from GECOS to GCOS8
an history of Large Systems in GE, Honeywell, NEC and Bull
a view by Jean Bellec (FEB), from the other side of the Atlantic
Part III- NEC and Bull
|Nippon Electric had developed many DPS-8 compatible models, since 1973, under the ACOS-6 operating system. ACOS-6 was based upon the code licensed from Honeywell GCOS-3. This initial version evolved to support some the NSA features, somewhat independently from Phoenix, while NEC continued to have access to Honeywell software technology. One of the reasons from divergence between ACOS-6 and GCOS-8 was that NEC attempted, somewhat successfully, to keep synergy between ACOS-4 (the 32-bits operating system, inherited also from Honeywell-Bull) and ACOS-6. High end systems of the two lines had identical technology, they had the same peripheral and a close gross design (system controller structures, caches ). NEC privileged ACOS-4 over ACOS-6 and started to implement new architectural and technological features on the 32-bits machines. One of the advantage for the ACOS-6 systems was that they rely on mature and well-debugged technology.|
In 1980, NEC announced in Japan the S/1000 that outperformed the IBM 3090. It was based on air-cooled packaging technology.
General Electric Information Services was on the market to replace its aging Level-66 systems (running Mark-III). The DPS-88 proposed by Honeywell had lower performances than the IBM machines and GE was hesitant vis-à-vis the technical problems of Orion. After the announcement of the S/1000, they started to negotiate with NEC the acquisition of S/1000 for the Mk-III central system.
When the news of a GE contract leaked in the press, some other customers were also interested, but as they were GCOS users, they cannot have GCOS running on NEC hardware without Honeywell participation.
Honeywell entered in negotiation with NEC to market the S/1000 central system with GCOS-8 and Honeywell supplied subsystems world wide. The contract was finalized in 1984. A parallel agreement extended the scope to Bull territories.
The competition between the overlapping DPS-88 and DPS-90 ended with the replacement of a large number of technology-plagued DPS-88 by DPS-90 by the manufacturer.
DPS9000: Titan (1985-1987)
The 1984 distribution agreement between NEC and Honeywell and Groupe Bull included a statement of intent for a S1000 follow-on. This model, code-named Titan inside Honeywell, was primarily designed for the Honeywell (and Bull) market. The investment made by customers in the DPS-88 cooling system and the Swedish noise standards lead NEC to water-cooling for this machine. The technology of S/2000 was coming from the NEC ACOS4 S/1500 and from the SX-2 supercomputer announced in 1985.
The Honeywell system was named DPS9000.
|Groupe Bull takes over of
Honeywell computer business (1985)
Around 1984, Honeywell was starting to reconsider its commitment to the computer market. It was completely absent from the microcomputers that started to submerge dedicated office computers and minicomputers. It was almost non-existent in the technology market, having consecrated all its efforts in VLSI towards high speed CML at the expense of CMOS. The synergy between the Control Business Operations and the Computer business was very low, at a time where minicomputers were replaced by the flock of microprocessors derived from the Intel 4004 and Motorola 6500.
It was not obvious for Honeywell to find a candidate for acquiring its computer business. The last big merger was the limited success Unisys affair, where the combined business of Burroughs and Univac was significantly lower than the sum of their pre-merger business.
The only candidates were NEC and Groupe Bull. NEC was not enthusiastic to buy Honeywell. They consider themselves unable to take-over the management of the company, they did not see that Honeywell could become a long term profitable company and prefer to acquire a minority position. Honeywell management was more successful to get the Groupe Bull money. Bull had not developed any development capability on the DPS-8. A large part of the margin of Bull was coming from the GCOS-8 park, where Bull had almost no R&D expenses and where the price erosion started by IBM cloners was not altering the captive GCOS customers. In fact, Bull could not abandon the responsibility of GCOS-8 to a competitor, without menacing the core of its business. At that time, in France Japan was considered as the Evil Empire wishing to take over all the "fleurons" (jewels) of the French electronics and the Bull management had no difficulty to convince its State shareholder to buy in the Honeywell business to avoid a Nippon take-over. the mood in the mid 80s was that buying companies was extremely easy, thanks to leverage buy-outs practices that allow to pay the acquired company by selling a part of its assets.
Finally, Bull accepted to pay Honeywell in cash and NEC took a 18% share in Honeywell-Bull, Inc.
The main asset acquired by Bull was, in fact, the Large Systems establishment. However, the headquarters of Honeywell-Bull stayed in Billerica MA and H-B started grandiose developments, hiring engineers and managers from fledging US minicomputers companies.
After 4 years of Boston directed management, the Phoenix establishment was more and more controlled by Paris. The Planning, Marketing and Engineering reported independently to Paris. Under the French rule, the manufacturing facilities remaining in Phoenix were transferred in Brighton, MA. The hardware engineering became closely integrated with Les Clayes and seriously reduced. Les Clayes participate to the RPM-II project and later to the Jupiter project. A big emphasis was ported on Software Engineering productivity. Eventually, in 1994 the Black Canyon establishment was partially closed to take in account the reduction in Phoenix personnel.
Sales concentrate on very large accounts, the first level of maintenance in Northern America was sold to Wang Laboratories.
The RPM-II was designed in Phoenix on the base of the Bull CMOS Auriga technology and reuse several components of the DPS7000 French design. The RPM-II implementation trailed the French design by 24 months instead of the 9 months originally planned. Contrarily to the Japanese, neither the French nor the Phoenicians were yet experimented to derivative a 36-bits design from a 32-bits design. Also the announcements made that the RPM-II would be the last system designed in Phoenix did not improve the morale of engineers.
RPM-II was introduced as an entry point of the DPS9000 product line.
DPS9000/900: Zeus (1988-1992)
NEC was reluctant to develop a new member of the ACOS6 product line. However, the success of the DPS-90 leads Honeywell-Bull to request an "umbrella" for the DPS-9000 systems. In fact, some of the industry expectations for a main frame market evolving towards a distributed network of medium size computers did not materialize for reasons of operation cost and the perspective of open systems. Some customers did even return to centralizing their main frame operations and request more powerful computer.
NEC accepted to satisfy these needs by launching a new system, code-named Zeus and also marketed in Japan under the name of NEC ACOS S/3900. The system used a technology integration level significantly higher than the S/2000. The central processor was composed of a single large board. Each substrate was huge and quite expensive. Happily, the reliability was high and the support costs remain affordable.
After the finalization of the Auriga 2 project, that regrouped 4 DPS-7 processors on a single board to build a computer with up to 24 processors, and after the failure of supplying NEC with a XSA version of Auriga 2, the Les Clayes design team was becoming idle and was proposed to build a DPS-9000 version of the Auriga 2 system. This project was code-named Jupiter.
Formally announced in April 97, Jupiter was christened DPS-9000/700 with a maximum 8xSMP configuration at 45 Mips per processor.
The processor chip of Jupiter is one of the most integrated of its time, it includes 7.3 million transistors
Although NEC initially planned to phase out their ACOS 6 systems, some of their customers were still reluctant to move out of ACOS 6 either towards UNIX or to ACOS 4. So, NEC wished to endorse the Jupiter project for the Japanese market and received their first system in 4Q96.
[part I GE] [part II Honeywell]
Revision : 19 février 2002.