NCR 3550 Digital Library Was Re: System Pro WAS RE: Compaq Smart Array 3200 Controller as a SCSI Controller

Chris Zach cz at
Thu Jul 16 10:54:11 CDT 2020

Now in terms of the most MANLY system I worked on, that would be the 
NCR3550 we had at the IEEE Computer Society. When I arrived in 1993 it 
had been donated, but was doing nothing with 4 486 CPUs in it and a 
weird copy of AT&T unix. I took one look at the 256 bit interleaved 
memory architecture the 3 levels of cache with affinity, the infinite 
amount of space for disks, and the dual micro-channel busses and fell in 

We talked to NCR, upgraded it to 512mb memory, 8 Pentium Pro/200 CPUs, 
and dual Microchannel busses with FDDI and Ethernet interfaces. Loaded 
it with disks, installed Windows NT 4.0 on it, and turned it into TALOS, 
the main server for the IEEE Computer Society's Digital Library (which I 

Partnered with Anderson and Netscape to multi-thread commerce server 
(SSL), built an E-account system in Lotus Domino/Notes, and loaded up 
all of our SGML with an SGML to HTML converter (Dynaweb) and a custom 
tool that could convert Tek math to GIFs on the fly. That process could 
take advantage of all 8 CPUs and render complex math articles in real time.

Also did e-commerce for awhile with online credit card processing for 
memberships and conferences (SuperComputing/95 was the first conference 
to do on-line credit cards, I built that too because I was sick and 
tired of keying in the cards myself. Laziness is next to godliness)

It served for years as the CS Digital Library core server with 
30,000-40,000 accounts in active use. Man that thing was a truck, I wish 
I knew what had happened to it.

And to think, it all started with the computer room ceiling collapsing 
from all the RS232 cables from the Vax and crushing our Sun Sparc 20 web 
server that kicked off this whole thing.

I should write a book or an article about that. We did so much that was 
so... new... and all of that could be forgotten like tears in the rain....


On 7/16/2020 11:40 AM, Ali via cctalk wrote:
>>>   Had a full compliment of memory,
>>> max internal disk on the ATA controller,
>> ATA? That long ago?
>> Possible but unusual in a server, I would have thought.
> Funny story about that - I just setup a Systempro XL at home to play with. It is fully decked out w/ dual processor 50MHZ 486s (not DX2), 512MB of memory, a 4GB SCSI Boot Drive and six 2GB SCSI drives in RAID 5. The Compaq systems came standard with what Compaq called the IDA (Intelligent Drive Array). It was IDE based but did not use standard IDE drives. I think it could do RAID 0, 1, and 3 (or the equivalents there of). Compaq even had a few iterations of the controller and cached ones. Interestingly the Systempro XL had a SCSI 2 controller on the MB mainly used for the tape dive or CD while the base config came with an IDA 2 controller and could have up to eight drives. In addition you could install extra IDA controllers for even more drives or to drive external boxes. Or you could upgrade to a SCSI array - which is what I have running in my Systempro XL.
>> What OS, just out of interest?
> Target OS was WinNT 3.1 initially and then 4.0. 2K was also supported but the machine really was not meant for 2k. You could also run OS/2, Novell Netware, Compaq DOS, and supposedly there was even a version of MS LanMan (the full server OS not the client) for the Systempro that allowed SMP.
> -Ali

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