Amdahl Corporation

Amdahl Corporation

Amdahl Corporation was founded by Dr. Gene Amdahl, a former IBM employee, in 1970, and specializes in IBM mainframe-compatible computer products. It has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Fujitsu since 1997. The company is located in Sunnyvale, California.

Amdahl was a major supplier of large mainframe computers, and later of UNIX and Open systems software and servers, data storage subsystems, data communications products, application development software, and a variety of educational and consulting services. In the 1970s, when IBM had come to dominate the mainframe industry, Amdahl created plug-compatible machines that could be used with the same hardware and software as offerings from IBM, but were more cost-effective. These machines gave "Big Blue" some of the little competition it had in that very high-margin computer market segment. Proverbially, during this time savvy IBM customers liked to have Amdahl coffee mugs visible in their offices when IBM salespeople came to visit. While winning about 8% of the mainframe business worldwide, Amdahl won a position of market leader in some regions, most notably Charlotte, North Carolina. In the early to mid-1990's, Amdahl won most of the major contracts for mainframes in the Carolinas.

Company origins

Amdahl Corp. launched its first product, the Amdahl 470 V6, in 1975, competing directly against IBM's high-end machines in the then-current System/370 family. (At IBM, Gene Amdahl had co-designed the groundbreaking 32-bit architecture, 24-bit addressing, System/360 line of computers. Applications written for the System/360 can still run, unmodified, on today's zSeries mainframes four decades later.) At the time of its introduction, the 470 V6 was less expensive but still faster than IBM's comparable offerings. The first two 470V/6 were delivered to NASA (Serial Number 00001) and the University Of Michigan (Serial Number 00002). For the next quarter century Amdahl and IBM competed aggressively against one another in the high-end server market, with Amdahl grabbing as much as 24% marketshare. Amdahl owed some of its success to antitrust settlements between IBM and the U.S. Department of Justice, which assured that Amdahl's customers could license IBM's mainframe software under reasonable terms.

Dr Gene Amdahl was committed to expanding the capabilities of the uniprocessor mainframe during the late '70s and early 80's. Amdahl engineers, working with Fujitsu circuit designers, developed unique air-cooled chip designs using high speed ECL (emitter-coupled logic) circuit macros packaged in a chip with a heat dissipating cooling attachment (looked like the heat dissipating fins on a motorcycle engine) mounted directly to the top of the chip. This patented technology allowed the Amdahl mainframes of this era, unlike IBM systems, to be completely air cooled, and did not require "plumbing" for chilled water.

In the 470 systems, the chips were mounted in a 6x7 array on multi-layer cards which were then mounted in vertical columns. The cards had eight connectors that attached the micro-coaxial cables that interconnected the system components. A conventional backplane was not used in the central processing units. The card columns held at least three cards per side (it may have been more - please excuse my flawed memory). Each column had 3 large fans to move the considerable amount of air needed to cool the chips.

In the 580 systems, the chips were mounted in an 11 by 11 array on multi-layer boards called Multi-Chip Carriers (MCCs), that were positioned in high airflow for cooling. The MCCs were mounted horizontally in a large rectangular frame. The MCCs slid into a complex physical connection system and the processor "side panels" interconnected the system, providing clock propagation delays that maintained race-free synchronous operation at relatively high clock speeds (15-18nS base clock cycles). This processor box was cooled with high speed fans generating horizontal air flow across the MCCs.

Additional models of Amdahl uniprocessor systems included the 470 V5, V7 and V8 systems. The V8, first shipped in 1980, incorporated high speed 64K cache buffers to improve performance, and the first real hardware based virtualization known as "Multiple Domain Facility").

Amdahl also pioneered a variable speed feature on the V5 and V7 systems that allowed the customer to run the CPUs at a higher performance level when necessary. The customer was charged by the number of hours used. Some at Amdahl thought this feature would anger customers, but it became quite popular as management could now control expenses while still having "afterburner" speed available when necessary.

Always the entrepreneur, Gene Amdahl left the company he founded in 1980, moving on to start a couple of new technology companies.

With Gene Amdahl's departure, and increasing influence from Fujitsu, Amdahl broke into large system multi-processor design in the mid-80's with the 5860 and 5880 models.

Market exit

Amdahl Corporation enjoyed perhaps its best sales during IBM's transition to CMOS technology in the early to mid 1990s. At first IBM's new mainframe CMOS processors, the IBM 9672 G3 and G4, couldn't perform as well as spare-no-expense bipolar technology, giving Amdahl a temporary advantage. However, IBM's CMOS strategy paid off in the long run, allowing IBM's Poughkeepsie factory to produce even faster mainframes at lower cost as the technology matured. By the time IBM introduced its breakthrough 64-bit zSeries 900 in 2000, it was all over for Amdahl's hardware business, which only had 31-bit-addressing Millennium and OmniFlex servers to sell. In late 2000 Fujitsu/Amdahl announced that the company had no plans to invest the estimated US $1 billion (or more) to create an IBM-compatible 64-bit system.

Historically it is unclear whether Fujitsu/Amdahl made the right decision. Despite heavy competition from other server platforms, IBM's zSeries has enjoyed a resurgence due to the widespread adoption of Linux and the escalating transaction volumes (in CICS, IMS, DB2, and other mainframe subsystems) brought about by e-business growth. IBM's zSeries revenues are actually increasing despite declining prices. As of late 2005 IBM is the only manufacturer of production-grade IBM-compatible mainframes. However, Fujitsu announced in late 2005 that EDS would sell its line of "mainframes" outside Japan. Unlike prior models, these Fujitsu systems are not compatible with IBM's and cannot run z/OS, but the announcement has customers wondering if Fujitsu will take the next step in re-entering the (now growing) market. Amdahl also failed in its effort to introduce ObjectStar software (initially known as Huron) during this period and that product later became a successful MBO when it was onsold to TIBCO.

Amdahl customer options

z/OS 1.5 is the last release of IBM's flagship operating system still able to run on 31-bit mainframes, including Amdahl and older IBM systems. IBM plans to end support for z/OS 1.5 on March 31, 2007. In May, 2006, IBM announced that the next version of z/VSE, Version 4, would require a 64-bit system, signaling a future end to 31-bit support for that operating system. z/TPF, which became available in December, 2005, also requires a 64-bit system. The 31-bit Linux distributions will survive as long as the open source community and distributors have interest. So while there's still some potential life for Amdahl's hardware, the transition to 64-bit systems continues. Some companies and governments still have Amdahl systems performing useful work into mid-2006, and Fujitsu/Amdahl still supports those customers with replacement parts and other services.

Arguably IBM did not have a suitable replacement model for many Amdahl customers until the May, 2004, introduction of the zSeries 890. The zSeries 800 also became an attractive replacement for Amdahl machines, especially in late 2005, as that model's typical price fell below $100,000. The System z9 BC model, introduced in May, 2006, increased IBM's attractiveness yet again, and the BC drove z800 and z890 prices down even more. (Fujitsu/Amdahl now sells used IBM mainframes.) Other options include running without support, rewriting applications, or running applications under [ FLEX-ES] . FLEX-ES is a mainframe instruction set emulator that supports ESA/390 and, in some cases, z/Architecture operating systems and software.

The vestiges of Amdahl's ESA/390 emulation project were resurrected under a new name: Platform Solutions Inc. Using capital from Intel, Hewlett-Packard, and other major investors they designed a line of Itanium-based computers and software to emulate z/Architecture machines, so that they could z/Series operating systems, with z/Series channels for attaching real IBM equipment as well as virtual simulators for most hardware to minimize the need for IBM’s expensive peripheral equipment. Its LPARs hosted not only IBM operating systems, but 64-bit Intel Linux, HP-UX, Solaris and others.

Platform Solutions started shipping its machines the first quarter of 2007. This precipitated a lawsuit from IBM. Platform Solutions countered that by “tying” the sale of its software to the sale of its hardware, IBM was in violation of its anti-trust agreement with the U.S. Justice Dept. In July 2008 IBM acquired PSI and both companies dropped their lawsuits against each other. [cite web |url= |title=IBM Acquires Platform Solutions | date=2008-07-02 |accessdate=2008-09-06] PSI's machines are no longer offered.


External links

* [ Gene Amdahl. Oral history interview.] Charles Babbage Institute, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
* [ System/390 Compatible Servers] – Overview of Amdahl servers from Fujitsu Computer Systems, owner of Amdahl
* [ System/390 Compatible Servers] – Overview of Hitachi AP8000/MP-series

ee also

* Amdahl's Law
* Hitachi
* Magnuson Computer Systems
* System/390
* Trilogy Systems
* UTS (Mainframe UNIX)

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