[vcf-midatlantic] Internal Amdahl T-Shirt preservation

Adam Michlin adam.michlin at vcfed.org
Sun Jan 16 21:27:39 UTC 2022

Hi Everyone,

As some of you know, my father worked at Amdahl from 1984 to 1993. He
held many roles, including Product Planning. Director of Design
Automation, and ultimately Director of Storage, before moving on to
other things.

He has a t-shirt that was produced for internal usage only (it was not
traditional swag) that Dean Notarnicola was kind enough to scan and
Javier Rivera was kind enough to clean up for reprinting. Javier is
also making it available for purchase, although neither Dean nor I
receive any funds. I absolutely love Javier's store (check it out even
if you aren't interested in Amdahl!) and look at it as my small
contribution to support him. My only concern was making sure the
history lived on.

Here's the t-shirt:


And here's the history behind the shirt in my father's own words
(although we're still trying to figure out the significance of the

The Story of the Amdahl 5990

During the 1970s era it took roughly 7 years from the time a mainframe
project was initiated until the product actually shipped to customers.
The technology of the time required advancing the semiconductors, then
advancing the packaging and cooling, then advancing the architecture
based on them, then tuning an operating system to support them and
finally going through a tortuous bring-up and test process to assure
that the mainframe – at prices ranging from $1 million or so up to
perhaps $9-10 million – didn’t fail in embarrassing ways on a
customer’s data center.

This 7-year cycle applied to both IBM itself and Amdahl, its major
plug-compatible competitor, and both knew it. Therefore each felt
fairly secure in the competition to market their high end mainframes
without fear of any short term surprises.

But Amdahl was a partner, both technologically and financially with
Fujitsu, a Japanese company. Fujitsu was offering mainframes of its
own design under its own brand. They were sold mostly in the Japanese
market and didn’t compete with IBM products as directly as Amdahl did.
If Fujitsu needed to field a product directly competing with IBM, it
offered an Amdahl.

Japanese mainframe users often valued fast numerical (floating point)
performance for scientific programs, and Fujitsu tended to design with
this in mind. By contrast, American users were running more
commercially oriented workloads, and IBM was known for designing to
this requirement. Amdahl’s key competitive claim was high performance
for various workloads including both scientific and commercial.

So it came to pass that Fujitsu was well along in developing its next
mainframe at a time when Amdahl and IBM were each only a year or two
into their 7-year cycle. On a visit to Japan, Amdahl engineers learned
about the coming Fujitsu product and decided that with some work to
make it meet Amdahl’s “100% IBM plug-compatible” promise, it could
compete with IBM in the U.S.

And it would be a huge surprise since it would enter the market years
before anyone expected a new, higher performance product from Amdahl,
or IBM. As a result, it was treated as a top secret within Amdahl and
quietly perfected under the code name “Hawk.” As it progressed from an
engineering project toward seeing the light of day as a full fledged
Amdahl product, it looked more and more promising, and secrecy became
more and more critical. At one point as the code name “Hawk” seemed to
be leaking, the project name was changed to “Lynx.”

The rest is history. Hawk/Lynx was announced and shipped as the Amdahl
model 5990. It was a big surprise to IBM and a market success,
especially for scientific users.

As a memento of the project, participants received a custom T-shirt, a
common Silicon Valley tradition. The words on this T-shirt said
“Amdahl 5990,” and the image combined a bird of prey – a Hawk – and a
Lynx – a relatively large and wild bobcat. And those who had worked on
the secret project knew exactly what it referred to.


Best wishes,


More information about the vcf-midatlantic mailing list