period, Sperry Univac, highlights the centrality of memory components to the overall mainframe business as well as the highly contingent and path-dependent nature of the particular semiconductor policies and practices adopted by firms.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)219-235
Number of pages17
JournalHistory and Technology
Volume25
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Dec 1 2009

Keywords

  • High technology manufacturing
  • Integrated circuit
  • International business machines (IBM)
  • Mainframe computer
  • Semiconductor
  • Sperry Univac
  • Supply management

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