Pioneers in Tech: Gene Amdahl, “father” of mainframe computing

Pioneers in tech

Pioneers in tech

When you walk around with a computer in your hand or on your wrist, it’s easy to forget how much of the world still runs on mainframe computers. In this Pioneers in Tech, we look at how an estimated 10,000 mainframe computers are in use today by the world’s largest companies, most likely including your bank, your insurance company and your favorite online shopping service. It takes some powerful data processing to facilitate overnight delivery.

One of the technology giants of mainframe computing, Gene Amdahl, was born Nov 16, 1922, in Flandreau, South Dakota. He grew up on a farm, attended a one-room schoolhouse without electricity, and married a girl, Marian, from a nearby farm. While studying theoretical physics in graduate school at the University of Wisconsin, Amdahl attracted the attention of IBM when he developed the Wisconsin Integrally Synchronized Computer (WISC) as part of his PhD dissertation.

Off and on with IBM

After joining IBM immediately after graduation, Amdahl became the chief architect of the IBM 704 mainframe computer. The 704 far outsold expectations, but Amdahl left IBM in 1956 after a bureaucratic struggle. He returned in 1960, however, and became the lead on the IBM System/360 family of mainframe computers—some of which remained in use more than 50 years later. The System/360 made IBM the tech behemoth it is today. In Amdahl’s New York Times obituary, his widow Marian recalled that former IBM chairman and CEO Thomas J. Watson Jr. had singled out Amdahl as the “father” of the System/360.

Amdahl left IBM for the second and final time in 1970 to found the Amdahl Corporation—which made mainframe computers that could run the same software as the System/360 but at a lower cost. After Japanese investors bought the Amdahl Corporation 1979, Amdahl went on and found several other companies. He passed away Nov. 10, 2015, in Palo Alto, California.

Did you enjoy this installation of SmarterMSP’s Pioneers in Tech? Check out others here.

Photo: kwarkot / Shutterstock

This post originally appeared on Smarter MSP.

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