Setting the course for the LRZ
The LRZ remembers its first director, Prof. Dr. Gerhard Seegmüller, who died in April 2022 in Düsseldorf. Photo: Mads Enequvist/Unsplash
A life in the name of scientific computing: Prof. Dr. Gerhard Seegmüller was the first director of the Leibniz Supercomputing Centre (LRZ) and set the course for its successful development. After completing his doctorate, the mathematician was one of the first employees of the computing centre, programmed the first TR4 computer system here, also worked on data communication and algorithms, was appointed to the newly established, first Institute for Computer Science at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) in 1970 - – after an intermediate stop at IBM in the research laboratories of Poughkeepsie (USA) and Böblingen. Along the way, Seegmüller was appointed the first director of the LRZ, which he led until 1988: "The Seegmüller era", writes his successor Prof. Dr. Heinz-Gerd Hegering in the chronicle "50 Years of LRZ", "was characterised by a considerable system expansion at the LRZ based on systematic machine development plans, the establishment of a remote access network, the inclusion of the then emerging personal computers (PCs) into the infrastructure of LRZ and an increase in research activities at the LRZ."
Innovative researcher and disciplined organiser
Back in the early days of computer science and computer technology, many think of electrical engineer Hans Jakob Piloty and mathematicians Robert Sauer and Friedrich L. Bauer as the so to speak founding fathers of LRZ. These scientists constructed one of the first computers in Germany, the Program-Controlled Electronic Computing System Munich (PERM), and founded the "Commission for Electronic Computing" and thus the LRZ in 1962 at the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BADW). Computer and information technology developed and provoked interest in mathematics as well as engineering sciences. Scientists with a background in natural sciences such as physics or chemistry voiced their needs for computer-aided research. But it was Seegmüller who gave the academic computing centre institutional structure from 1970 onwards and turned the innovations in technology into IT services for science and research: his experience gained at IBM probably contributed to the researcher's scientific but also entrepreneurial thinking.
The mathematician, who had completed his doctorate at the chair of Prof. Dr. Friedrich L. Bauer at the Technical University of Munich (TUM), started his career at the computer centre in 1963 as a research assistant. He worked intensively on the system programming of Telefunken's TR4, the first LRZ computer system. According to the commemorative publication "40 Years of Computer Science in Munich", the German term "Betriebssystem" (operating system) goes back to Seegmüller, and he also provided groundbreaking principles for the use of computers: for example, solutions for the organisation of multi-process operation and programming schemes. "In the 1970s, newer types of computers were developed, the multi-processor or universal computers, communication between computers was also made possible, and last but not least, the first personal computers were installed," says Hegering, who was already on the LRZ board of directors at the time. All these ingredients were linked together and in 1977 formed the first communication network with several hotspots in Bavaria: a forerunner of the Münchner Wissenschaftsnetz (MWN), which the LRZ still operates today. This transformed the LRZ from a central computer centre, which the user community still visited in person, to a regional institution that served not only Munich universities but also universities and universities of applied sciences in Erlangen, Regensburg and Rosenheim, even if the transmission of programmes or results still took weeks.
Visionary and tenacious campaigner
Figures show that until 1982, the demand for computing power from the LRZ increased eightfold every seven years. The computer resources at the back-then home to LRZ in Barer Straße downton Munich were constantly overloaded at that time. And so Seegmüller developed a master plan with the directorate and the commission: The LRZ is to become a high-performance computing centre, its capacities are to increase fivefold in two steps by 1988, the long-distance data networks are to be expanded and a new vector computer is to be purchased. "At the time, this was the largest procurement in computer technology in the science and university sector," Hegering reports. "Different subcomponents were planned into a complete system, which was also a new way of doing things. And the whole system cost many millions, which we first had to get from the politicians." Seegmüller's team also mastered this challenge.
Hegering remembers his former boss and colleague as correct, disciplined and structured, almost strict. The researcher, professor and LRZ director was extremely open-minded towards new things, and in private had proven to be an idiosyncratic but pleasant, even funny conversationalist and bon vivant. "Seegmüller got me started in computer science as a mathematician," Hegering recounts. "Shortly after I started at the LRZ, Seegmüller became head of the directorate there. He had brought research questions on computer systems and their applications along from his stay at IBM in the USA. Together with an LRZ colleague, I was one of the critical listeners to his first lectures; there were no terms or definitions for IT technology and its functions back then." Seegmüller handed over the LRZ leadership to his successor in 1988 and moved to the Gesellschaft für Mathematik und Datenverarbeitung (Society for Mathematics and Data Processing) in Sankt Augustin as director, from which the Fraunhofer Institute for Algorithms and Scientific Computing (SCAI) developed. In 1991, the mathematician and computer scientist returned to the LMU, became an advisor to the LRZ council and accompanied its fortunes until 1996. Seegmüller died in Düsseldorf at the end of April 2022 at the age of 91. We mourn with his family and quietly say "Servus" to an IT pioneer who set the course for the growth story of the LRZ with his knowledge and commitment.
Prof. Dr. Gerhard Seegmüller, mathematician, computer scientist and the first head of LRZ