The IBM 3850 Mass Storage System was the monster storage
device of its day. Columbia's MSS had a capacity of 102.2 GB:
2000 cartridges of 50MB each; it was used to hold
the entire 1980 USA Census database and make it available to users of
Columbia's IBM mainframe computers.
This is the front of the MSS, where new cartridges can be inserted or
old ones disgorged. This is only one of eight cabinets. Each cabinet is
about three feet wide, so the MSS was over 20 feet long (see machine-room
Interior of the MSS, looking in from the right side. The honeycombs that
contain the data cartridges are left and right of the interior cavity.
A section of MSS honeycomb, with some chambers empty and others containing
data cartridges. Cartridges were cataloged on and staged to a set of four IBM
3330 disks, more or less transparently to the user. Cartridges were fetched
from the honeycomb by a mechanical hand at the intersection of travelling X
and Y wire cables, brought to a reader/writer that unspooled the magnetic
tape. The data transfer was transferred to/from disk, and then the tape was
returned to its cartridge, and the cartridge returned to its cell by the
roving hand. Two tape cartridges made a 100MB 3330 disk.
The Data Recording Device (DRD), the mechanism that extracts the tape from
the cartridge, reads and/or writes it, and then puts it back.
Far left: A panoramic machine-room view with the MSS in the
background. Because of the foreshortening and distortion of the wide-angle
lens, the massive size of the MSS can not be fully appreciated in this
picture. A modified 3830 controller, Mass Storage Controller (MSC), is
internal to the MSS. At left center are two IBM 3830 control units and the
four 3350 staging disks (which ran in 3330 mode because the MSS software
didn't support 3350s). In color: a pair MSS cartridges. Each
contains spool of magnetic tape about 7cm wide holding (as I recall) 54MB of
In October 2018, Dietmar Stroh wrote:
In the computer-history of columbia university You describe a Mass Storage
IBM 3850. If You want to see such a machine "working" (I think, it is the
last existing one in the world), please visit "Historisches Museum
Frankfurt" in the old town near "Römer". I am the "father" of this machine;
as a member of "Förderkreis Industrie- und Technikgeschichte" I got it in
1991 from a very big EDP center and rescued the essential parts from
becoming scrap. With a 3-men projectgroup we since 2015 renewed parts of the
machine, added an arduino computer, programmed the catridge-transport
between cells and DRD. Then we gave the system to Historisches Museum
Frankfurt for use in the permanent exhibition in the new builded and 2017
See www.fitg.de, chapter "IBM 3850", and
click the videos.
Look also at the chapter "FITG-Journal" - maybe You find some companies You
know from former times.
Look also at the chapter "FITG-Buch", it contains all EDP-equipment which
FITG collected in 30 years.
HERE for a color shot of a bit of the honeycomb from IBM's Attic.
Photos (and most of the information): Bob Resnikoff. Color photo
by me, March 2021.