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Requiem for a mainframe

Updated: 2014-01-01T06:19:33Z

By MIKE HENDRICKS

The Kansas City Star

Five, four, three, two, one — click.

With that, Kansas City Hall cut its tether Tuesday to the last of the mainframe computers used over the last half-century to track finances, vital statistics and other bits of data.

Senior systems analyst Carlos Valenciano flipped off the orange switch on the coal-black IBM 9672, the final in a line of refrigerator-sized behemoths once known as “big iron” that were the mainstays of data processing before PCs and the Internet “cloud.”

“It’s just a great day for us,” chief information officer Mary Miller said as more than a dozen co-workers applauded the moment and Valenciano, who’d switched the computer on for the first time in 1995.

A half hour before the countdown, the last of the more than 50 applications that had been on the IBM 9672 was transferred to the city’s servers humming nearby or to off-site server farms.

It wasn’t the first time that Valenciano had been to such a retirement ceremony. He’s been with the city’s information technology division before anyone even thought to call it that.

The day Valenciano joined the city payroll, Feb. 18, 1963, H. Roe Bartle was mayor and the city was using what was then the cutting-edge technology in data processing for business and local government.

That IBM 1401 was essentially a tabulating machine that spit out thousands of punch cards reflecting data keyed in by dozens of operators on the third floor of City Hall.

The cards were supplanted a few years later by magnetic tape with the coming of the IBM 360. The city then upgraded to the IBM 370 and finally the 9672, which was installed across the street from City Hall 18 years ago in the IT division’s current home behind Municipal Court.

Almost from the day it went online, city officials have been steadily moving applications off the mainframe. Modern servers are more flexible and support more applications, Miller said.

At 71, Valenciano said he’s stayed on the job long past the time when many others retire because he enjoys what he does and the people he works with.

“I learn a lot from them,” he said.

As for the 9672, the city plans to see what it can get for it from the scrappers.

Neither Valenciano nor his co-workers will miss it much.

Even before the mainframe’s circuits had a chance to cool, someone shouted, “Now, everybody, let’s help push it out the door.”

To reach Mike Hendricks, call 816-234-4738, or send email to mhendricks@kcstar.com.

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