Phoenix was a mainframe,
But Phoenix is no more.
'Twas far too old; it was an I
BM 3084.

Phoenix was (AIUI) the name of the IBM 380 series model 165 mainframe computer that Cambridge University Computer Laboratory (CL) bought in 1971, and, in later days, of the IBM 3084 that superseded it. The CL wanted an online service for thirty to fifty users, to replace their old Atlas II system, TITAN. This could sustain 20+ simultaneous users with a total on 61 fixed lines to teletypes and 3 to a switch with 72 altogether—achieved on a machine tiny by todays standards, by incredible shoe-horning.

In 1972 TITAN was to be switched off, and the CL had to ensure its replacement provided at least as good a service. At that time, all IBM could offer was TSO (Time Sharing Option) running on OS/MVT. TSO was hopelessly greedy, making even 20 simultaneous users optimistic on the then 1MB mainframe. Also, TSO was designed for IBM 3270 terminals and didn't work very well (at all?) on cheap teletypes.

So the brains of the CL (Barry Landy, Chris Thomson, Phil Hazel, Michael Guy and others) set about writing their own online service that could accommodate, eventually, well over a hundred online users; hence the name Phoenix—because a time sharing (online) service rose from the ashes of TITAN. But unlike the classical Phoenix which rose from the ashes, this Phoenix rose from the crashes...

After 24 years of service, Phoenix was finally switched off on 30 September 1995. (All the computer scientists had a big party and took bits of it home with them.) As a machine, Phoenix was full of personality; it had a following that once it was gone set up ucam.phx.nostalgia to commemorate it. This link won't work outside the University of Cambridge, but that doesn't matter since I'm told the newsgroup has all bar dried up anyway. Someone made a film of Phoenix's final five minutes, if you really want to see what it was like.

Phoenix endeared itself to its followers with remarks like:


Please appeal to deities directly and not via Phoenix/MVS.


Being of essentially neuter gender, Phoenix is unable to help you on personal matters.


What is this that roareth thus?
Could it be a Motor Bus?
Yes, the smell and hideous hum
Indicat Motorem Bum.
Implet wheresoe'er they ply
Terror me Motoris Bi.
How are we to live with thee?
Spare us, spare us, Motor Be!
Dative be or Ablative
An thou only let us live;
Thus I sang but still anigh
Came in hordes Motores Bi;
Et complebat omnia forum
Copia Motorum Borum.
How shall wretches live like us,
Cincti Bis Motoribus?
Domine, defende nos
Contra hos Motores Bos!*

...and, allegedly, though I never found it, something along the lines of:


A light-brown coloured alcoholic beverage, which you may supply to any member of the Computer Laboratory.

Return to home page.

Thanks to Dale Strickland-Clark and Barry Landy for putting me right on the genesis of Phoenix.

* I have been told that this gem originated with A.C. Godley. If this means it's copyright, I'd refer to be told to remove this quote than sued for copyright infringement, thankyouverymuch...

Last tweaked: 23 January 2007