Sidebar 9: CSIRO Divisional Computing

By October 10th, 2022

These pages attempt to give some of the history of CSIRO’s use of computing in its research, focussing mainly on the large shared systems and services.

Sidebar 9:

CSIRO Divisional Computing


Started 10 Oct 2022, Last updated:26 Oct 2022.

Robert C. Bell

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CSIRO Divisions – local computing

I wrote previously of the early computing devices in the Division of Meteorological Physics (Chapter 1).  Chapter 3 reported that “DCR was facilitating the use of small computers in CSIRO Divisions, and hosted a 3-day workshop in November 1970.”  In the 1970s, many Divisions started to acquire their own computing devices, mainly mini-computers, and DCR facilitated cooperation between Divisions.  Many of the early computers were acquired for data acquisition – for example, for the ITCE in 1976 (Sidebar 6).

Advisory Committees

Several Divisions set up Computing Advisory Committees, to help bring some order to the acquisition of computing devices and their use: for example, at Atmospheric Physics / Atmospheric Research (In CSIRO Records file NC/10/1 “ DAR Computing Advisory Committee” dated Sept 1979 to Aug 1993). These oversaw the introduction of mini-computers, the first PCs, workstations, X-terminals, and even so-called “mini-supercomputers” (see Chapter 6).  There were issues to be resolved with operating systems, with the transition from proprietary systems (RTE, RSX-11, VAX/VMS) to ‘open’ systems – UNIX, but then came DOS/Windows.  There were issues with Capital expenditure (Capex) versus Operational Expenditure (Opex), and on-going interaction with Csironet and in particular charging and the Cyber 205 grants scheme.

Divisions produced Plans for the coming years. Here is a sample from 1986: DAR Computing Plan. This surveyed the current facilities, services and organisation, and made recommendations in the following categories: technical, standards, languages, training, CSIRONET, organization, distributed hardware purchasing, central hardware purchasing, purchase of software for distributed systems, purchase of software for central systems. The Plan recognised that “the computing industry is rapidly developing” with the plan being “seen as our the best current attempt to plan ahead”, and indeed many recommendations were overtaken by events.

One of initiatives at the time in DAR was to have the Library service purchase PC software, which was then lent to users: this was an attempt to have some control over software purchasing, with the Library being already well equipped to kept records of acquisitions and borrowing.  The hope was to reduce waste by having software which was little used or unused to be moved to where it was more needed.

Here are sample minutes and agenda from 1990: DAR Computing Committee.  This was around the time of the transition of HPC from the Cyber 205 to the new Joint Supercomputing Facility.  The final item noted the need for permanent storage – a long-term aspiration!

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