University of Calgary

End of an era

University’s mainframe computer retired after 42 years

Harold Esche, U of C’s chief information officer, closes the door on a bit of computing history. The physical components of the

Harold Esche, U of C’s chief information officer, closes the door on a bit of computing history. The physical components of the mainframe will be removed from campus later this month. / Photo: Stepehanie Weir
By Stephanie Weir

More than 40 years of mainframe computing at the U of C has come to an end with the university’s core systems now replaced with the PeopleSoft ERP. According to Tony Barnfather, the mainframe decommission project manager, these new systems reflect the latest in technology, including near 24/7 access from anywhere in the world, graphical user interfaces and regular upgrades to stay current with the university’s needs. Harold Esche, the chief information officer at the U of C, talks about the significance of these developments.

What’s the importance of the mainframe decommissioning project?

This project was important because we had 40 years of data on the system. We had to ensure that we appropriately managed the information that was on the mainframe by either saving it or destroying it.

Historically, what is the significance of the mainframe at the U of C?

For 40 years, the mainframe ran all of the administrative systems for the campus.

Why are you shutting down the mainframe? 

We’ve moved to new systems and new systems architecture. Some of the software was written 40 years ago. It was a matter of either doing a very significant investment in terms of rewriting the software that was already on the mainframe, or move to new systems and new architecture. We chose the new architecture route. Rather than reinvent the wheel by expending our resources on building software that others have already developed, we can focus our developments on areas that are unique or specialized to the U of C.

What’s next?

The next era in administrative computing is mobility. Accordingly, our administrative applications will have to support this shift, allowing people to access information when they need it, in the desired location and in the appropriate format. In the future, more and more people on campus will expect to be able to do their work, whether it be learning, research or administration, at a time or place that is convenient to them, using whatever device they choose. Our role in Information Technologies at the U of C is to come up with ways of presenting information to our users so that they can effortlessly access it on mobile devices. We also need to think about the administrative processes themselves, as people are becoming increasingly mobile.

What are some of the “technological firsts” achieved by the U of C?

We were one of the first universities to put a web front-end on our mainframe student system. In 1998, the first version of InfoNet was implemented, including web registration and a web version of Degree Navigator. You could also view your personalized exam timetable and statement of grades.