From mainframe to the Internet

There aren’t many issues that give the average system administrator a headache — except for software deployment. Many ITers may even have nightmares about computers that just won’t update or load the right drivers. And when they finally do work, the users don’t even have the right permissions.

Did you know that the concept of deployment actually has a military background? It refers to the deployment of troops and equipment. And likewise, rolling out software can feel like a military operation. This is especially true in its early days, when people literally ran across the room with CDs or even worse, with floppy disks in hand. Fortunately those days are over, thanks to all the software deployment tools that are now available.

But wait a minute. Isn’t ‘software deployment’ about agile release schedules, containers and Kubernetes? It really depends on who you ask. For web developers, it’s not about rolling out a web app or part of it. Meanwhile, someone working in IoT is likely talking about a new firmware for their device.

At Provolve IT, we view software deployment from the other side. We look at it from within the organization and everything related to using office software, including the operating system, drivers and applications. In other words, office automation specifically for workplaces that use Windows.

In this blog series, we’ll give you a tour of the wonderful world of software deployment tools that can make your life much easier.

This is Part 1 in our software deployment series. You can find the other episodes here:
What is software deployment? Part 2 – Slowed down by Snearkernet
What is software deployment? Part 3 – Login scripts, GPOs or install it yourself?
What is software deployment? Part 4 – Software deployment tools

But first, a small history lesson.

Mainframe

Software deployment is as old as the computer itself. In the 1950s and 60s, it was normal to bundle the software with hardware before the huge machines were installed on site. This was partly to avoid the cost of having an expensive consultant spend hours implementing the software.

In addition, we’re not talking about computers with an interface, let alone a graphical interface like Windows or macOS. Back then, programming was done in machine language assembly, which was quite a hassle even before the computer could start working. This is also why the systems were delivered as complete as possible. In other words: software deployment was purely a supplier business and definitely not a system administrator’s responsibility.

By the 1980s computers became commonly used in offices and were known as the ‘Personal Computer’ (PC). They also had many easy-to-use software applications. Businesses no longer needed to purchase their software along with the hardware from the same supplier. This led to software being developed for the fast-growing use of office PCs. And then the question became, “How do we deliver and install software directly onto a customer’s computers?”

Carriers

In other words, the question was, “How do we get our bits and bytes to buyers?” It began with the ROM cartridge, followed by cassettes (“Hello Commodore 64!”). Then the floppy disk was launched and went through an entire development phase from 8-inch slices in 5.25-inch disks to 3.5-inch floppy disks in a hard shell. These hard-shell disks lasted quite long; well into the late 1990s.

But by that time, a lot of software had become so extensive that it was too much for a single floppy disk to distribute. It took three floppies just to install Windows 3.1. And Windows NT 3.1 took at least 22 floppy disks! And that didn’t even include the software. In 1997, Microsoft released its last version of Office on floppy disks, which needed a daunting 55 disks for its Professional Edition.

Hello CD-ROMs!

Fortunately, Philips invented the audio compact disc in 1982. And in 1988, together with Sony, they developed the standard for an optical data carrier, which was the CD-ROM.

Wow! One CD-ROM could hold an enormous 700MB of data. In theory this would have been equal to 486 3.5-inch floppy disks. It’s no wonder the computer industry was cheering.

Unfortunately, at that point hardly anyone had a CD-ROM drive in their computer. This is why it took until the mid-1990s before software distribution became common using this more efficient and powerful optical medium.

And this led to an agreement between all data carriers for system administrators to physically go to every computer in the organization to install software. Clearly, this was a much faster and less labour-intensive process with a CD instead of floppy disks. But software also continued to grow more extensive and more complex. Thankfully this all changed at the end of the last century when the Internet made its appearance. And that changed everything.

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