Computer Technology in the Museum of History, Saint Petersburg Institute for Informatics and Automation Russian Academy of Sciences

Computer Technology in the Museum of History, Saint Petersburg Institute for Informatics and Automation Russian Academy of Sciences


The article describes the history of computer technology development at the Saint Petersburg Institute for Informatics and automation of the Russian Academy of Sciences (SPIIRAN) along with some aspects of the institution's history. The experience of the organization in the use of computer technology in scientific research is systematized. An overview of the main collections of computer equipment exhibits in the SPIIRAN’s history Museum is given. The exhibition reflects certain stages of the formation and development of computer technology in the country, the emergence and development of computer science as a fundamental science.

Key words – computer technology, electronic computers, computer science, mathematical and computer software, computer networks.


The Museum of History of the St. Petersburg Institute for Informatics and Automation of the Russian Academy of Sciences continues the traditions lay down in the mid-nineteenth century on the creation of museums of scientific and educational organizations. Their main task is an in-depth study of scientific and educational material on specific natural and man-made objects, popularization of the achievements of science and technology, communication of generations through the transfer of knowledge and experience of researchers and developers. Such, for example, were the museums of Ethnography, Anthropology, the Russian language and literature, Botanical and others in the system of the Russian Imperial Academy of Sciences, Gorny, Zheleznodorozhny, Maritime, Communications and other museums at universities, the Artillery Museum.

That is why when creating the Museum of the History of the St. Petersburg Institute for Informatics and Automation of the Russian Academy of Sciences, it was decided not to be limited only by the history of the institution, but, due to the specifics of the tasks solved by the institute, interconnected with computer technology and telecommunications, to form a public scientific multifaceted museum of great sociocultural importance which is determined by the solution of the following tasks:

  • improving the general educational, cultural level and computer literacy of the population,

  • stimulation of interest in the practical widespread use of computer and telecommunications facilities,

  • preservation of the historical and cultural heritage of society associated with the creation and development of means of working with information resources,

  • preservation of objects of computer and telecommunication equipment,

  • preservation of computer and telecommunication equipment software objects,

  • replenishment and restoration of equipment samples, storage of information about lost objects

  • computing and telecommunication systems of various models, related devices.

  • excursion services for various groups of the population, familiarization with technical samples, with the basics of computer science, technical cybernetics, conducting visual classes with students on computer science, the basics of computational mathematics, etc. for career guidance.

Due to the presence of a sufficient number of unique samples of computer technology, peripherals, other exhibits, interactive information systems freely located on the exposition space, the SPIIRAS History Museum is able to solve the tasks and make its own contribution to the socio-cultural development of not only the city, but also Russia.

The History of the Development of Computer Technology in Leningrad (St. Petersburg)

The history of the St. Petersburg Institute for Informatics and Automation (SPIIRAS) of the Russian Academy of Sciences began on October 7, 1974, when the Department of Computing Engineering of the Leningrad Physical-Technical Institute named after A.F. Ioffe under the direction of Doctor of Technical Sciences Professor V.M. Ponomaryov. Note that by 1974 in Leningrad there was an acute shortage of computing power, primarily for academic institutions. The resource of the Leningrad branch of CEMI of the USSR Academy of Sciences, which was trying to assume the role of a computer center for collective use, was clearly not enough.

Quite quickly, the Department of Computing Engineering was reorganized into the Leningrad Computing Center (LCC) of the USSR Academy of Sciences. The LCC team was tasked with creating a computing system for collective use and then, on its basis, developing a system for automating scientific research. Note that not everyone had the task of commissioning powerful computers. For example, one of the institutes of the USSR Academy of Sciences, having received a scarce and expensive BESM 6, failed to launch it.

The LCC of the USSR Academy of Sciences successfully coped with the task. In 1975, such computers as MIR 2, M 6000, the first computer from the BESM 6 series were commissioned. The next year, the second BESM 6, which were immediately combined into a single computer complex, which made it possible to satisfy the needs for a while Leningrad institution of the USSR Academy of Sciences. At the same time, the corresponding operating systems, software, a set of compilers for programming languages (Assembler, Algol, Fortran, PL 1, SIMULA, APL, GPSS, etc.), standard program libraries, DBMS, and programming automation tools were introduced. In a short time, almost all software and mathematical components were installed and put into operation.

The next step in expanding computing resources and introducing new services was the installation in 1978 of the CYBER-172-6 computing system from Control Data Corporation. It was distinguished by a rational and balanced architecture, a wide variety of high-quality peripheral equipment, advanced mathematical support, and the availability of a database management system DMS-170. The system was based on a central processor, 10 peripheral processors, and a separate network processor. Architectural features allowed to increase system performance, since the central processor was engaged only in solving user problems. The first experiments on creating computer networks and connecting the resources of European computer centers were carried out in 1978 with Hungary (IIVTA) and Finland (Technical Research Center of Finland).

A further step in the development of the collective use system was the installation in the 80s of the ES 1052, ES 1060 computers (combined into a single multi-machine complex), as well as SM. This allowed to increase the number of users and expand the terminal network. Remote terminals in more than 50 geographically dispersed institutions were connected by telephone wires. The computers of the SM series were used as network computers, which were also used to automate experiments at academic institutes, as well as to control production systems.

Unlike the CYBER system, in which the circuit switching method was used to provide network telecommunications, domestic computers were combined on the basis of the packet switching method.

Unlike the CYBER system, in which the circuit switching method was used to provide network telecommunications, domestic computers were combined on the basis of the packet switching method.

The number of users has steadily increased. If in 1982 55 organizations used the network services, then three years later, in 1985, their number increased to 82.

The list of user organizations, in addition to academic ones, includes leading universities of the city (Leningrad State University, Leningrad Polytechnic Institute, Leningrad Electrotechnical Institute, Leningrad Mechanical Institute, Forestry Academy, Leningrad Technological Institute, etc.), industry research and scientific[1]production organizations (Home Geophysical Observatory, Leningrad Optical and Mechanical Association, NPO Plastpolymer, NTO Central boiler turbine and others.). The economic efficiency of the LNIVC network already in 1982 exceeded 4.0 rubles per ruble of costs, which significantly exceeded the average economic efficiency of scientific research, which amounted to about 2.5 rubles per ruble of costs in the same year.

Using the indicated computer technology, appropriate mathematical and software, important scientific problems of plasma physics, gas dynamics, and solid state dynamics were solved, quantum-mechanical calculations of electronic structures of molecules, spectra and structures of polymer systems were carried out, ephemeris calculations, studies of planetary geophysical hydrodynamics, theory were carried out climate, mathematical modeling of photocenoses was carried out, productivity forecast in ecosystems, modeling of the Man-Bio system sphere, the creation of regional models of rational use of resources, etc.

In the 1990s, the Institute retained its accumulated experience and ensured a consistent transition to modern information technologies.

It should be noted that the collective use of information and computing resources in the modern world has transformed, for example, in the concept of Data centers representing cloud services, the concepts of virtual machines.

Further development of telecommunication technologies will undoubtedly lead to a rethinking of past experience and to the construction of fundamentally new telecommunication networks.

Computing at the SPII RAS Museum of History

For a relatively short historical period SPIIRAS has preserved many unique examples of computer technology, primarily electronic computers of different generations, which currently form the basis of the SPIIRAS Museum of History.

Exhibits can be divided into the following groups:

1. Large-sized samples of computer technology.

These include, first of all, the CYBER 172 computer complex (see Fig. 1), which reflects the period of development of computer technology, "when the machines were large." It is built on low and medium integration integrated circuits. Input/Output devices are magnetic disk drives, magnetic tapes, remote terminals, printers, punch card devices of input/output information. The complex had high productivity at that time up to 1 million operations per second. The block-modular principle of building the complex made it possible to quickly change its composition depending on the tasks to be solved and provided quick diagnostics and troubleshooting.

The software consisted of a balanced NOS network operating system, Fortran, Algol, APL, Lisp, Simula programming language compilers, a set of scientific program libraries, a database management system that made it possible to solve a wide range of scientific and engineering problems.

At this complex, in particular, in 1982, calculations were carried out on the impact of the Leningrad flood protection system proposed for construction on the ecological state of the eastern part of the Gulf of Finland.

After the introduction of an embargo on the supply of computer hardware and software to the USSR in the USA, Control Data Corporation stopped the sale of spare parts stipulated by the contract. High qualification of LNIVC engineers allowed coping with all the difficulties. Failed blocks were replaced by their equivalents using domestic element base. It is interesting to note that the improvements made it possible to simultaneously increase the system performance.

Figure 1. Cyber-172 computer. SoRuCom-2020

Figure 1. Cyber-172 computer

The CYBER 172 is represented at the museum by the following devices: 1) a central processor unit, 2) an operator console with a graphic display, 3) a magnetic disk drive unit, 4) a magnetic tape drive unit, 5) a remote terminal.

Among the other large computers of the museum exposition, we note such complexes as BESM 6 and ES series machines that are quite popular in the corresponding era (Fig. 2,3).

Their practical application for solving scientific problems at the LNIVC RAS was considered in the previous section. And therefore, their fragments are preserved in the SPIIRAS Museum of History.

Figure 2. ES-1052 computer. SoRuCom-2020 Figure 3. BESM-6 computer. SoRuCom-2020

Figure 2. ES-1052 computer; Figure 3. BESM-6 computer

2. Server computers.

In addition to large machines, a certain ecological niche was occupied by the so-called server computers. These machines fully provide their resources to users of other machines through the network, although in some cases the user is allowed to work on the console of such a machine. Their distinguishing feature is the availability of resources that significantly exceed the capabilities of conventional personal computers.

Of this class of machines, the museum presents the Corollary computer.

3. Information input-output devices.

The museum has a fairly rich collection of input-output devices. These include mechanical and electronic printing machines, teletypes, dot-matrix, ink-jet and laser printers, plotters, light pens, mouse-type manipulators, devices for working with punch cards and punch tape, devices for storing information on magnetic disks and magnetic tape.

4. Personal computers.

The museum stores personal computers of different years of production, which clearly demonstrate the progressive development of technology over the past thirty years. Among them, the first mass and affordable personal computer IBM PC XT, as well as its counterpart "Pravets 16".

5. Specialized computers.

The class of specialized machines is represented by graphic stations of such well-known companies as Control Data Corporation (Silicon Graphics), Sun Microsystems (Sparc), Apple (Macintosh).

Game consoles also present in the exposition belong to the same class.

6. Communication and telecommunications.

As the number of computers increased, to improve the quality characteristics, tools appeared for building local area networks, linking computers with user terminals

The museum’s collection includes terminals, synchronous and asynchronous modems with different data rates, network devices (boards, switches), teleprocessors for building a backbone network, and satellite communications equipment.

7. Tools for performing calculations

Of a sufficiently large variety of such tools, the museum stores office accounts, an arithmometer, slide rules, simple and programmable calculators.

8. Devices for monitoring and adjusting computer equipment.

From this group of devices, the museum presents testers, voltmeters, ammeters, oscilloscopes, frequency meters, standard and special signal generators.

9. Element base for building computing and telecommunication equipment.

The exposition reflects the historically established way of building computer technology using relays, electronic tubes, transistors, integrated circuits of various degrees of integration. There are also presented nodes and printed circuit boards of electronic devices of computer technology, for using the corresponding element base.

10. Auxiliary electronic equipment and devices.

This group includes household televisions and tape recorders (as a means of displaying and fixing information) for home-made and specialized computers, a fire extinguishing installation, a climate control installation, a punch for punched tapes, uninterruptible power supplies, a microfiche reader, and a magnetic tape cleaner.

11. Software and algorithmic software.

This includes installation packages for operating systems, device drivers, major programming languages, and various application programs. The packages are accompanied by their descriptions and instructions for use on paper.

Thus, the exposition of the SPIIRAS History Museum covers from a different angle a fairly wide group of computing and telecommunication devices with appropriate software, which allows a relatively complete picture of the development directions of this type of equipment and technologies.

Ways of Further Development of the Museum

The development of the Museum is planned in the following areas: 1) replenishment and structuring of the collection, 2) the use of robotic tools for excursions, 3) the formation of interactive space for expositions, excursions, career guidance for schoolchildren, 4) analysis of the processes of structuring the history of computer technology.

The formation of an interactive space for the exposition, excursions and career guidance of schoolchildren involves the formation of collection description metadata, the user interface, the museum search system, the development of a system for displaying audio, video and text information, the collection, integration and analysis of exhibit data, the creation of multimedia collections of excursion material and etc.


The exposition of computer technology at the SPIIRAS History Museum, as an object of the sociocultural heritage of mankind, plays an important role in understanding the place of computer technology in the life of modern society and in assessing the direction of its development. The role of the monuments of material culture (in its broadest sense, including computer facilities) is that against their background, a person is highlighted more clearly, as a thinking, creating, creative being. Their study allows the younger generation to link together the system of acquired knowledge, consolidate them, find their place in life, and the specialist to comprehend the process of development of science and technology, to highlight its promising areas.

Based on the foregoing, a natural logical conclusion follows: the SPIIRAS History Museum will not stop at the achieved level, it should continuously develop further in order to more fully meet the needs of society.


This work was supported by the RFBR grant No. 19-08-00989.


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Об авторе: Saint-Petersburg Institute for Informatics and automation of the Russian Academy of Sciences

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Помещена в музей с разрешения автора 31 мая 2021