Norsk Data

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Norsk Datas old building at Olaf Helsets vei at Skullerud in Oslo. Photo: Hans-Petter Fjeld

Norsk Data was a computer manufacturer located in Oslo, Norway. Existing from 1967 to 1992, it had its most active period in the years from the early 1970s to the late 1980s. At the company's peak in 1987, it was the second largest company in Norway, and employed over 4,500 people.

Throughout its history Norsk Data produced a long string of extremely innovative systems, with a disproportionately large number of world firsts. Some examples of this are the NORD-1, the first minicomputer to have memory paging as a standard option, and the first machine to have floating-point instructions standard, the NORD-5, the world's first 32-bit minicomputer.

Historical overview

Norsk Data computers in the Main Control for the CERN Super Proton Synchrotron November 1974.

The origins of Norsk Data go back to the development of digital computers at the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment at Kjeller, Norway, where several early computers had been designed, such as the SAM and the SAM 2, also known as the FLINK.[citation needed]

The success of this program resulted in the founding of A/S Nordata - Norsk Data Elektronikk on August 8, 1967 by Lars Monrad Krohn, Per Bjørge and Rolf Skår. The company became a significant supplier of minicomputers to many research projects, in particular to CERN in Geneva, Switzerland, where they were chosen to produce the computers for many projects, starting with their Nuclear Accelerator Project, Norsk Data's international breakthrough contract. The other market segments Norsk Data succeeded in were process control, Norwegian municipal administration data centers, newspapers, as well as parts of the educational, health, and university sector.

For a period in 1987, Norsk Data was the second largest company by stock value in Norway, second only to Norsk Hydro, and employed over 4,500 people.[citation needed]

In March of 1991, shortly after the Soviet Union attacks on the newly independent Lithuanian Republic, Norsk Data donated the first computer to Lithuanian Institute of Mathematics and Informatics. This donation started the development of LITNET - Academic and Research Network in Lithuania. Later that year, the network connection lines, directly connecting Vilnius to Moscow, were shut down. With the help of the hardware, again donated by Norsk Data, Lithuania was able to use it's first satellite-based internet connection, which operated at 9,6 kbit/s. This was the first Lithuanian communications line, which was totally independent from former Soviet Union.[1]

After a long period of exceptional success, the Norsk Data "empire" collapsed in the early 1990s, mostly due to not realizing the impact of the PC revolution (as well as the growing competition from UNIX-based workstations). Norsk Data technology was continued by Dolphin Interconnect Solutions. Norsk Data was purchased by Telenor and went through several rebrands and relaunches.

Notable innovations

Throughout the times, Norsk Data produced a long string of extremely innovative computers. Some examples of this include:

  • The NORD-1, the first minicomputer to have memory paging as a standard option, and the first machine to have floating-point instructions standard
  • The NORD-5, the world's first 32-bit minicomputer - beating the VAX, often claimed to be first - by 6 years[citation needed]
  • The NORD-100, a very early application of bitslicing in minicomputers
  • The KPS (Knowledge Process System), developed in joint venture with Racal plc, a system which pioneered running a multi-user LISP machine environment

Post-breakup companies

Although the Norsk Data breakup caused a large number of layoffs, a large number of employees and intellectual property lived on in various smaller companies. Some went bankrupt quite quickly, some were bought for tax purposes. The quality of management also varied widely.

Norsk Data UK

In the UK Telenor kept the Norsk Data name for several years, focusing in on Hardware support and maintenance contracts, mainly with HMCG and local governments.

At the tail end of the dot com boom Telenor decided to try and expand the service by acquiring the ISP CIX and a hosting company in Manchester, XTML. The name and business focus of this group of companies was changed several times in the early 21st Century, being known as Nextra (along with the acquired CIX & XTML), Telenor Business Solutions (still with CIX & XTML) and finally reverting to ND Norsk Data once CIX & XTML had been resold to Pipex, reportedly for less than 10% of the purchase price.

Much of the loss in value of the acquired companies was put down to the astronomical "goodwill" payment included in the purchase price during the "dotcom boom" and the poor interim management of the group.

Hardware

Significant Norsk Data computer models include:

  • NORD-1, 16-bit minicomputer launched in 1968, could run TSS from 1971
  • NORD-5, 32-bit supermini launched in 1972
  • NORD-9
  • NORD-10, 16-bit mini launched in 1973
  • NORD-10/S, version of the Nord-10 with cache, paging, and other improvements
  • NORD-50, second generation 32-bit supermini in 1975
  • NORD-100, 16-bit, from 1978, later renamed ND-100. First single-board 16-bit minicomputer CPU.[citation needed]
  • ND-500, third generation 32-bit supermini in 1981
  • ND-505, 28-bit computer allowed through the CoCom embargo of the Eastern bloc
  • ND-5000 family ("Samson"), fourth generation 32-bit supermini in 1987 (5400, 5700, 5800)
  • ND-5850 ("Rallar"), fifth generation 32-bit supermini in 1987
  • ND-5900-2, ND-5900-3, and ND-5900-4, dual-, triple- and quad-CPU 5000 series machines.

Software

In addition to hardware, Norsk Data also produced a wide range of system and application software:

  • APL compiler
  • NORD-TSS – Nord Time Sharing System from 1971
  • SINTRAN – Operating system for Nord 10 and later models, version III from 1973, III/VS in 1974
  • SIBAS database in 1975
  • FORTRAN compiler
  • ND-Paint Graphic editing - Microsoft Windows based
  • BASIC programming language compiler developed in Kiel and Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany with the CAT-System (Common Abstract Tree-Language) using the Vienna Development Method, 1983
  • COBOL compiler
  • C compiler developed in Kiel and Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany with the CAT-System using the Vienna Development Method, 1984
  • PLANC compiler - PLANC was the system language of Norsk Data - a language "defined by its implementation"
  • Pascal compiler developed by Prof. Dr. Hans Langmaack and his team at Kiel University in Germany with the CAT-System using the Vienna Development Method, 1982
  • PED – "Programmer's EDitor" Screen oriented text editor
  • LED – "Language-sensitive programmer's EDitor" Screen oriented text editor and debugger
  • ND-NOTIS – Integrated, modular word processing and office application suite
  • NORTEXT – typesetting system integrated with ND-NOTIS and SIBAS
  • Lisp Machine Lisp – MIT Lisp machine lisp developed in a joint venture Racal-Norsk.
  • MAC – Macro assembler for ND100/NORD-10
  • ND-500 Assembler – Assembler for ND500/ND5000
  • Technovision - CAD system developed in Mülheim an der Ruhr, Germany.
    Technovision was a modular CAD/CAM system which was internationally considered to be one of the best on the market.[citation needed] It was in part designed by Norsk Data Dietz GmbH. A special workstation named the Technostation was designed specifically for running Technovision. It was extremely well received by international press, and even won a design award.

Along with the above listed applications two batch languages were included, called JEC and XCOM. JEC was used primarily as a simple batch job controller, whereas XCOM was used for much more involved routines such as operating system patches etc. Most of the application came in two different editions, one compiled for Nord-100-series and one compiled for Nord-1100 series.

When ND discontinued NOTIS development in 1989, it was continued by NOTIS AS, which later changed its name to Maxware.

A point of note: the World Wide Web originated when Tim Berners-Lee wrote the Enquire program in Pascal on a Norsk Data NORD-10 running under SINTRAN III at CERN.[2]

Notes

  1. http://www.litnet.lt/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=28&Itemid=16 (lithuanian)
  2. See Tim Berners-Lee's FAQ

Sources

  • This article was originally a copy of the English Wikipedia article Norsk Data in 17th Oct 2008.