ACD Atlas Computing Division STARLINK

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Overview

STARLINK was a project unconnected with the Interactive Computing Facility in that it was aimed at astronomers not engineers but it was similar in that it was aiming to distribute a set of networked multi-user systems around the UK at centres of excellence in Astronomy.

In the 1970's it became clear that the data processing facilities available at that time to UK astronomers were inadequate to deal with the anticipated flood of data in digital form which would be generated by new data acquisition techniques.

In April 1978, SRC set up a Panel on Astronomical Image and Data Processing under the chairmanship of Professor Mike Disney to ascertain the computing needs of UK astronomers for the next 5 to 7 years. It had similar objectives to the earlier Rosenbrock Panel for engineers in that its aim was to establish the need and propose a solution. This Panel reported in April 1979 and recommended the installation of 6 super-minicomputers connected together in a star network by leased lines; hence the name STARLINK.

Mike Disney, Neil MacFarlane and Malcolm Longair at the Starlink Inauguration

Mike Disney, Neil MacFarlane and Malcolm Longair at the Starlink Inauguration
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As the staff of the ICF had the expertise in setting up such systems, having just installed Prime and GEC systems throughout the UK, they were asked to work with the astronomers in assessing the systems available, purchasing the systems, and setting up the network.

STARLINK was very successful, running until 2005. The original 6 sites grew too around 30 and the user base from 200 to 2000. A good description of the system can be found in Mike Lawden's 1996 paper.