Though initially set up under another scientific body, the Atlas Computer
Laboratory has come under the Science Research Council since this was formed on
1st April 1965 within the Department of Education and Science. The same Department
administers also the Agricultural, Medical, Natural Environment and Social Science
Research Councils. The Laboratory houses the large I.C.T. Atlas computer,
which was ordered in 1961, and all the ancillary machinery and supporting
services needed to operate a powerful computer efficiently.
The Laboratory is on the west side of the A34 (Birmingham to Winchester) trunk
road, 14 miles south of Oxford, map O.S. 158 (1 inch) reference 480; 865.
The nearest station, Didcot (Western Region) is 4 miles away;
London Airport is 45 miles away; and the City of Oxford (Nos 12/112 -
Oxford to Newbury) buses pass the site. There is a map at the back.
The Laboratory provides a computing service to research workers in all
British universities free of charge. It offers this service also to Government
and other Treasury-supported research organisations
at a charge which works out at roughly £200 an hour. Bodies that are part of
the Science Research Council itself, such as the Rutherford High Energy Laboratory
and the Radio and Space Research Station,
are not charged for this service.
Broadly, the aim is that the Laboratory shall be a place to which the research
worker can turn when he has to attack a problem which demands computing power
on a greater scale than his local machinery can supply.
In addition to this service work, the Laboratory offers professional help and
advice to its users. It supports research projects by means of contracts
with universities and by offering Fellowship appointments, and pursues research
and development projects of its own.
How it is run
The organisation of the Laboratory is simple and expresses the needs:
to process work through the installation as quickly and efficiently as possible;
to provide and maintain (in some cases in collaboration with the makers of the
machine, ICT Limited) the software needed in support of this;
to keep intellectually alive, and therefore efficient by means of research
activities and contracts with outside bodies, notably universities.
who is responsible to the Council for the whole
The Operations Group
responsible for all
the processing activities - reception and despatch, card and tape punching,
operation of the computer and ancillary
machines, management of the program and data libraries, liaison with users;
The Programming Group
responsible for all basic software, assembling
and maintaining the program library, specifying and producing special 'packages'
(as for crystallographic calculation), statistical analysis and information retrieval;
The Support Group
responsible for advisory and educational services including programming courses;
in general, for helping users to get their work through he installation;
Individual Research Workers
selected for their individual distinction and in several cases elected to University
or College Fellowships;
The Administration Group
responsible for the general running of Laboratory. The Atlas Laboratory uses the
services of the adjacent Rutherford High Energy Laboratory whenever possible -
for example, payment of salaries and of accounts, personnel work, maintenance of
Atlas has an elaborate automatic operating system which takes care of many of the
tasks which, with a simpler computer, fall on the machine room staff.
greatly to the speed with which complete jobs can be put through the installation.
In particular this system, called the Supervisor, makes it easy to change from one
programming language to another and thus to process a succession of jobs written in
different languages. We can accept work in any of these languages:
Machine code ABL
Extended Mercury Autocode
The List- Processing Languages LISP; SLIP; IPL-V
The simulation language SOL
What it is doing
The machine is now - October 1967 -working 24 hours a day for 5 days a week,
or from Sunday midnight to Friday midnight.
Each week we
run 2,500 complete jobs;
read in a million cards and 30 miles of paper tape;
print 2 million lines of output;
punch 50,000 cards;
handle 1,200 reels of magnetic tape.
Of this load, about
75 per cent comes from universities (we have 800 separate projects on our books and
usually work on 170 of these each week);
15 per cent comes from government and similar laboratories - the Rutherford High
Energy Laboratory of the Science Research Council is much the biggest user here at the
moment, while the Meteorological Office has been a regular
user from the start and has written programs which stretch the machine to its limits;
10 per cent is for the research and development work of the Atlas Laboratory itself.
Almost all fields of study are represented in this work load. Naturally, the physical
sciences take most of the time, but there is a significant and increasing use by
sociologists, psychologists, economists and others.
The distribution of the university work is roughly
Mathematics 22 per cent.
Physics 18 per cent.
Chemistry 12 per cent.
Engineering 31 per cent.
Medical and Biological Sciences 5 per cent
Social Sciences 5 per cent.
Others 7 per cent.
The value of a typical week's work, at current commercial rates, is about £40,000.
The Laboratory undertakes and supports research in four ways
it has its own research program;
several members of the regular staff have research interests of their own;
it is able to give contracts to senior members of universities for specific
it has a small number of posts for individual research workers who need the
resources of a powerful computing installation to enable them to tackle their problems.
They are not burdened with any of the day-to-day obligations of the
Laboratory, and in several cases their posts have been linked with Fellowships of
Oxford or Cambridge Colleges.
During 1967, the Laboratory has added or will add to Atlas.
A 16-million word disc file, which can later have its capacity increased to
30 million words. This will hold permanently all the Supervisor programs, the compilers
and the most frequently used library programs. It will act as a buffer store for all
input/output operations in place of the present magnetic tapes and as a backing store
for big programs. Users will be able to reserve areas of the disc, often for long periods,
to store private files of data or programs that they are developing.
A system of on-line, direct-access consoles linked to the machine through a small
satellite computer and the disc file. We shall start with 12 consoles, most of them in
offices in the Laboratory but a few outside. Atlas will share its time between obeying
the instructions put in at these consoles and running the ordinary batch processing
service. Users of the consoles will be able to develop programs step-by-step, do
calculations or consult files, while getting a virtually instantaneous response from the
computer. The satellite machine will be a GEC S-2 with 32K of core
store (16 bit words, 1 μsec cycle time) with quite powerful software of its own.
This will do the pre-processing of the information coming from the consoles so that
Atlas time is not taken up by this work.
A Stromberg-Carlson Model 4020 microfilm recorder for high-speed production of
output in the form of tables, graphs, charts, diagrams or cine-films.