Carnegie Mellon University

History (An Overview)

The Andrew Project: History (An Overview)

In October 1981, President Cyert created the Task Force for the Future of Computing "to develop a comprehensive model for the role of computing at [Carnegie Mellon] during the decade of the '80s and guidelines for realizing that role." (1) Chaired by computer science professor Allen Newell and charged with predicting the future state of computing in higher education, the task force issued a preliminary report within four months. Its "major recommendation was the creation of an organization to develop and refine a prototype computing environment for academic use." (2) Furthermore, the proposals included increased access to computational facilities, high-quality local-area network (LAN) computing, knowledgeable people and good documentation, integrated computer literacy, and adequate financial support for research, expansion, and management. (3)

A year later in October 1982, based on the task force's preliminary report, Carnegie Mellon and IBM Corporation formed the Information Technology Center (ITC), an organization determined to implement an unprecedented, integrated personal-computing system within a five-year time frame. The ITC "had a broad mandate to design and develop whatever software environment it determined to be necessary for the future university computing environment." (4) One of the reasons Carnegie Mellon chose IBM as its partner was the company's extraordinary willingness to allow the university make the technical choices. The joint venture ultimately led to the creation of the Andrew project.

Staffed by eight IBM software developers and approximately twenty Carnegie Mellon employees, (5) the ITC visualized a networked computing system that would meet the needs of students, faculty, and staff by developing campus facilities that combined the advantages of personal computing with time-sharing technology. The best-of-both-worlds scenario anticipated reliable network connections (regardless of the number of users or their location), networked information storage, multiple-application processing, and growth capability. Underlying these features was the necessity to design a system that was functional for both the novice user and the expert programmer.

To meet these system objectives, the ITC resolved to place the bulk of the computing power within personal computers (PCs) rather than a time-sharing system. They believed that microprocessors in PCs could handle the majority of resource demands without accessing the central server, which would protect the PC from system demands of other users. The reduction in time-shared demand would effectively create a more reliable, cost-efficient system. If a single PC failed, for instance, the system as a whole would remain operable—therefore, the repair cost would be proportional to that one computer—a common configuration today, but not so then.

To support the PC system, the ITC determined that a data communications network was pivotal. It needed to run at high speed and contain standard interfaces so that PCs could be added to the system with minimal difficulty. More important, though, was the construction of cluster facilities—publicly-accessed workstation environments to service large groups of students—and large central servers that could handle applications that were too resource-intensive for PCs.

Finally, cohesion of the overall network hinged on the development of a software system that allowed system-wide access to files and network resources such as printers. With these objectives in mind, the Andrew project was born.

The ubiquity of networked computer systems in academic and professional environments might never have realized its current state without the foresight of Carnegie Mellon researchers. According to Peter Lee, professor and head of the computer science department, Andrew has transformed higher education. While many universities aspired to transform the computing environments of their campuses in the 1980s, Lee states that "No major research university had done it to the extent that Carnegie Mellon had."


Learn more about the Andrew Project with the following links:

The Andrew Project

History (The Details)

What is Andrew?

Andrew Today

People (In Brief)


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1 Cyert, Richard. "Charge to the Task Force." 29 Oct 1981.

2 Borenstein, Nathaniel S. "CMU's Andrew Project: A Retrospective." Communications of the ACM. Vol 39, no 12es (1996).

3 The Task Force for the Future of Computing. "Preliminary Report: The Future of Computing at Carnegie-Mellon University." 28 Feb 1982.

4 Borenstein, Nathaniel S. "CMU's Andrew Project: A Retrospective." Communications of the ACM. Vol 39, no 12es (1996).

5 Morris, James H. "War Stories from Andrew." A Virtual Version of Communications of the ACM  (Dec 1996).