75 years of Innovators: Gene Amdahl

Jan. 8, 2004
Until the 1960s, computers were usually expensive, custom-made mainframes individually programmed for specific users.

In the 75 years since Machine Design began publication, here are some of the people who have changed the way we live.

Gene Amdahl
IBM-360 Team leader

This all changed when Gene Amdahl led a team of IBM engineers in designing the IBM-360 family of computers, a project that let IBM dominate the computer market through the 1970s. The 360 family ranged from Model 20, with 24 kbyte of memory, to the Model 91 supercomputer used for the North American Missile Defense System. These were among the first general-purpose mainframe computers with "all round" functionality (hence the name 360, as in degrees). And all 360 computers could use the same software. All 360 machines also relied on the same user instruction set, with smaller machines using microcode rather than hardware for some of the more complex instructions.

After leaving IBM over a disagreement in company policy and business strategy, he founded Amdahl Corp. The company built mainframes compatible with IBM products, making him the first successful computer-clone marketer.

He founded two other companies, Trilogy and Andor Systems, neither a stellar success, and in 1996, finally started Commercial Data Servers. If all goes well, that company will soon be marketing computers that use cryogenics and superconducting components, a stab at radically cutting the cost of raw computing power.

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