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Gene Amdahl, IBM mainframe architect then IBM competitor, has died

Peter Sayer | Nov. 16, 2015
Amdahl was chief architect of several IBM mainframes before going on to found the mainframe company that bore his name.

Amdahl was something of a futurist. In an interview with Computerworld published Nov. 15, 1976, he predicted the coming of smart devices and the Internet of Things; the death of disks, and the use of in-memory databases.

On smart gas pump metering, he said it may be economically feasible to make a microcomputer-based meter that "does a few little extra things and more than pays for itself. The things you're going to see coming into the fold of data-processing are going to come from areas where we never even thought about using it before. And that's going to be revolutionary, although it will be done by people who largely are not what we think of as computer people today," he told Computerworld reporter Molly Upton.

Hard disks have lasted years longer than Amdahl expected, although the electronic storage alternatives he foresaw sound way less practical than the flash memory that is ubiquitous today: "The other principle technology I think is going to make an impact is the technology that is going to allow us to replace rotating electromechanical peripheral storage devices by electronic storage, whether they are magnetic bubbles or electron beam addressable memories or however it's done."

As for in-memory databases: "More memory is going to be the biggest impacting factor of all in large machines. People will use enormous memories and will end up being able to do things much more effectively," he said.

The Amdahl 470V/6 introduced the previous year could hold up to 8 megabytes of memory: Today's in-memory databases run on machines with a million times more.

 

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