Spending a day in Blue Chip's past
There's a huge black monolith facing me, setting a tone of mystery, and I'm locked in a huge room with a cameraman. I'm not on the set of ‘2001 – A Space Odyssey', but in a data centre located in Bedford, looking back at the past three decades of Blue Chip's history.
A lot of old systems have been lined up for the cameras, as we're to showcase our expertise in IBM maintenance. To those unfamiliar with IBM servers, a lot of these boxes look like huge American fridges and some resemble fancy drinks vending machines.
Over 60 machines have been lined up, some dating back to the IBM AS/400 era and beyond, from the time Blue Chip was founded. These early mainframes are much smaller and look a lot ‘boxier'. Some are equipped with CRTs, but the biggest sign of their heritage is the colour beige. They don't look as sleek or as cool as the 7-foot high IBM POWER generations all decked out in black, and for our photographer standing on scaffolding to capture the scene, it looks like a giant chess game.
I'm no 'muggle' when it comes to technology, with a keen interest in computing going back to the 1980s. As a teenager I'd come up with programs on my ZX Spectrum or quickly knock up a game on my friend's Amstrad CPC. The more serious side of computing came with my first jobs, dealing with data and being hugely impressed at a server – half the size of small car – being able to hold up to six gigabytes!
The purpose of this day of filming is to capture key figures from Blue Chip, speaking on how our legacy – spanning across three decades – is relevant to our market-leading position today as an independent provider of managed services. I'm new to the company so setting up these interviews has been a real eye opener, revealing just how far we've come and how we're able to offer maintenance services from the AS/400 period right up to the latest IBM POWER systems.
Over the next few weeks, we'll be releasing videos as part of this campaign, covering Blue Chip's ‘roadmap' and showcasing our skills in maintaining and supporting IBM systems that date back to the early 1990s.
I spoke with Chris Smith, the Head of Sales and Marketing, who started at Blue Chip as an engineer over twenty years ago. He has seen the evolution of IBM's server technology and gave me a primer on some of the oldest systems we support.
"We have such a rich history of technical experience at Blue Chip and I had been looking for a way to express that. The IBM mid-range systems here date from the 70s right up to the present. We have supported clients on their evolution using this technology for over thirty years. We can help the IBM POWER user large or small to enhance their hardware regardless of the generation of technology they are using. No other IBM Business Partner in the UK has access to the range and quantity of systems we have The systems we've lined up for this video and photo shoot are just the tip of the iceberg."
This isn't just about dusting off the cobwebs, as I'm reminded by our Tier IV design data centre. At this site, an engineer tells me jaw-dropping statistics about the levels of data being passed through our data halls. We're filming a few shots of an IBM z13 enterprise mainframe, designed for the mobile era and can process 2.5billion transactions each day. It sits along hundreds of other servers, enabling us to hold over 20 petabytes of storage for our customer base.
Blue Chip keeps a keen eye on customers' business demands, which have obviously changed over the years and continues to do so. I'm shown a series of IBM POWER 9 servers, which are geared towards the workloads of this era of ‘big data' and establishing AI. Machine-learning and deep-learning capabilities are areas we're focusing on, providing competitive advantages for our customers.
After filming in the data hall is over, I return to our line-up of legacy systems. One of the earliest pieces of kit is about the height of a Dalek, and has a badge proudly boasting "5.2GB optical technology". This gives me flashbacks to that business server at the early part of my career and then I realise the smartphone sitting in my pocket has over twenty times that capacity.
It makes you wonder why we keep these digital fossils, but from speaking to our client managers, there are some businesses who have key parts of their operations running on platforms like IBM RS/6000 and AS/400. Plus, Blue Chip is renowned for holding more IBM hardware parts than any other IT company in the UK.
All of which seems a lot more justified than my decision to spend an obscene amount of money on a Sega Saturn console on eBay last weekend, purely to revisit my youth and see if I can top the tables of Sega Rally Championship. My partner's not too impressed at another black box sitting under the television, but as we now, the value of old systems is known to a select few.