Been there, evaluated that!

I enjoyed your column, Exciting times for '370' users, (CW, April 19, p4). The item about Qantas does not quite make sense. Why would a Qantas spokesman talk about a decision to use IBM hardware as being agonizing when they were reported as buying Amdahl?

In fact, Qantas had bought the two Amdahl 470V/5s two years previously. They opted for a pair of IBM 3032s for the airline reservations system because Amdahl at that time did not have in-house support for the conversion of the airline control program to the version required by Qantas. IBM was determined to get the business and provided a very good deal on the conversion.

The two 3032s had only 2Mb of RAM each - more than enough to run a medium-sized reservations and passenger check-in system with a response time better than three seconds on the end of a 2400bps line. With the amount of computing power on a modern desktop, people might wonder why mainframes are still used for airline reservations. It is the I/O power that has always been paramount in such systems. The ability to switch to a backup system with data integrity maintained within a minute has been a requirement of such systems since their inception. We take it all for granted today, but they were at the leading edge of software and disk storage technology in the 1970s.

I was the person responsible for evaluating these systems in the mid-to-late 1970s. I was with Qantas from 1964 to 1982 starting as an assistant programmer and becoming computer and communications services director in 1979. In fact I started programming on SILLIAC in 1961. I had the privilege of meeting Gene Amdahl on a number of occasions and was amazed at Amdahl's management flexibility compared with that of the "old" IBM. Lou Gerstner performed a management miracle in changing IBM's culture to what it is today. The entire industry is better off as a result.

John Colwell
Sydney

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