Feeds

IBM Hursley Park: Where Big Blue buries the past, polishes family jewels

How the internet of things has deep roots in the English countryside

Bridging the IT gap between rising business demands and ageing tools

Geek's Guide to Britain Would you like to work in a cross between Downton Abbey and Silicon Valley? For a small selection of IBMers, that’s the only way to describe their working environment, although the place we’re talking about is officially called Hursley Park.

You can get there by turning off the M3 and rattling through some pretty English village-hood before hitting Hursley, a high-end hamlet straddling the A3090. Cross over, skirting the stone bench built around a tree trunk, and you’ve entered the gateway to the Hursley Park estate, home to an IBM R&D lab since the late '50s.

It was cold and grey the day we went. Chain link fences on either side of the road make it feel like you’re entering some kind of government research facility. Think Baskerville in the BBC’s 21st century take Sherlock. However, this slightly forbidding entry quickly gives way to wide open green parkland with wooden paddock fencing.

A pheasant perched on a fence post looked completely unconcerned as we set course for the main house. While there are signs aplenty for the IBM tennis and cricket clubs, presumably there’s no shooting club.

The estate itself has a chequered history, at one time belonging to Oliver Cromwell’s son Richard; then the Heathcote family, who built the guts of the current house; the Baxendale family - owners of Pickfords; and then the Coopers, who massively extended the Heathcote’s house.

So far so Brideshead. But things took a high-tech turn in the 1940s, when the house was requisitioned by the government and became a country hideout for Vickers Supermarine's design team, where they carried out refinements of the Spitfire and Hurricane, and laid the groundwork for the UK’s post-war jets.

After the... let’s say... consolidation of the British aerospace industry, an up-and-coming US technology firm called IBM moved into the building in the 1950s, initially using the house as a development lab, before buying the estate in full in the 1960s.

Big Blue brownfield

The site has been instrumental in the development of IBM’s software technologies since the 1950s, as well as displays and disk-based storage, though those lines have now departed. It is still the home of development for CICS MQ Series technology. Or, put another way, the software that probably runs transactions on the mainframe underpinning your retail bank, and ensures the oil finds its way along the pipeline to your local petrol station.

Pulling up outside the house itself feels like the beginning of an intimate weekend in a country house hotel. Open fields to the left, woods to the front, imposing Queen Anne portico to the left. Where are all the engineers, we wonder, before musing on whether we can expect an imposing yet slightly eccentric butler to announce our arrival.

We then realise we’re at the wrong entrance. A walk around the side, past the old house’s orangery/conservatory, brought us to the thoroughly modern plate-glass reception area, which fronts the vast complex of development labs.

We were picked up by our minder for the day, John from IBM’s press operation, rather than a trusted family retainer, and taken into the main complex.

The wall immediately behind the lobby was lined with portraits. These were not of Hursley's previous inhabitants, but of the current inmates, complete with job titles like senior inventor.

Our first move was to walk back to the grand house, via a covered walkway which connected via the conservatory. En route, we passed a massive model of the site, which revealed just how much office and lab space had been plonked down in this quiet corner of Hampshire. How had IBM managed to get this all past the planners and into the middle of Jane Austen land? Mainly by building over the footprint of the massive hangars and drawing rooms that had been there previously, courtesy of Vickers - brownfield development, before the term was actually invented.

Into the main house and up to check in with John Mclean, IBM VP and lab director (Mclean has since become IBM VP and CTO for Europe). And then it was time to descend into the bowels of the house – to visit the museum... in an R&D centre.

But surely it was just a collection of knick-knacks to amuse passing visitors? Shouldn’t it be in reception?

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
Bad back? Show some spine and stop popping paracetamol
Study finds common pain-killer doesn't reduce pain or shorten recovery
Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 claimed lives of HIV/AIDS cure scientists
Researchers, advocates, health workers among those on shot-down plane
Mwa-ha-ha-ha! Eccentric billionaire Musk gets his PRIVATE SPACEPORT
In the Lone Star State, perhaps appropriately enough
World Solar Challenge contender claims new speed record
One charge sees Sunswift travel 500kms at over 100 km/h
SMELL YOU LATER, LOSERS – Dumbo tells rats, dogs... humans
Junk in the trunk? That's what people have
All those new '5G standards'? Here's the science they rely on
Radio professor tells us how wireless will get faster in the real world
The Sun took a day off last week and made NO sunspots
Someone needs to get that lazy star cooking again before things get cold around here
prev story

Whitepapers

Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
How modern custom applications can spur business growth
Learn how to create, deploy and manage custom applications without consuming or expanding the need for scarce, expensive IT resources.
Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.