Sunday, July 31, 2011

RIP, IBM Cambridge Scientific Center, 1992, and Founder Norman Rasmussen, 2003

The IBM Cambridge Scientific Center (CSC) closed on this date nineteen years ago, July 31, 1992. This tiny facility, far distant from the IBM Research Division HQ and IBM’s major labs, had a profound influence on computer hardware, operating systems, and on the Internet that continues until this very day.

In the past I have published a few notes on the founding of the Center.  Also notes on how and where Bob Creasy came up with his concept of a virtual machine. And I intend to add more about Ed Hendricks and his creation of the network that became known as VNET and its influence on the Internet.

But one fellow who continues to intrigue me is Norman Rasmussen, the founder of the CSC, who started Creasy and Hendricks on the paths to their innovations.

Recently a former CSC staff member, Lynn Wheeler, well known for his work on the CP time sharing algorithms, pointed me to an Obituary for Rasmussen that ran in the Boston Herald some time ago.  This obit is no longer available online, so I am reproducing it there with a couple of minor corrections for technical accuracy, with a tip of my hat to Monica Collins for her good work.

Norman L. Rasmussen, 74, high-tech entrepreneur
by Monica Collins
Thursday, January 30, 2003

Norman Leo Rasmussen of Boston, a computer software innovator who pioneered IBM's first multiple user time-sharing system, died of multiple myeloma Sunday at Brigham and Women's Hospital. He was 74.

Working for IBM from the mid-1960s until the early 1970s, Mr. Rasmussen founded the IBM Cambridge Scientific Center adjacent to the  Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He led and inspired the team that developed the Virtual Machine Operating Systems, which later became an IBM product known as CP/CMS, an early entry allowing multiple users to tap into a single computer mainframe. VM opened the way for cooperative computer programming development.

With his business acumen, scientific expertise, and fiery entrepreneurial spirit, Mr. Rasmussen soared into the brave new world of high-tech.

In 1975, after he left IBM, Mr. Rasmussen was co-founder of GSG Inc., a company that developed applications for various Department of Defense users of Arpanet, a  progenitor of the Internet. From 1980 to 1991, he was president and CEO of Teleprocessing Inc., a company he founded. TPI specialized in communications-based systems integration solutions for private sector organizations.

In 1991, he was recruited to become president and CEO of Softech, Inc., a troubled computer services company. Mr. Rasmussen succeeded in restoring Softech's viability before the company was sold in 1996.

Most recently, Mr. Rasmussen - whose family emigrated from Denmark in 1947 and who spoke three Scandinavian languages - was chairman of the Swedish-based Internet equipment company, Effnet Group AB until he retired in 2001.

Mr. Rasmussen was also a member of the Massachusetts Governor's Advisory Committee on Information Technology from 1984 to 1994.

For those who knew him, however, Mr. Rasmussen was not the starchy scientist. He was an early feminist who worked for social justice and a woman's right to choose. He was active in community affairs and was a familiar figure in his neighborhood, Boston's North End/Waterfront. He served on his condominium association's board of trustees.

Tall and handsome, with ramrod posture and a full head of white hair, Mr. Rasmussen was a well-traveled bon vivant. He frequently traveled to Europe and was multi-lingual. He and his wife, Ellen Parker, spent the 2001 holiday season traveling throughout Southeast Asia.

Yet, all journeys led back to his sailboat and the sea. Mr. Rasmussen was most at home on his sailboat, Galatea, and he spent summers sailing in Penobscot Bay.

Mr. Rasmussen is survived by his wife, Ellen Parker, the executive director of Project Bread; a daughter, Andrea; a son, Nicolas; and a brother, Eyvin.


Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Happy 47th Birthday, IBM Cambridge Scientific Center

Feb 1. 1964. What became known as the IBM Cambridge Scientific Center (CSC) was born today when IBM’s Norm Rasmussen rented the fourth floor of a newly constructed commercial building at 545 Main Street, behind MIT, just across the tracks from a starch factory.

Here are some of my notes.  Corrections or additions welcome.

MIT’s Project MAC had already leased floors  5, 8, and 9 of the building for professor, staff, and graduate student offices, and for computer rooms.
Here is how I recall the building in the min-1970s.
The first floor contained a restaurant, was it the Tech Square House?  Also there was the Office of Michael  Dertouzos, Chairman of MIT’s Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS)  and  the LCS Reference Library.
The second floor housed the CSC Computer Room; I was on that floor, as was Fritz Giesin.
The third floor housed clandestine government offices,  the CIA and perhaps others.
The fourth floor was the CSC, laid out similar to the MIT Offices above.
The MIT Floors, 5, 8, and 9 had maybe 60 offices, singles and doubles, wrapped around the elevator core. Almost all the offices had windows: none opened. The air conditioning wasn't enough for the load of people and machines in the building on really hot summer days, and failed every year, forcing them to shut down the computers before they roasted themselves. Fluorescent lights, linoleum floors, hard walls, doors that locked; they were nice offices  (as recalled by Tom Van Vleck).
Other floors had varying tenants at different times. The GE Multics team, the Cambridge Information Systems Laboratory (CISL), had offices on half of the seventh floor.  IBM had some other offices in the building.  The programming group that developed VM/370 was originally housed there.  IBM Fellow Nate Rochester and Jean Sammet were somewhere in the building.

Tech Square was reconstructed in 2001; 545 is now known as 200 Tech Square.