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Gene Amdahl


Gene Amdahl

Gene Amdahl
Gene Amdahl addressing a UW–Madison Alumni gathering, March 13, 2008
Born (1922-11-16) November 16, 1922
Flandreau, South Dakota
Nationality American
Fields Entrepreneur
Computer science
Institutions degrees in theoretical physics from the University of Wisconsin.
Alma mater South Dakota State University (B.S., 1948)
University of Wisconsin–Madison (M.S.; Ph.D., 1952)
Thesis The Logical Design of an Intermediate Speed Digital Computer (1953)
Doctoral advisor Harold A. Peterson[1]
Known for founding Amdahl Corporation; formulating Amdahl's law; IBM 360, 704
Notable awards National Academy of Engineering (1967)
Computer History Museum Fellow (1998) [2]

Gene Myron Amdahl (born November 16, 1922) is an American computer architect and high-tech entrepreneur, chiefly known for his work on mainframe computers at IBM and later his own companies, especially Amdahl Corporation. He formulated Amdahl's law, which states a fundamental limitation of parallel computing.


  • Childhood and education 1
  • The IBM & Amdahl years 2
  • 1979–present: entrepreneur 3
  • Norwegian ancestry 4
  • Awards 5
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Childhood and education

Amdahl was born to immigrant parents of Norwegian and Swedish descent in Flandreau, South Dakota. After serving in the Navy during WWII he completed a degree in engineering physics at South Dakota State University in 1948. He went on to study theoretical physics at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and completed his doctorate there in 1952 with a thesis titled A Logical Design of an Intermediate Speed Digital Computer and creating his first computer, the WISC. He then went straight from Wisconsin to a well-paid position at IBM in June 1952.

The IBM & Amdahl years

At IBM, Amdahl worked on the IBM 704, the IBM 709, and then the Stretch project, the basis for the IBM 7030. He left IBM in December 1955 but returned in September 1960 (after working at Ramo Wooldridge and at Aeronutronic). On his return he became chief architect of System/360 and was named an IBM Fellow in 1965, and head of the ACS Laboratory in Menlo Park, California. He left IBM again in September 1970, after his ideas for computer development were rejected, and set up Amdahl Corporation in Sunnyvale, California with aid from Fujitsu.

Competing with IBM in the mainframe market, the company manufactured "plug-compatible" mainframes, shipping its first machine in 1975 – the Amdahl 470V/6, a less expensive, more reliable and faster replacement for the System 370/168. By purchasing an Amdahl 470 and plug-compatible peripheral devices from third-party manufacturers, customers could now run S/360 and S/370 applications without buying actual IBM hardware. Amdahl's software team developed VM/PE, software designed to optimize the performance of IBM's MVS operating system when running under IBM's VM operating system. By 1979, Amdahl Corporation had sold over a US$1 billion of V6 and V7 mainframes and had over 6,000 employees worldwide. The corporation went on to distribute an IBM-plug-compatible front-end processor (the 4705) as well as high-performance disk drives, both jointly developed with Fujitsu engineers.

At the Spring Joint Computer Conference, Amdahl along with three other computer architects, most notably Dan Slotnick, ILLIAC IV architect, engaged in a discussion on future architectural trends. Amdahl argued, verbally and in three written pages, for performance limitations in any special feature or mode introduced to new machines. This resulted in two, major and lesser, "laws" of computer performance regarding sequential vs. parallel processing. These arguments continue to this day.

1979–present: entrepreneur

Amdahl left his eponymous company in August 1979 to set up Trilogy Systems. With over US$200 million in funds Trilogy was aimed at designing an integrated chip for even cheaper mainframes. The chip development failed within months of the company's $60 million public offering; thereafter, the company focused on developing its VLSI technology and, when that project failed, in 1985 Trilogy merged into Elxsi. Elxsi also did poorly and Amdahl left in 1989, having already founded his next venture, Andor International, in 1987. Andor hoped to compete in the mid-sized mainframe market, using improved manufacturing techniques developed by one of the company's employees, Robert F. Brown, to make smaller, more efficient machines. Production problems and strong competition led the company into bankruptcy by 1995.

Amdahl co-founded Commercial Data Servers in 1996, again in Sunnyvale, and again developing mainframe-like machines but this time with new super-cooled processor designs and aimed at physically smaller systems. One such machine, from 1997, was the ESP/490 (Enterprise Server Platform/490), an enhancement of IBM's P/390 of the System/390 family. Since then, CDS has changed its name and narrowed its focus. As Xbridge Systems, the company now builds software to scan mainframe datasets and database tables for sensitive information such as Credit Card Numbers, Social Security and other government identification numbers, sensitive medical diagnosis information that can be linked to an individual, and other information such as that needed for electronic discovery. (As of early 2005, however, Xbridge's website did not list Amdahl as a member of their current management team.)

In November 2004, Amdahl was appointed to the board of advisors of Massively Parallel Technologies.

Norwegian ancestry

Gene Amdahl is a descendent of Bertha Christine Amdahl, who migrated from Norway in 1857. The Amdahl farm is situated in the township of Nedstrand in Rogaland county on the south west cost of Norway. The farm has a long history and has several Viking graves, as well as an iron melting pot dated 700 BC.

In the summer of 2008, Gene Amdahl, together with his wife Marian, visited the Amdahl farm and Norwegian relatives in Rogaland, Norway. This was the farm from which his Norwegian ancestors emigrated in 1857. The Amdahl farm is still in the Amdahl family.

Gene and Marian in front of the main house at Amdahl.
On the face of the mountain behind Gene and Marian there is a profile of a face, called the "Amdahl troll"


Amdahl was named an IBM Fellow in 1965, became a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1967 and was recognized as the Centennial Alumnus of South Dakota State University in 1986. He has numerous awards and patents to his credit and has received Honorary Doctorates from his two alma maters and two other institutions as well. In 1983, Amdahl was awarded the Harry H. Goode Memorial Award by the IEEE Computer Society "in recognition of his outstanding contributions to the design, applications and manufacture of large-scale high-performance computers."[3]

In 1998, he was made a Fellow [4] of the Computer History Museum "for his fundamental work in computer architecture and design, project management, and leadership."

In November 2007, Amdahl was recognized with the SIGDA Pioneering Achievement Award.[5] A banquet dinner in his honor featured a short talk by Amdahl on his career, and a panel debate on the future of parallel processing. Panelists included John Gustafson (well known for Gustafson's Law). The talk and debate were both videotaped, and are available through the SIGDA web page, and the ACM Digital Library.[6]

See also


  1. ^ "WISC". Retrieved April 11, 2009. Professor Peterson encouraged them, provided space and a home in the department, and assisted in finding financing for the development of the Wisconsin Integrally Synchronized Computer (WISC), the first digital computer built in Wisconsin. 
  2. ^ Gene Amdahl 1998 Fellow
  3. ^ "Past recipients for Harry H. Goode Memorial Award". Retrieved January 16, 2008. 
  4. ^ CHM. "Gene Amdahl— CHM Fellow Award Winner". Retrieved March 27, 2015. [2]
  5. ^ "SIGDA Pioneering Achievement Award". 
  6. ^ "SIGDA Member Meeting at ICCAD 2007". 

External links

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