IT History Society Blog

Amdahl Recollection

November 14th, 2015 by Frederick Withington

gene-amdahlOn 11/13/2015 the NY Times printed the obituary of Eugene Amdahl, which prompted this recollection of him.

His revolutionary attack on IBM with plug-compatible high-end computers  occurred at the time I was most involved in industry forecasting for AD Little. One result was a consulting assignment from Fujitsu of Japan, which was considering funding Amdahl.  IBM had put all its software “in the public domain” in response to an antitrust suit, meaning that anyone could do anything with it. Fujitsu management couldn’t believe IBM would give away its operating systems, so they posed a set of “what if” questions to me as a consultant, such as “what would IBM do if someone modified the IBM OS,” or “what would IBM do if someone sold the IBM OS?” The answer, according to the legal definition of “in the public domain,” was in all cases “nothing.” So I obtained a legal opinion to that effect and very simply sent a copy of the questions to IBM Consultant Relations (not identifying my client).  I then visited IBM, and verified that the answer to all questions was “IBM would do nothing.”

Fujitsu then invested in Amdahl and made a lot of money.

Frederic Withington

Oct 29, 2015: IEEE Special Citation for the Computer History Museum, Unveiling/Celebration

October 15th, 2015 by Alan Weissberger

IEEE Santa Clara Valley (SCV) Section is proud to present this Special Citation at the Computer History Museum in Mountain View at noon on the 29th. This is the first IEEE Special Citation to be awarded in the USA under the new IEEE History Staff program. All are invited to celebrate this award at the world’s largest computer history museum.

IEEE members will also receive complimentary admission to the museum’s exhibits for the day. The IEEE and the Computer History Museum have an outstanding ongoing relationship for the preservation of our professional history. In attendance will be an IEEE President, representatives from the IEEE Computer Society, and members of the CHM Board of Directors. Several other special awards will be given.

The 22-pound bronze plaque will be permanently displayed in the entry level – an area open to the public.

Computer History Museum, Mountain View, CA at 12:00 Noon

Excellent Flash Memory Summit (FMS) History session with Eli Harari

August 15th, 2015 by Alan Weissberger

On Thursday, August 13, 2015, a FMS audience  enjoyed a marvelous “conversation” between FMS Technical Chair Brian Berg and SanDisk founder Eli Harari. PhD.  Eli’s narrative was stimulated and augmented by very informative slides Brian created.   Thanks also to Ken Pyle for video recording this special event.

Eli traced his career from his days as a PhD student at Princeton (1969-1973), to Hughes Microelectronics (where he had “tremendous freedom” dong research work for the US government), to Intel (EPROM inventor and fellow Israeli Dov Frohman hired him), to two start-ups he founded in the 1980s (Wafer Scale Integration and SunDisk).   SunDisk was incorporated June 1, 1988) and was later was SanDisk.  The company’s history is detailed here.

It was interesting that then Intel CEO Andy Grove turned down Eli’s request to do a “skunk works” flash memory project because it was deemed “too elitist.”  Also that Intel’s flash memory was really only good for instruction/program storage- not data storage.  That’s because it would “wear out/fail hard” after some number of writes into given memory cells.  As a result, Eli and his colleagues created, designed & developed a “Flash High Endurance Transistor” which became the core building block for Flash memories that had sufficient endurance and reliability for thousands of memory write cycles.

Another item that was interesting was the need for a “Controller” to manage the Flash memory arrays and also perform many auxiliary functions.  Eli recognized this early on and called the concept “System Flash.”  He hired Robert Norman as the systems engineer at SanDisk that would be responsible for systems design of Flash memory arrays.  Mr Norman received a Lifetime Achievement award at a ceremony that immediately followed this history session.


Hopefully, the  Sept 30 IEEE SV Tech History/CNSV panel session with Eli (and 2 others) will explore some of these gems:

  1. The genesis of the Flash Endurance Transistor & a comparison to the MOS Floating Gate transistor (co-invented by Simon Sze, PhD at Bell Labs.
  2. More details about the systems functions of the Flash Memory Controller and the opposition some leading companies/leaders had in paying for it would also be very informative and interesting.
  3. How SanDisk was able to beat the competition and emerge as the #1 seller of Flash technology.  [A FMS speaker said today that SanDisk & Toshiba together produce 40% of all Flash memory shipped today.]


Comment from Ted Hoff Jr, PhD (via email):

I really did enjoy the Eli Harari FMS history session–Brian, you did a great job!   One of the aspects that really impressed me was Eli’s understanding of the differences between storage of programs/instructions and data, and the impact that would have on the need for write cycles.  Remembering my days at Intel, it was really unusual for a semiconductor guy to have such systems understanding.  It also brings to mind Bob Noyce’s logic in hiring me–even in 1968 he realized that the trends in IC technology would lead to systems on a chip, and he approached Jim Angell of Stanford to suggest someone with a degree of systems experience.  I was on Jim’s list and got the job.
I remember one discussion with a chip designer who was working on an early DRAM.  I needed to know the power requirements, and soon learned that the proposed chip power dissipation was a function of the address applied–and certain addresses if maintained would result in chip overheating to the point of possible destruction.  The chip designer had assumed that the addresses applied would average out to 50 percent ones or zeroes on each line.  My response was, suppose a computer user decides to wait for an interrupt, and writes a short loop that resides in the high-dissipation address area–the memory would burn up while waiting for the interrupt.  That comment resulted in a major design revision.
Eli’s work was really a milestone.

About Eli Harari, PhD:

Eli Harari invented the industry’s first practical floating gate EEPROM in 1976 while working at Hughes Microelectronics. In 1978 he published research work on the physics of conduction and trapping in highly stressed ultrathin films of SiO2 under Fowler-Nordheim write/erase tunneling that became the foundational physics for today’s NAND Flash. This 1976-78 work was recognized with an IEEE Milestone in Electrical Engineering and Computing for the Floating Gate EEPROM. Eli also worked at Intel, and founded SunDisk (later renamed SanDisk) in 1988, where he served as CEO and Chairman. He invented MLC (Multi-Level Cell) Flash, and co-invented System-Flash.

Eli holds approximately 150 issued patents, and has authored numerous technical publications. He received the 2004 Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Lifetime Award, the 2006 IEEE Reynold B. Johnson Data Storage Device Technology Award, the 2008 GSA (Global Semiconductor Alliance) Dr. Morris Chang Exemplary Leadership Award, and the 2009 IEEE Robert N. Noyce Medal for Exceptional Contributions to the Microelectronics Industry. He was inducted into the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame in 2011, and is a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

He received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Obama in 2014 for “invention and commercialization of Flash storage technology to enable ubiquitous data in consumer electronics, mobile computing, and enterprise storage.


Eli’s CHM Oral History

Help on a History of IBM

August 3rd, 2015 by James Cortada

Dear fellow members of ITHS, I am an historian, serve on the board of ITHS, and worked at IBM for 38 years. Some of you may have seen books I have written on the history of the IT industry over the years. I am now going to write a large, full history of IBM from the 1880s to the present and need your help in acquiring copies of notes, presentations, and any other records you may have that help me fill in details, especially on the following topics:

–How senior management responded to the Antitrust suit, 1969-1982 and also what were specific consequences/effects on IBM’s behavior in the years afterward
–History of the PC company–we know almost nothing about its internal operations in the 1980s-90s
–Early history of IBM services in the 1980s
–Copies of site newsletters
–Copies of your resumes
–Branch Office reviews and customer proposals
–Anything else you think relevant to the history of IBM
–Covering any country, not just the USA
Anything you send me I will eventually donate to the Charles Babbage Institute at the University of Minnesota for permanent preservation. Anything I write in which I mention or quote you I will run by you to make sure what I said is OK. I can be reached at My mailing address is 2917 Irvington Way, Madison, Wisconsin 53713 USA.

Thanks in advance for your help.

James W. Cortada
Senior Research Fellow
Charles Babbage Institute
University of Minnesota

April 23rd Stanford Hero Lecture + IEEE SV Tech History + 50th Anniversary of Moore’s Law

April 18th, 2015 by Alan Weissberger
1.  April 23rd Stanford Engineering Hero Lecture: Marcian “Ted” Hoff, PhD
 IEEE SV Tech Committee officer responsible for Electronics
You can attend in person or watch the live video stream –  7pm April 23rd: Stanford Engineering Hero Lecture: Marcian “Ted” Hoff
2.  Confirmed IEEE SV Tech History future committee meetings:
  • April 28: How Did Hard Disk Drive Track Widths Get That Small? @ Western Digital, San Jose (waiting list)
  • June 1:  History of EDA/CAD for LSI Design  @KeyPoint Credit Union, Santa Clara

Meeting information at:


3. Three excellent sessions at CHM on Life of Gordon Moore on Friday, April 17th. The comments by Bill Davidow (VC and x-Intel executive) about tech effect on our social and economic life were provocative if not contentious.

A short movie on Gordon Moore was shown after lunch. You can watch it at: Gordon E. Moore | Chemical Heritage Foundation

4.  URl’s for recent articles on the 50th Anniversary of Moore’s Law: