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IBM Hardware News

Gene Amdahl, Pioneer of Mainframe Computing, Dies At 92 ( 78

An anonymous reader writes: The NY Times reports that Dr. Gene Amdahl, who played a crucial role in developing the IBM System/360 series mainframes and formulated Amdahl's law, has died at the age of 92. "The 360 series was not one computer but a family of compatible machines. Computers in the series used processors of different speeds and power, yet all understood a common language. This allowed customers to purchase a smaller system knowing they could migrate to a larger, more powerful machine if their needs grew, without reprogramming the application software. IBM's current mainframes can still run some System/360 applications. ... Dr. Amdahl is remembered at IBM as an intellectual leader who could get different strong-minded groups to reach agreement on technical issues."
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Gene Amdahl, Pioneer of Mainframe Computing, Dies At 92

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    You were quoted for decades during life and will be quoted after death for a long time. That is the everlasting life after death, with an almost infinite speedup.

  • Wow ... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @11:40AM (#50922143) Homepage

    And just how many systems are running today which are still compatible with the IBM System/360?

    I can't count how many retail stores I've been in who still bring up an IBM terminal emulator to do the real work, and I've known several places which have had mainframes running since the 60s. Every now and then you swap out a part while it's running.

    That's a body of work ... safe travels Dr. Amdahl.

    • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

      by limaCAT76 ( 2769551 )

      And just how many systems are running today which are still compatible with the IBM System/360?

      Good question, on the upside nobody will be able to bully System/360 admins to run Systemd.

    • by rsmoody ( 791160 )

      We still use a terminal emulator where I work in a payment industry.

      Nearly every job I have ever worked had either bigiron or AS 400 there somewhere, banking industry, AutoZone (huge bigiron operation), Circuit City (the entire checkout system was AS 400, Best Buy (for their "green screen" most people I worked with had no idea how to use it, but those that did could run circles around the web site), debt collection agency (aka den of sin, what a horrid place to have worked), Whirlpool, it was there s

    • by niff ( 175639 )

      As far as In know, SABRE still runs on System/360 today.

      It was created in the 50's, migrated to System/360 in the 70's, and is still the central system where all bookings of all airplanes are registered, and where travel agents from everywhere in the world can check for availability, make reservations, etc.
      The main interface is a console. I've seen several attempts to create GUI's but they can't fully replace the efficient text-based interface that exists to enter commands and see results.

      If you ever fly on

      • Re:Wow ... (Score:5, Informative)

        by bws111 ( 1216812 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @12:49PM (#50922927)

        System/360? No. It runs on modern System Z hardware. System Z is capable of running System/360 application programs (but not OS's).

      • by matfud ( 464184 )

        There are a number of GDS's now (Global distribution systems) derived from reservation systems but most still provide a terminal mode. (The primary mode) I spent a few years scraping the screens to get information for a booking website. When the software was originally developed it was the easiest/only way to get the data you needed and to book flights /hotels/stuff. Plus getting exchange rates, flight routing, connections and paying per query.

        Most still seem to run on IBM machines somewhere in the backgrou

        • by matfud ( 464184 )

          Mind you a company I worked at three or four years ago still had Amdahl machines in a basement somewhere doing something. Again travel related.

    • I recall reading an article in Time Magazine about Gene (a LONG time ago) describing his hobby of tunneling in his back yard. At times he'd dig it with a spoon. He found the task relaxing and rewarding. His tunnels were quite well-built (reinforced).

      He was quite an interesting guy. Also an early adopter to liquid cooling (yes, there were others).

      RIP Gene.

      You taught us how to think outside of the box.

  • ABC computer company (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Ungrounded Lightning ( 62228 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @12:05PM (#50922409) Journal

    I had a recurring nightmare in the '80s (after Amdahl and Cray had spun out on their own): That Gene Amdahl, Gordon Bell (DEC's PDP 5, PDP 8 instruction set, PDP 11), and Seymour Cray (CDC, Cray Computers) would get together, found an "ABC Computer Company", and spend the next decades having architectural arguments but never producing a product.

    Two of them are gone now, and the world is poorer for it.

    (Ever wonder why the cabinets of IBM computers in the mid 20th century were the size they were? One of Amdahl's ideas: After seeing a facility have to tear out a wall to install an early machine (univac?) with the spectre of having to do it again to get it out some day, he designed his machines in modules that each just fit through the door and into the car of a standard elevator (with a bit of clearance for padding and room for someone to push the floor buttons. That meant lots of expensive custom cables and connectors, but still far cheaper than tearing up buildings. B-) )

    • They weren't the same size as telco racks (i.e. 19")?

      • They weren't the same size as telco racks (i.e. 19")?

        No they were not. IBM had it's own standards for mechanical packaging. But my recollection is that IBM's requirement that all its products fit through a standard 29" door predated the 360 line and was mandated by their sales department, who never wanted to lose a sale because the product could not get into a building.

        • IBM had it's own standards for mechanical packaging. But my recollection is that IBM's requirement that all its products fit through a standard 29" door predated the 360 line and was mandated by their sales department, who never wanted to lose a sale because the product could not get into a building.

          Yep. The predecessor 14xx and 70x/709x series all had cabinets that size, too. Also the 30x series, including the RAMAC (first moving-head disk drive - name is an acronym for RAndoM ACcess).

          The person (faculty

        • I've been at various parts of the Bell System and AT&T for some decades now. There were years when it was much easier to get leftover 23" telco racks for my lab than buy new 19" racks for computers, so we had a lot of extra rails for conversion. The more serious problem with that in recent years is that computer racks are generally deeper than telco racks, so not everything would fit in the cabinets (or we'd have to take the back door off.)

  • FUD (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday November 13, 2015 @12:06PM (#50922417)

    Amdahl also coined the term "FUD" meaning a company trash talking another.,_uncertainty_and_doubt#Definition
    "...FUD was first defined with its specific current meaning by Gene Amdahl the same year, 1975, after he left IBM to found his own company, Amdahl Corp.: "FUD is the fear, uncertainty, and doubt that IBM sales people instill in the minds of potential customers who might be considering Amdahl products..."

    The point is that people has always been trash talking others, but IBM was the first company that systematically employed FUD on every level in the company.

  • His imprint remains on my life to this day. I probably owe this guy more than a beer. Cheers Dr. Amdahl!

  • by laurencetux ( 841046 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @12:17PM (#50922555)

    edge first

    so does this count as unscheduled down time??

  • Brings back memories. Learned computing on an Amdahl 470 V/6 (the second one made, I think) back in the days of punch cards and standing in line at the input window...

  • Hang gliding accident.

  • by idontgno ( 624372 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @01:25PM (#50923309) Journal
    Just heard some sad news on talk radio - Computer designer Gene Amdahl was found dead in his Palo Alto home this morning. There weren't any more details. I'm sure everyone in the Slashdot community will miss him - even if you didn't enjoy his work, there's no denying his contributions to geek culture. Truly an American icon.
  • by niks42 ( 768188 ) on Friday November 13, 2015 @02:27PM (#50923865)
    Well, what a good innings and what a man who helped bring computing technology to where it is today. There must be some way that we can immortalise people like he and Seymour Cray. I worry that people will forget the legacy that mainframe computing architecture has left us; if we knew more about the history of computing architecture, we might stop re-inventing wheels.
    • by KGIII ( 973947 )

      The first wheel was made of stone and mostly square and broke after a half mile.
      The second wheel was more round and maybe made it for a mile before it broke.
      The next wheel was made of wood and it wore out and broke.
      Then we invented spokes and these would accept greater lateral acceleration forces.
      Then we invented lining them with metal so that they could last longer.
      Then we invented...

      Get the hint? Nostalgia is nice but reinventing the wheel has a proven track record.

      • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

        No hint to get, since not a single one of those is a reinvention of the wheel. Those are all refinements or improvements on the wheel.

        • by KGIII ( 973947 )

          Reinvent is, according to the dictionary, to make over completely. You'd not argue that going from, say, a stone wheel to a wooden wheel is not a complete makeover? If you'd argue that then, it'd be really tough to argue that anything that was the original complaint could also fall into that category. You'd have to be pretty damned picky to say that making a new version, in a new format, with the same goal in mind is not a reinvention. You might just as well say that atoms have been combined before and are

          • by bws111 ( 1216812 )

            But the definition of wheel is 'a circular object that revolves on an axle and is fixed below a vehicle or other object to enable it to move easily over the ground.' None of your examples invented or even improved on that concept, so they didn't reinvent the wheel.

            Don't reinvent the wheel doesn't mean don't make improvements to something, it means don't waste time coming up with a brilliant new idea when the thing already exists and is (or should be) well known.

            • by KGIII ( 973947 )

              No, they've now made it nearly perfectly circular, with spokes, and out of alloys. I dare say it has been re-invented. Unless you'd care to say that re-writing code that does the same thing isn't re-inventing as well, that is. I mean it is, by definition, doing the same thing or improving on the concept. (I'd certainly say that going from one wheel type to another is certainly a qualified but I'm sure you'll try to figure out something trivial to argue.) They've reinvented it, over and over and over again.


  • A few years a go, I read a few books about computer history. I suspect that I saw his name, but I don't remember any mention of his being from South Dakota. Being a SD native, this is nice. I see he also served in the US Navy during WWII.

    Another name to add alongside Ernest Lawrence and Joe Foss.

  • I studied your law enough to build on it. I never met you however you influenced me and I appreciate the inspiration. May you have ample CPU time for your journey and not suffer cpu latency getting there.

They are called computers simply because computation is the only significant job that has so far been given to them.