Random-access method of accounting and control

The hard drive pioneer.


Reynold - or Rey - Johnson was born on July 7th, 1906 and died on September 15th, 1998, ninety two years later. He built a submarine in a horse trough in his family home and became a maths and science teacher in Michigan. In 1933 the great depression cost him his job. At the school he had invented an automated scoring system for scholastic testing. He presented his ideas to a professor at Columbia University who referred him to IBM. The proposal was accepted and he was hired as a senior engineer at Endicott. The IBM 805 test scoring machine was announced in 1937. But this was small beer compared to what was to follow.

He registered in excess of 50 patents before he moved to San Jose and helped found Silicon Valley.

At that time data was fed into computers by punched cards or by tape reels. There were decks of cards with fixed positions denoting numbers and letters which indicated job control language and data for the batch mainframe computers of the time. The cards were read mechanically, one at a time, with light shining though the punched holes and being detected by readers. It was a slow process.

In San Jose Rey Johnson developed the first magnetic disk drive. This was an awesome advance which has under-pinned computing ever since. This was RAMAC, which became known as Winchester technology. It was shipped in 1956 as the IBM 305 - fifty years ago.

RAMAC had 50 metallic platters, each 24 inches in diameter. It had a 5MB storage capacity and used read-write capabilities and magnetic-oxide coating that are still central features of hard drives.

According to Wikipedia, it had 100 recording surfaces each with 100 tracks. The disks spun at 1,200rpm. Data transfer rate was 8,800 characters per second. Two independent access arms moved up and down to select a disk and in and out to select a recording track, all under servo control.

The revolution was random access. There was no longer any need to read a tape reel sequentially or a card deck from end to end. Information could be located much more quickly.

RAMAC weighed about a ton and need a fork-lift truck to move it. Longer distance delivery needed a cargo airplane. Apparently the storage capacity of the drive could have been increased above five megabytes but IBM's marketing group didn't know how to sell a product with more storage.

Before Reynolds retirement he helped Sony invent the VCR, released in 1971.

He became an IBM fellow and was elected to the Silicon Valley Engineering Hall of Fame. Without Reynolds computing would be stuck in the dark ages. He was a genius.

Today, Hitachi GST, Fujitsu, Samsung, Seagate, Toshiba and Western Digital are all dependent on his legacy, Ditto Microsoft and every software application provider storing information on hard drives.

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