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Chapter 38

The RW-400-a new polymorphic data system1

R. E. Porter

Summary The RW-400 Data System, based upon modularly constructed, independently operating and flexibly connected components, is the logically evolved successor to conventional computer designs. It provides the means by which information processing requirements can be met with equipment capable of producing timely results at a cost commensurate with problem economic value. System obsolescence is minimized by the expandability in numbers and types of processing modules. Real time reliability is assured by component duplication at minimum cost and by the advanced design techniques employed in the system's manufacture. Man-machine communication facilities are program controlled for maximum flexibility. Parallel processing and parallel information handling modules increase the system's speed and adaptability when handling complex computing workloads. This polymorphic design truly represents an extension of man's intellect through electronics.

The RW-400 Data System is a new design concept. It was developed to meet the increasing demand for information processing equipment with adaptability, real-time reliability and power to cope with continuously-changing information handling requirements. It is a polymorphic system including a variety of functionally-independent modules. These are interconnectable through a program-controlled electronic switching center. Many pairs of modules may be independently connected, disconnected, and reconnected, in microseconds if need be, to meet continuously-varying processing requirements. The system can assume whatever configuration is needed to handle problems of the moment. Hence it is best characterized by the term "polymorphic"- having many shapes.

Rapid, program-controlled switching of many pairs of functionally-independent modules permits nondisruptive system expandability, operating reliability, simultaneous multi-problem processing capability, and man-machine intercommunication feasibility. These are only partially found in computers of conventional design.

Computer users have been forced heretofore to match problems to computer limitations. Problem changes posed serious reorientation and reprogramming difficulties. Changes from one computer to another model, due to growth in applications, often resulted in large expenditures of time and money. During maintenance or malfunction of a conventional computer its entire processing capacity is shut down. Real time processing reliability cannot be maintained on an around-the-clock basis. The conventional machine must process its problems serially. This serious limitation is only partially alleviated by time-sharing or computing-element-doubling designs. The high cost-per-hour of conventional computer operation rules out direct man-machine intercommunication during other than emergency situations.

The radically-new polymorphic design concept of the RW-400 Data System was evolved by Ramo-Wooldridge engineers to provide a practical solution to those information processing problems now inadequately handled by conventional computer designs. The RW-400 is a powerful new tool in the field of intellectronics-the extension of man's intellect by electronics.

System description

The RW-400 Data System contains an optional number and variety of functionally-independent modules. These communicate via a central electronic switching exchange. Each module is designed, within practical economic and functional limits, to maximize system adaptability over a wide range of problem types and sizes. This new design embodies the latest proven electronic design techniques, assuring high processing speeds and high equipment reliability. The RW-400's modularity assures reliable, round-the-clock processing of information with controllable computing capacity degradation during module maintenance or malfunction. Practical man-machine intercommunication is achieved in the RW-400 system by use of program-controlled information display and interrogation consoles.

Figure 1 shows the over-all system design. Modules of various types communicate through a central exchange switching center. Computing and buffering modules provide control for the system. These modules are self-controlled and make possible completely independent processing of two or more problems. One of the computer modules may be designated the master computer and

1Datamation, vol. 6, no. 1, pp. 8-14, January/February, 1960.


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