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Nostalgic Journey Down MSO Lane
by Henry Ito, Directory of Fiscal Systems

We'll start our journey down "Old MSO Lane" in 1968, about a year or so after the Management Systems Office (MSO) came into being. MSO's two major functions were institutional analysis and administrative data processing. MSO's institutional analysts and systems analysts/programmers occupied cramped but comfortable offices in the old ROTC Armory and Angel's Flight buildings. Dress shirts for the gentlemen and dresses or business suits for the ladies were the dress of the day, although a few of the gentlemen wore coats and ties. Eventually the dress for both men and women became casual with Aloha Friday, then Aloha summer, and finally Aloha year-round.

Many of the 1968 MSOers have retired or moved on to greener pastures. However, 32 years later, two (Ken Nakahara and Ron Shimabukuro) are still at MSO, now known as ITS Management Information Systems. Other pre-1970 MSOers still at the University include Helen Nakamura (Office of the Senior Vice President for Administration), Les Murakami (UH Manoa's Baseball Coach), Fay Horie (College of Engineering), Suzanne Yamashita (Institutional Research Office), Dennis Taga (Institutional Assessment and Policy Office), and yours truly (Fiscal Services Office). Another fellow trooper, Drue McGinnes, had close ties with MSO in the late 60s. My mentor back in the late '80s and early '90s, Drue is currently with ITS after a hiatus at Mansfield University of Pennsylvania and various other positions at the University.

This era had the big iron (IBM mainframe) to perform the basic data processing model of input, process, and output, but offered application developers virtually no productivity tools. Some of the standard tools of the trade back in the late '60s were flowchart templates, business forms ruler, printer/report layout sheets, record layout sheets, IBM Autocoder, Assembler, COBOL, FORTRAN, and RPG coding sheets, printer control tapes, keypunch/keyverifier machines, card sorters, card readers, round magnetic tapes, removable disks with less storage capacity than many early AT class hard drives, an endless supply of sharp #2 wooden pencils or a mechanical drawing pencil with sharpener, and an electric typewriter for documentation. A common storage media was non-magnetic and fit nicely in the shirt pocket, just like a 3_" diskette, although its storage capacity was a mere 80 bytes -- the punched card. It was common to see MSO programmers lugging a box of 80 column punched cards and round magnetic tape hanging from their arms to and from MSO and the UH Computing Center on the 2nd floor of the HIG building. All administrative applications were "batch" processed on an IBM 360 or 1401. Amazingly the 1401, a computer with only 8K RAM and no disk drive, was capable of processing and maintaining all UH personnel records. I'm sure many of you who were born during this era cannot relate to these so-called "stone age" technologies.

As we move into the early 1970s, MSO relocated to its current home in the basement of Sinclair Library and the UH Computing Center to the 1st floor of Keller Hall. The technology revolution snowball was beginning to roll. Remote Job Entry (RJE), time sharing, mobile computing, on-line transaction processing, a data base management system (DBMS), a library management system (LMS), and structured/modular programming techniques were introduced at MSO. RJE minimized the need to physically walk to and from the Computing Center by allowing MSO programmers to submit batch jobs and receive hardcopy printouts at MSO. TSO (Time-Sharing Option) and APL were in. TSO offered MSO programmers access to disk volumes/files, but more importantly the capability to add, change, and delete program source code and submit it to the IBM mainframe via the internal reader, all without the use of the infamous punched card. I don't know much about APL except it was an acronym for "A Programming Language" and Drue used it to develop projection models. Analogous to a notebook of today, the mobile terminal of this era was a 50-pound typewriter-like printing terminal with a 300 baud acoustical coupler modem that came with a hard case the size of an oversized suitcase with wheels. A high-speed remote connection back then was a blazing 1200 - 2400 baud. Most things were measured in kilo or milli something rather than mega, giga, or nano something like today. The CICS teleprocessing monitor developed by IBM for on-line transaction processing pretty much insulated the applications programmer from knowing the bits-and-bytes of the teleprocessing environment, and ADABAS, a DBMS which managed the storage and retrieval of data allowed MSO to develop one of the first real time, multi-user, on-line (remote 3270 fixed function terminals) application under CICS in the State of Hawaii. The first version of CICS was a developer's and operations manager's nightmare because the only way to restart this version of CICS was to re-IPL the IBM mainframe, i.e., reboot. Today, the University's on-line IBM mainframe applications still use CICS and ADABAS, e.g., FMIS and UH Manoa's ISIS. Program source code stored in the LMS eliminated the need to retain and maintain thousands and thousands of lines of program source code on 80-column punched cards.

The 1980s saw the technology revolution snowball gathering momentum. This era marked the introduction of PCs, LANs, alternative applications development toys/tools, 4th generation languages, customer orientation, and TQM to MSO's staff. MSO's user community were exposed to technologies and methodologies which included DEC PDP 11 and VAX 11/7XX mini-computers, Gandalf PACX and StarMaster, fiber optic technology, and RAD/JAD. User demand was high for electronic word processing and spreadsheets, cost effective alternative host computers with applicable software development tools so users could do their own thing because MSO could address so few new initiatives. MSO was spiraling in the 80%/20% syndrome, although it seemed more like 90%/10% --application maintenance versus new development. MSO took this opportunity to form several consortia to fund the acquisition, maintenance, systems management, computer operations, user training, and support of the VAXes. At this point, MSO branched into the data center, data communications, and user training and support business. With the VAXes came the proliferation of twisted-pair asynchronous connectivity requirements. The demand for VAX ports was higher than the availability of ports, so the Gandalf PACX (later upgraded to a Starmaster) was acquired to better utilize a scarce resource. During the halcyon days of the VAXes, MSO operated and managed five VAX 11/780s and a PDP 11/70, with several hundred users. The plunging prices and ever increasing popularity, speed, and capacity of PC, Mac, and Unix boxes eventually forced MSO to downsize the VAXes to MicroVAXes due to the shrinking customer base source of revenue. However over time, even the MicroVAXes couldn't match the cost effectiveness of newer technology. ITS eventually retired the VAXes it operated and managed on 01/01/2000. However, VAXes are still strategically used at the community colleges, UH Hilo, CTAHR, and the UH Bookstore. MSO introduced fiber optic technology (both multi and mono-mode) at the University during the mid-1980s for the UHM Integrated Student Information System (ISIS) project's network infrastructure. This was eventually expanded to the campus network infrastructure we know today. Another advancement at MSO was the introduction of the rapid application development (RAD)/joint application development (JAD) methodology. This methodology involved investing a lot of time and effort up front in the development life cycle rather than at the back end of the life cycle. Typically, intense sessions involving expert functional users of the business processes and application developers produced conceptual, logical, and physical models, entity-relationship diagrams, performed prototyping, etc.

I began to lose touch of the information and communications/networking technology mainstream from the early 1990s when I became a user instead of a provider of information technology services. However, even as a user, I've felt the effects of the technology revolution moving into high gear as we moved through the 1990s into the 21st century. Bleeding-edge technical obsolescence cycles shortened from years to months, evolving client/server models with the ubiquitous web browser emerging as the dominant user interface, unheard of power on the desktop, mainframes requiring only the real estate and environments of mini-computers, ever increasing network bandwidths to keep up with the even faster growing demands, exponential Internet usage growth, data warehouses, e-commerce, electronic malls, enterprise resource planning, and the list goes on-and-on.

How times have changed during these past 30-some years. In addition to all these technological changes at the University, we also experienced paradigm shifts from an information technology know-it-all, do-it-all generalist (this is what we were in the 60s to mid-70s) to a specialist; and a shift from centralized to a decentralized and (in some areas) back to a centralized information technology support.

I have no regrets for staying with MSO all those years. They were fun, challenging, and satisfying years, providing applications, system, and networking/data communications support services, but being from the old school, wanting to know and do-it-all, it started becoming overwhelming to keep up with the ever-changing technology. Being a user now, I do miss getting my hands dirty, but I've kept my sanity. My technical bits-and-bytes capacity has run short-on-storage, so I rely on the younger generation to keep up with the latest and greatest. I now deal with the less technical business requirements and the ITS information technology experts recommend the best technical solution.

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