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Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

Older ThinkPads from the 300, 500, 600, 700 Series, iSeries, Transnote etc.
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ThinkDan
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Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

#1 Post by ThinkDan » Mon Nov 27, 2023 4:39 pm

Here's something I didn't know about: mid-1990's onwards IBM mainframes shipped with ThinkPads inside them, to perform certain systems management duties. Classic models including 360, 365, 380, and 600 were permanently installed in the type 9672 S/390 from 1994-2000, and T20 / T30 models in the successor zSeries from 2000. Depending upon the configuration, the mainframe could have one or two ThinkPads permanently mounted and cabled in hinged trays within the cabinet. These are referred to in the S/390 and zSeries manuals rather euphemistically as 'Support Elements', and are distinct from any external PC- or terminal-based Hardware Management Consoles. From my limited reading the Support Element appeared to provide an in-chassis console for management of the mainframe hardware.

Here's a photo from wikipedia to illustrate:

Image

Here's a video of the startup of a 9672 S/390 showing plenty of interaction with the ThinkPad 600 Support Element.... which of course had a dead CMOS battery due to age!

Notable features were as follows:

1) Power - all ThinkPads were configured for permanent power-on. For 360,365, and 380 models, an external or internal 'clip' was installed on the power switch to force it (against the spring) to 'on'; the 600, T20 and T30 models were plugged into a docking connector that achieved a permanent powered-on state;

2) Networking - all had PCMCIA token ring cards, linked to a dedicated TR hub that provided out-of-band access and communication with monitoring tools;

3) Parallel ports - these were connected to facilitate management of the mainframe; where two ThinkPads were installed as primary and backup Support Element, a parallel port switch (remember them!) was installed to provide manual cut-over;

4) OS & software - they were preloaded with OS/2 (presumably Warp 3 and then 4) with Presentation Manager tools for the mainframe hardware management.

Why do I know all this? Well, about a week ago I snapped up a ThinkPad sight-unseen out of curiosity, since it was offered as a "9672 Thinkpad". Of course there never was a type 9672 ThinkPad, but finding that 9672 was the type for a System/390 piqued my interest. Further reading started to reveal the 'Support Element' status, at which point I twigged that if it was genuine, then what I was being offered should be a classic ThinkPad in near-as-darn-it new condition, since it would have been installed in a climate-controlled mainframe chassis from new and used very sparingly.

Today, a parcel arrived:

Image Image

More shortly :)

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Re: Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

#2 Post by solidpro » Mon Nov 27, 2023 6:12 pm

Back in the mid-2000s when I spent more time in server rooms than I do now, I used to love the slide-out machines built into 19" racks. Usually 1u in height, I particularly remember an IBM one which slid out, the screen folds up, like a huge laptop.

Here's one:

https://www.ebay.co.uk/itm/154880092200

Of course it's not a full machine. It''s meant to be connected to a KVM to switch between a rack of servers. Most stuff is headless now, or dozens of machines running virtualised, making KVM something of a relic...
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Re: Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

#3 Post by fultontech » Mon Nov 27, 2023 7:04 pm

Yup, the KVM shown, or a newer version, still gets installed and used with the hardware management console (HMC) in the rack. The HMC is connected to the or many mainframe or Power servers and allows a central point to work with all connected servers and virtual machines (to add memory, CPU, etc).
Not only were unsold thinkpads used to "bootstrap" the mainframe OS, they served as an HMC at one point. IBM used unsold x-series servers as HMC for years until the product line was sold to Lenovo too.

I do not recall if the ThinkPads were used as HMC or the PS2 desktop first. I know I still ran into PS2 HMC's about 2005, and the last time I saw a ThinkPad HMC was in 1998, so I'm thinking the ThinkPads were used earlier.
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Re: Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

#4 Post by ThinkDan » Wed Nov 29, 2023 12:59 pm

Thanks, fultontech, that helps. Although I've been around a number of System/390's in server rooms, they were well outside of my skillset so I paid little attention, except to the viewing windows in the automated tape silos!

Have found a simple overview here:
The support element (SE) is the home base for all initialization, configuration, control, and serviceability tasks with the scope of a single z Systems® server. The z Systems server, like its 9672 predecessors, has an out-of-band service infrastructure, which is an approach generally characterized by the provision of hardware management and support functions outside the scope of the host operating systems. All of these functions, including monitoring, control, and error-handling functions for the system, are performed by a stand-alone external service subsystem with the support element as its central component. The support element is physically implemented on a standard IBM® ThinkPad with an OS/2 operating system, and is packaged in the frame of the z Systems server.

Image
Obviously the picture helps... when I was a systems architect I used to keep a box of coloured pencils on my desk to help visualise the complex stuff :wink:

I've found a number of other references, perhaps the most descriptive being in the 9672 manuals which I've downloaded at home. There is also an elusive (the IBM library links don't work) Maintenance Information for Thinkpad Consoles publication that I found somewhere obscure under its IBM publication ref GC38-3117-06.

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Re: Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

#5 Post by ThinkDan » Wed Nov 29, 2023 1:35 pm

Some more pictures of the ThinkPad. It was shipped in an anti-static bag from an IBM dismantler / parts hoarder company. It appears to have been used in a mainframe, as there are very light marks in some areas of the case as if it's been resting against rubber pads, but it's in pretty much perfect cosmetic condition given that it is strictly a 25 years old used laptop...

The sticker applied appears to be an IBM one rather than a dealer one. FRU 11J6220 doesn't get many hits; some simply state "IBM THINKPAD" but one or two give positively verbose(!) entries like "IBM 11J6220 THINKPAD 380E LAPTOP FOR S/390". It appears that the Support Element laptop (with appropriate preload etc.) was listed as a FRU for the S/390 to enable a complete unit swap-out in the event of damage or failure.

Image Image

It's a US-spec model, made in Mexico in May 1998. None of the Support Element ThinkPads were shipped with (main) batteries.

Image Image

The screen is the so-so FRSTN (Fast Refresh STN), supposedly less blurry than a DSTN and, to be fair, it is quite good when dragging windows and tracking the cursor around. Still clearly not a TFT, also needing adjustment of the slider for best contrast as you move between dark and light screen situations. Note just one slider... easy to assume TFT using the old rule-of-thumb :cry:

Image Image

Being as I'm a fan of the more premium models, which are almost invariably soft-touch with varying degrees of wear and degradation, it's actually very satisfying to see such a crisp and unworn example:

Image Image Image Image

As mentioned earlier, a small stainless clip has been inserted to keep the power switch held towards 'on':

Image Image

With a replacement CR1220 CMOS battery, it lives!

Image Image

OS/2 Warp 4, but with the Support Element tools set as the shell, so no desktop. It would be easy enough to edit CONFIG.SYS to change the shell to PMSHELL.EXE though to get a full desktop environment.

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Re: Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

#6 Post by fultontech » Wed Nov 29, 2023 3:21 pm

I'm not sure about the OS/2 version of the HMC software, but once they started using the x-series servers it was Linux with a Java application. The system was locked down since it is considered an appliance by IBM.
You had/have to call in to IBM support to get OS level access. If possible, I'd suggest taking an image of the drive, before making changes as it may be the last functioning OS/2 HMC in the world. :)
Or just swap out the drive and do a new install with the various recovery floppies out there.
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Re: Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

#7 Post by solidpro » Thu Nov 30, 2023 5:18 am

What a lovely oddity. Any chance of making a HDD image using something reliable?

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Re: Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

#8 Post by ThinkDan » Thu Nov 30, 2023 6:48 am

Yes, I'm in and considering options. Have got the standard desktop shell loading, with the custom Support Element shell line REMmed out. There are quite a few comments in the CONFIG.SYS telling you how to switch between standard desktop and custom shell, plus what to run to reset Support Element configuration if it became mis-configured. Did make a slip and reset to VGA drivers on the way in, but have the ThinkPad Video Features diskette downloaded so it should be trivial* to reinstall them. Oddly, no obvious Neomagic drivers on the HDD, so I wonder if it was running the standard IBM SVGA driver for maximum compatibility - it's not like it needed video acceleration.

I don't want to dismantle it to get the HDD out - to be honest I'm not going to keep it after I've satisfied my curiosity, so I'll be selling it on its 'untouched' condition. No CDROM drive or USB socket so no easy Linux boot options. Docking connector but IIRC no full-blown docking station option for this model. I'm thinking the interesting thing is not that it's an OS/2 image, but that it's an OS/2 system with the S/390 Support Element tools installed, so a simple file system copy should be sufficient, e.g. onto an HPFS-formatted CF card.

* I was an OS/2 & LAN Server Certified Systems Engineer back in the 1990's, but it's been a long time...

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Re: Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

#9 Post by solidpro » Thu Nov 30, 2023 7:08 am

so I'll be selling it on
Don't tell me that.
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Re: Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

#10 Post by ThinkDan » Mon Jan 08, 2024 7:14 pm

Time for an update on this machine.

The system checks out fine, I even dug out my JEIDA Wrap Card and IBM 3-way serial/parallel wrap plug to run all the diags :) Pentium 150, 48MB RAM and a 2GB hard disk.

Image Image

Changed the OS/2 desktop to Workplace Shell, reinstalled the correct video drivers, and lo and behold, it's a pretty much standard OS/2 Warp 4 install with FixPak XR_M010 applied, dating from early 1999. From the file access date stamps it looks like it hadn't been booted since 2002.

Image

Any foray into Selective Install was thwarted by the fact that it had been installed off an additional drive no longer present, and there was no local copy of the OS2IMAGE directories; I enabled the PCMCIA ATA storage support (drivers were commented out) to allow me to use a MicroDrive in a PCMCIA adapter to transfer a copy of the files across.

The installation is not what I'd call a 'proper' preload, more a vanilla OS/2 Warp 4 install with the FP10 and System/390 tools added, like any number of corporate internal deployment images. There's no ThinkPad-specific stuff beyond the basics of video drivers and PCMCIA support, not even audio drivers. It's spread across 4 partitions: C: for operating system, D: for System/390 tools, E: for log files, and F: as basically unused space. I took an image of the entire drive for posterity. Counter-intuitively, all partitions including the OS/2 boot partition are FAT16 formatted, but that makes sense for servicing since the system can then even be booted from a DOS diskette for maintenance, e.g. if it becomes unbootable, or to transfer files to/from.

Image Image

Actually I've had quite a trip down OS/2 memory lane with this. In order to make minimal change, but recover gracefully from my inadvertent initial error in resetting it to VGA, I spent a few weeks installing, patching, breaking, and recovering various revisions of OS/2 Warp 4 and 4.52 in VirtualBox. Reminded myself of an awful lot that had been forgotten, but was most pleased to find that Alex Taylor's OS/2 FixPak Information pages are still alive and well - I remembered these from my last active OS/2 work circa 2008, superb flowcharts for versions and revisions to base OS, fixpaks, TCP/IP, LanServer, and so on. The FixPak structure is very logical for OS/2 and its subsystems, I suspect coming from other the more mature midrange and mainframe platforms, meaning that as long as you start with Warp 4 you can successively patch it up to the final available releases.

As a dead OS (or not, see ArcaOS), it's easy to track down pretty much everything except the last few service updates that were made available to IBM enterprise customers on a subscription-only basis. The final accessible editions that I located were the v4.52 patch-rollup Convenience Package 2 Refresh distributions of Feb 2002, essentially complete install CDs for Warp Client or Warp Server with all the prior fixes & updates slipstreamed in, plus Software Choice update packages up to v9 released in Oct 2002, adding updates and fixes for USB support, TCP/IP, long-obsolete web browsers and Java versions, and so on. To remember where we were back then, one of the later updates was to fully support scroll-wheel mice!

One thing that surprised me was how easy it was to render OS/2 unbootable by, e.g. installing a driver for hardware that isn't present, but then also how easy it is to boot to a command prompt (ALT-F1 when you see the "OS/2 blob" after POST) and sort it out. I very quickly got into the habit of saving a copy of CONFIG.SYS before any such change, so that a quick boot to a command prompt could allow me to revert in seconds if necessary with a file copy, or by using TEDIT to head to the bottom of the current CONFIG.SYS and REM out the offending changes. Even things like properly installing the VirtualBox Guest Additions required such a move, in order to swap out the normally-locked video driver for the VirtualBox version. Incidentally, the VirtualBox Additions for OS/2 are on the standard Guest Additions CD image, and have good support for mouse/keyboard integration and host folder sharing. I was pleasantly surprised by how good they were.

In order to deal with live hardware, in particular for transferring files via USB or the MicroDrive/PCMCIA adapter, I first pulled out a T43 and installed OS/2 onto that, but rapidly realised that it was past the 2001 OS/2 development cut-off, and things like USB support were frustratingly obtuse. Instead, I back-tracked to a T21 and a spare 10GB drive and everything just worked - of course it would, OS/2 was still actively supported within IBM when the T2x range was current. In some ways, a 600 would seem like the Rolls Royce of Warp 4 support, being arguably 'peak ThinkPad' released before the axe hung over OS/2, but I'll leave that for a future project ;)

Having worked with the 380 for some hours now, I have a little more respect for it, but still little love compared to the premium & ultraportable models. Swapping the button cell CMOS battery was trivial, after sourcing one. The FSTN display is OK, better than DSTN but still clearly not a TFT. Fiddling with the single slider to find least-worst contrast and clarity balance gets old quickly, although luckily on this unit there is only a slight intrusion of any panel degradation, which just shows up as fringe shading at the very corners. Of course the lack of a soft-touch rubber means it is in excellent cosmetic shape, given its peculiar life, and the absence of a cancer-inducing standby battery probably explains the cockroach-like survivability of the 380 series compared to other concurrent models. Since the 380 is not one of my favourite machines, I've pretty much had my fun with it and will be listing it on ebay in the next few days. Time for somebody else to enjoy it ;)

I've been left with the T21 and T43 physical installs, several VirtualBox client images of Warp 4 and 4.52, plus a nicely set-up virtual Warp Server 4.52 with a LanServer domain and some file shares. I'd been mulling over what to use as a secure SMB v1 file server for installing and patching the ThinkPads. I don't have much love for SAMBA on Linux, so a virtualised OS/2 LanServer file server (with a shared host folder for ease of file transfer) seems like just the job. How many exploits are there in circulation for OS/2? Security by obscurity? Anyhow, it just seems "more IBM" 8) Following that logic, I'll need to dig out the Token Ring MAU, media converters and PCMCIA cards, and set up a DOS boot disk with TCP/IP, LAN requester, and PCMCIA token ring card support... actually I still have an image somewhere of just such a disk that I set up in the late 1990's :lol:

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Re: Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

#11 Post by RealBlackStuff » Tue Jan 09, 2024 2:32 am

Nice write-up! :bow:
I was a mainframe programmer in a grey past, which included working on the the 320/360/390/zSeries and many others, but until this thread I'd never even heard of this!
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Re: Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

#12 Post by ThinkDan » Tue Jan 09, 2024 8:31 am

Thanks RBS - me neither, and I supported the bl**dy things at IBM when current!

What caught my eye was an ebay listing for a '9672 Thinkpad' with no description and no photos... It was a blind purchase and a lucky dip, and rather fun, both for what it turned out to be and for learning about something I knew nothing of beforehand... :)

235, 240, 350, 360, 365, 380, 500, 535, 560, 570, 600, 700, 701, 720, 750, 750P, 755, 760, 770, 820, N33sx, PC110, T20, T30, T40, T60, T420, T460, W520, X20, X30, X40, X200, X300, X1 Carbon Gen 1, Z50
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Re: Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

#13 Post by ThinkDan » Thu Jan 18, 2024 7:15 pm

Well it's boxed up and listed on eBay now with Global Shipping... off to a new home!

I'll put up a formal 'for sale' notice in the correct place.

235, 240, 350, 360, 365, 380, 500, 535, 560, 570, 600, 700, 701, 720, 750, 750P, 755, 760, 770, 820, N33sx, PC110, T20, T30, T40, T60, T420, T460, W520, X20, X30, X40, X200, X300, X1 Carbon Gen 1, Z50
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Re: Classic ThinkPads installed in IBM System/390 and zSeries mainframes

#14 Post by ThinkDan » Fri Feb 02, 2024 4:18 am

Relisted due to a timewaster - I'll cancel any high bids from users with low feedback in future. Easy to forget that people do this when you're a good buyer and most people bid to buy :)

235, 240, 350, 360, 365, 380, 500, 535, 560, 570, 600, 700, 701, 720, 750, 750P, 755, 760, 770, 820, N33sx, PC110, T20, T30, T40, T60, T420, T460, W520, X20, X30, X40, X200, X300, X1 Carbon Gen 1, Z50
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