Looking for online information about the old POSB mainframe/branchterminal system

Discussion in 'NZ Computing' started by Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC), Mar 24, 2008.

  1. Anybody know where I might find an online repository, or anything really,
    with information about the old mainframe and terminal system that was
    used by the OLD POSB until it was replaced when purchased by the ANZ?

    I am especially interested in finding info about the old Olivetti
    electromechanical terminals that were in use in the branches around the
    country until they were replaced with the Phillips terminals.

    I've had a hard look around the Internet and I can't seem to find
    anything about it.
    Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC), Mar 24, 2008
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  2. Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC)

    Tony Guest

    Well, I was one of the network engineers at Postbank / ANZ and was
    intimately involved with the cut over from the Olivetti's to the Philips
    WS11 controllers. Those were the days, 1200bps of analogue madness (one
    1200bps "line" connected to between 8-12 branches) connected to ICL
    DRS40 mainframe front end processors. The memory is a little fuzzy now
    but what do you want to know ?
    Tony, Mar 25, 2008
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  3. Pretty much everything. :eek:)

    I knew that the Olivettis connected directly to the regional mainframes
    which in turn connected to the central one.

    What I'm interested to know is what OS the mainframes were running, and
    how the network was managed and specifically how the Olivettis were set

    I used to use them back in the '80s, and so I think I sorta might still
    know how to key in transactions with the help of the Post Office Manual
    - red bar, green bar, yellow validation slips, etc.

    I'm interested to know how those Olivettis worked, and how they
    communicated with the mainframes.

    Chur - didn't expect to actually see someone posting here who was
    involved in actually setting up/fixing the stuff. :eek:)

    I reckon that there should be a website set up somewhere specifically to
    remember how the POSB banking computer system was set up - because it
    was, IIRC, the first fully online realtime banking system in NZ.

    Those Phillips terminals were hopeless. A quick teller could key in
    transactions considerably faster than the Phillips terminals could
    process the keyed in information, and it only had a very tiny buffer and
    spat the dummy if you went too fast.

    The Olivettis just kept on going, no matter how fast you were. o)
    Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC), Mar 25, 2008
  4. Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC)

    Tony Guest

    The actual mainframes were in Newmarket in Auckland (25 Nugent Street).
    There were front end processors (The ICL DRS20
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Computers_Limited#DRS_Range )
    in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. I remember the
    Auckland-Wellington sites were linked via ethernet bridges (ethernet was
    10base5 in those days http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/10BASE5) with 2 x 48k
    digital links). I think Christchurch was connected off wellington with a
    19.2k but can't quite remember).
    The funny thing is the network actually had a bigger mainframe running
    it than the actual banking application for a long time.

    I'm trying to remember but I believe the mainframes were 2x3900 ICL
    running the network and 2 x 29 series (I think this is a picture of a 29
    series in the background http://www.tnmoc.org/images/2966-1.jpg) running
    the application. Eventually the 39 series was moved to running
    everything. The o/s was VME. I rememberer that system with great
    fondness, it was fast and very reliable. Eventually ANZ decided to make
    us all redundant and move (backwards IMHO) all the applications onto the
    IBM s390's in Melbourne and thats where it stands today. They even still
    run the old ICL dot matrix passbook printers in the branches that I bought !

    Olivettis were great old terminals, its just the mechanics were getting
    a bit old. They were connected via 4 wire analogue asynchronous 1200bps
    multi-drop lines to the ak/wn/ch. When the cutover to the philips ws11
    was done I think we upgraded to 9600bps digital multi-drop lines from

    :) and I'm not even that old ! sometimes the younger set do look at me
    strangely when they complain about their several megabit DSL links and I
    explain my first real computer job included feeding the ticker tape from
    the 75baud machine into the 50baud one !

    It was, and it was a fantastic system until ANZ killed it off. We bought
    up the network at , 7am in the morning from memory and shut it down at
    6pm I think. It was real time during those hours, and then ran all the
    batch processing outside of those hours.

    Yes, a lot of the tellers didn't want to change, but the Philips
    provided a better solution overall. The Olivetti was only good for one
    terminal in the branch where as the Philips could run several (8?)
    terminals and was "digital" (got to love those 8 inch floppies). From
    memory I think we bought a whole lot of second hand ones to effect the
    change. BUT, in the mean time an entire replacement system based on PC's
    and windows 3.11 was locally developed, we even rolled it out to the
    backoffice center at 277 Broadway in Newmarket, and were preparing to
    roll it out to all the branches when ANZ killed the project, made
    everyone redundant and outsourced everything to Databank (later to
    become EDS, where I moved to).
    Tony, Mar 25, 2008
  5. Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC)

    peterwn Guest

    I remember one thing about it as a customer, it would bounce POSB
    cheques in real time. The teller would 'clear' POSB cheques you were
    depositing via the terminal and if there was insufficient funds it
    bounced there and then, and the teller would give it back to you.
    peterwn, Mar 26, 2008
  6. From a Teller's perspective the Philips terminals were very much slower -
    especially if you hadn't memorized the new processes for each
    transaction, and you had to keep looking up at the monitor instead of
    merely glancing from between the passbook and the keyboard.

    I agree about the reliability of that system. It was rare for it to fall
    back, and very rare indeed for it to go down completely. I think that all
    of us who used it and had some understanding of what the Trading Banks
    did knew that we had a very good system. :eek:)

    I didn't realise that the Olivettis were analogue machines.

    Thank you very much for the links, and the info - appreciated.

    I still think that there should be an online repository of information
    regarding the POSB banking system should be created - specifically
    because it was such a good banking system. :eek:)
    Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC), Mar 26, 2008
  7. Yes - because we treated cheques drawn on our own branch as if they were
    withdrawal slips, and we could check the current balance of any a/c there
    and then.

    A person could do a "No Book" deposit in a branch in Auckland, and
    immediately afterwards the a/c holder could walk into a branch in Dunedin
    (or anywhere) and update their book and then withdraw the money

    That was one of the features of the POSB system - transactions were done
    immediately - as soon as the Teller had confirmation that the transaction
    was accepted the a/c would have already been updated.
    Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC), Mar 26, 2008
  8. Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC)

    Don Hills Guest

    The Olivettis had a 10 character keyboard buffer... implemented in hardware.
    Real mechanical hardware(*). I was a telegraph tech in the Post Office, and
    used to maintain the previous model Olivetti terminals used for Telex. The
    Telex machines were TE300 series, mostly TE315, and the POSB machines were
    TE400 series.

    (*) The TE300 and TE400 series machines were "digital mechanical" machines.
    They had digital logic implemented in mechanical hardware. They had
    monostable and bistable clutches, for example. The aforementioned keyboard
    buffer was a set of bistable sliders. Pressing a key would push or pull a
    set of sliders into a pattern corresponding to the 1s and 0s of the
    character to be transmitted. There were 10 slides for each bit, arranged in
    a ring, with as many rings as needed for the code used (Baudot code used 5
    bits, but there were spaces for up to 8 bits). The buffer "writer" would go
    around the rings setting the bits as each key was pressed, and the buffer
    "reader" would go around the other end of the slides reading their
    Don Hills, Mar 26, 2008
  9. Cool!

    They were amazing machines. They were, IMHO, much easier for tellers to
    use, once we had learnt the keying process for each different transaction.

    And, once you'd chosen the transaction type experienced tellers could
    complete the entire transaction without needing to look at anything other
    than the transaction slip and the passbook. :eek:)

    The additional space for 4 characters in the buffer obviously made all
    the difference when a fast teller keyed in the transactions. :eek:)

    Can you give any details about the electrics in one of e POSB Olivettis?

    I know it had an electric motor in the back that drove all the mechanical
    bits in the top part of the terminal, but underneath it seemed to be a
    whole lot of circuit boards

    Do you know if any of them survive in a museum somewhere here in NZ?
    Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC), Mar 26, 2008
  10. Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC)

    Tony Guest

    This was possible because the branches were all effectively connected.
    The mainframe itself in Auckland (there were actually two mainframes on
    either side of the main computer room sharing common disk via a 50Mb/s
    fibre lan, the front end processors were connected to the mainframes by
    3 x thicknet 10meg ethernets), did not really know that Dunedin and
    Whangarei were not in the building next door.
    There was also the "Tandem" (now HP/Compaq) mainframe that ran in
    paralel that ran the ATM's and eftpos.
    (http://www.partnersremarketing.com/tandem.htm picture down the bottom)
    It would do real time transactions to the ICL mainframe during working
    hours and run via a local database overnight when the system was offline
    doing its batch jobs. Before teller start up in the morning the offline
    Tandem database would sync with the ICL updating it with all the
    overnight transactions. The Tandem connected to all the other bank
    systems (9.6k or 19.2k links normally) to allow the use of other banks
    cards on the ATM eftpos network as it could communicate using many
    different protocols running its "base24" operating system. Eftpos is
    still done in a similar way using HP non-stop machines.
    Tony, Mar 26, 2008
  11. Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC)

    Don Hills Guest

    I didn't get to open any of the POSB Olivettis. They were just coming in
    when I left the Post Office.
    Not in NZ as afar as I know, but Google shows a few in museums overseas.
    Don Hills, Mar 27, 2008
  12. Thanks very much for that additional info. :eek:)

    It's all interesting stuff, IMHO. :eek:)
    Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC), Mar 27, 2008
  13. What was housed in Herd St, Wellington?

    That is where I had thought both the Wellington front-end AND central
    mainframes were.

    Also, what generally had happened when the system went into "fallback".

    I knew when it was in fallback because we wouldn't be able to do passbook
    updates, and the acceptance code on the transaction slips were different.

    My memory may be faulty here, but IIRC the acceptance codes used to
    alternate between /1 and /2, and in fallback they would be /3 & /4.
    Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC), Mar 27, 2008
  14. Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC)

    Tony Guest

    I can't remember the address of the Wellington Network site, but it
    could well have been there.

    Nope, only the DRS20 Front end processors. They had an ethernet
    connected by "Isolan" spanning tree bridges to Nugent St where the
    mainframes were and 8x async serial ports that connected to the branch
    multi-drop lines. There were also helpdesk staff and cheque processing
    machines from memory.
    Hmm, Its been a long time, but I think what you might be referring to
    was when the strange situation existed where there were actually four
    manframes running things. Two (the more powerful ones, 39 series that
    eventually took over everything) ran the network and had their own
    "offline" database. They were connected by a dozen or so (from memory)
    19.2k links (modem eliminators) to the 29 series mainframes
    (primary/backup) that ran the real time system. From memory it was
    possible to "disconnect" the 39's from the production system and run in
    a fallback mode.

    I remember distinctly one day during heavy rain that we had a situation
    where a bird had nested on the roof of the building and clogged a
    central gutter. This caused a cascade of water to make its way down
    three floors and ended up pouring into one of the disk packs and 29
    series mainframes. This caused obvious panic and a disconnect in the
    middle of the day, Much to our amazement though within 2 minutes the
    system automatically moved production to the secondary mainframe and
    disks on the other side of the room without any human intervention. This
    shows how advanced the ICL (Fujitsu) mainframes were in those days.

    I don't know enough about the teller operation to know if this is what
    you are referring to, my job was running the network (we had a team of
    four from memory). It was a great company to work for at the time.
    Tony, Mar 27, 2008
  15. Yeah - that would be it. :eek:)

    Fallback hardly ever happened, but when it did we couldn't update the
    passbooks, but we could do deposits & withdrawals based on the printed
    balance in the book. I think it worked because a part of keying in the
    transaction was also keying in the current passbook balance.

    Sounds like some very clever and on-to-it programmers had set it up in a
    very elegant manner. :eek:)

    You might remember this...

    One day before the POSB turned into PostBank there was an outage that
    lasted for most of the day - not just fallback but a complete outage, and
    the urban myth that I'd heard from a colleague at the time was that a
    large ship had come into Wellington Harbour and had forgotten to turn off
    its deep sea radar and that had knocked out the computer in Herd St.

    It was, as I said, such an unusual event to have any such outage let
    alone a protracted outage like this one was, so I'm wondering if you
    might remember it. :eek:)
    Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC), Mar 28, 2008
  16. Given the overall reliability of the entire banking system as it was It
    sounds like the system with the two 29 series mainframes had also been
    engineered to provide the same level of reliability in the event of a
    disaster. :eek:)

    And, based on your account, it lived up to expectations. :eek:)
    Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC), Mar 28, 2008
  17. Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC)

    Tony Guest

    Haha... no sorry don't recall that one, but someone sure got that one
    wrong. Firstly radar could never effect those machines (I trained as an
    avionics (radio/radar) tech before joining PostBank), and secondly the
    computers werent even in Wellington. Most likley whatever happened would
    have been before I joined as I joined just after it turned into Postbank.
    Tony, Mar 28, 2008
  18. Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC)

    Tony Guest

    Yes, in many ways going from the ICL gear to the IBM mainframes was a
    big step backwards. It took IBM many more years to catch up on even the
    concept of LAN's (then they did token ring !).
    Tony, Mar 28, 2008
  19. Good Grief - that was a lot of catching up.
    Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC), Mar 29, 2008
  20. Were _all_ the DRS20s up in Auckland?
    Smoking Causes Lung Cancer (SCLC), Mar 29, 2008
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