Columbia University Computing History   

The Columbia University Self Service Input/Output Area

Floor Plan
Until 1973, users of the central Columbia University computers could not use the equipment themselves, except for key punches. When Bruce Gilchrist became Computer Center Director in 1973, the first thing he did was to open up a space where users had direct access to "the computer", which in those days was the enormous IBM 360/91. Now, instead of bringing your card deck to a checkin window and then coming back the next day to get your deck back along the printout of the results (if any), you could do all this yourself: feed the cards to a high-speed IBM 2501 card reader, monitor the progress of the job through the queue on a Hazeltine 2000 terminal, and when your job finished, you could pick up the printout from one of the two IBM 1403 printers in the same room. The computer itself was upstairs, out of sight. Within a few years all of this would be phased out and replaced by interactive terminals connected to CUCCA's big timesharing systems, shown below.

Floor Plan of The Columbia University Self Service Input/Output (SSIO) Area, about 1982 (after most of the key punches were replaced by terminals), from a 1982 CUCCA Newsletter. The SSIO area is a sub-basement and has the ambience of a steamship engine room. As of July 2001 the site was renovated and occupied by the Office of Communications Services (OCS), the RolmPhone group. I wasn't able to locate any photos of the SSIO area in its 1970s punchcard heyday. The photos below were taken (possibly by Ben Fried) in 1986. Click any image to enlarge it.

SSIO gallery

SSIO entrance
Subterranean SSIO Entance, 1986
The stately and inviting SSIO entrance (at the bottom of the stairwell whose entrance is shown in the top figure). The door says TERMINAL ROOM; earlier, it was full of key punches, card readers, line printers, sorters, and other EAM equipment.

For fifteen years, this was the facade of Columbia computing. To the right is the loading-dock gate, facing North into the steam tunnel that connects Broadway and Amsterdam Avenue and also houses the University's main loading dock further East. To the left but not visible is the freight elevator. This is where all the big computing equipment was delivered, including the DEC-20s.

SSIO terminal room
SSIO terminal room, 1986
The SSIO terminal room in 1986, looking South. The terminals in front and in back are DEC VT101s. Terminals in mid-room are HP 2621s. On the right (and in the second row from the front) are Concept-108/APL terminals. Each terminal is attached to a PACX port selector box to allow service selection (DEC-20, IBM mainframe). Plastic sheets are duct-taped to catch the water that constantly leaks in from the terrace above. SSIO, or parts of it, are often closed due to flooding or water damage. "SSIO" is stenciled on the chair backs to discourage theft. From 1973 to about 1980, this room was filled with key punches.

SSIO north end
SSIO north end, 1986
Looking North.

The main terminal room, the former printer area, previous site of a pair IBM 1403 line printers. The windows face out on the steam tunnel.

Right: VT101s, 029 key punch, and soda machine as in the detail view below.

Left and center foreground: VT101s with PACX boxes. Background, a 600lpm Printronix dot matrix line printer, an indestructible workhorse that remained in service more than 10 years (and could easily have lasted another 10) and was capable of printing graphics as well as text. To the left of the seated person: a Diablo daisy-wheel terminal/printer, used for high-quality printing in the pre-laser-printer days.

SSIO terminals and key punch
SSIO terminals and key punch, 1986
Detail of the Northeast corner of the main terminal room.

Left: Two DEC VT101 terminals.

Center: an IBM 029 key punch, possibly the last surviving public key punch at Columbia (it is an "express punch", meaning it is elevated and can only be operated from a standing position).

Right: a soda machine.

SSIO consultant desk
SSIO consultant desk, 1986
The Consultant's Office in SSIO. User Services and Systems Group members took turns at the consultant desk. Their job was to help users (students and faculty) with any problems or questions they had.

On the desk, an HP 2621 terminal and PACX box (and another one on the floor). The telephone is a pre-Rolm AT&T Centrex multiline phone, with light-up pushbuttons to switch among lines. The bookshelf at left has technical handouts for users to take. Plastic sheets are taped to the ceiling here too, to catch the water. In the early 1970s, this sign on the door read "Insultant" rather than "Consultant". The supplicant's seat is at left.

SSIO staff offices
SSIO staff offices, 1986
Computer Center staff offices in SSIO.

Left: An LA120 DECwriter hardcopy terminal.

Center: The User Services Business Office, which was managed by Marianne Clarke, then Lois Dorman, then Chris Gianone, then Theresa Colmenares, ..., who were the primary point of contact between CUCCA and the user community.

Right: The library, housing manuals, books, handouts, and so forth. Extreme right: the Tektronix hardcopy unit, for printing graphics images from the Tektronix 4010.

SSIO business office
SSIO business office, 1986
Inside the Business Office. The sign attached to the HP 2621 terminal reads "Please do not look over my shoulder. What is on my screen is confidential!" to thwart the contemporaneous low-tech approach to password theft.

Links:  A bit more about SSIO HERE.

Columbia University Computing History Frank da Cruz / This page created: July 2001 Last update: 22 March 2021