An Inspiration and Serial Inventor
Hi Chris – nice piece.
I was fortunate enough to work directly for Tom for about 15 years, and participate in the amazing flow of new technology initiatives he drove. I thought you’d be interested in a couple of missing pieces to the story.
After MV/8000 and the publication of the book, Tom was exiled to Japan for a while. After every trip, he came back bursting with new ideas based on the technologies he got access to there. The immediate impact was the development of the DG/One, the industry’s first modern form-factor laptop, in 1984 – which DG subsequently failed to capitalize on despite a significant lead on the industry.
More important, was his early recognition at the time that commodity discs would rapidly displace proprietary drives, that commodity microprocessors would rapidly displace proprietary CPUs, and that commodity OS’s would capture all the apps. This drove the development of DG’s Unix workstations and multiprocessor servers, a stellar Unix implementation for commercial apps (DG/UX), and the disk array that became CLARiiON. All of this was done while DG experienced a big dropoff in its MV revenues, the company embarked on annual layoffs, the founders were removed and the bean counters took over.
In the early 90’s he saw Wintel as the next discontinuity - commodity motherboards and Windows. Tom’s focus here was to adopt Wintel, and innovate at the high end with a scalable NUMA architecture. By ’94 he saw the Internet as the next wave to catch, and started a project (Thinline) that anticipated rackmount server farms, wireless tablets (think iPad), and home wireless access points (think Apple’s AirPort).
You quoted a correspondent saying that there were a lot of Tom Wests in the Massachusetts minicomputer ecosystem. A lot of smart inventive engineers, yes – but there was only one Tom West. And the world is somehow diminished by his demise.