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Andrey Andreevich Sokolov

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A.A. Sokolov — one of the most brilliant Soviet computer scientists, was a representative of the “Scientific School of Academician S.A. Lebedev”. He started his scientific career in the beginning of the 1950-s as a young graduate — Lebedev?s assistant, and in the 1980-s belonged to the list of the leading experts — designers of the most advanced Soviet computing systems.

Andrey Andreevich Sokolov

Andrey Andreevich
Sokolov

Andrey[1] A. Sokolov was born in Moscow, on the 14th of August 1930. All his childhood he spent in district Dolgoprudny — Moscow suburb, famous with its world-level physical university[2]. His parents had a house there. As a child Andrey was always very quiet and able one. Most of his free time he spent reading about famous inventors and designers or making some models. He was also a good sportsman. There was a big park near their house where he regularly went skiing, ridding bicycle, etc. Interest in sports remained with him for many years and much later, already being a student, he won championships of his university in athletics.

Sokolov descended from very interesting scientific family of high cultural standards, what naturally made notable impact on forming of his personality. His grandfather Ilya Ivanovich Ivanov, famous professor-selectionist, was the pioneer of the methods of artificial insemination. Valentina Alexandrovna Ivanova, the grandmother, graduated from the medical department of ‘Bestuzhev's Higher Courses[3]'. The other grandfather was an inspector at the ministry of education. His father, Andrey Vasilyevich Sokolov, was a prominent scientist — researcher of soils. He initiated establishing of agro-chemical service in the Soviet Union . The mother, Valentina Ilyinichna Sokolova (Ivanova), was also an agro-chemist she worked together with her husband, in the same laboratory. The younger brother of Andrey Sokolov — Ilya became a famous scientist too. He was a professor of biology — studied volcanic soils and spent great deal of his time in field expeditions.

All parents of Andrey were refined intellectuals. The y had broad spectrum of interests and, among others, collected a huge home library, which luckily has been preserved and remains in the family. The father — Andrey Vasilyevich — could tell a lot about both each book and each author; he maintained personal friendly relations with many of -his- contemporary ones. Since his own childhood he was a fervent follower of Leo Tolstoy's humanistic ideas[4] (he was even a vegetarian, like Tolstoy himself). Naturally -as a father- Sokolov the elder always tried to pass the best of his humanistic philosophy to the children.

Andrey Sokolov -the son- finished secondary school in 1947 and in the same year entered the Moscow Power-Engineering Institute (MPEI)[5]. MPEI, as a huge electrotechnical university, was an advanced scientific school where electronics and radio-related subjects were taught (and studied) on the most progressive level. No wonder that most of the Soviet computer pioneers came from it. 

Sokolov was still a student when he started work at the famous -“S.A. Lebedev's”- Institute of Precise Mechanics and Computer Engineering — IPMaCE (or ITMiVT[6]). He graduated in 1953 and received a position at the ITMiVT, having subsequently worked there his whole life. His scientific work began at the laboratory of universal computing machines , where one of the first Soviet electronic computers — BESM — had just been designed and assembled by S.A. Lebedev and collaborators of his laboratory. However, shortage of available electronic equipment complicated their work. As a result, not all necessary components were utilised in the first model of BESM and its real operation characteristics didn't reach the project level. Only one piece was produced, although its performance was quite satisfactory and the computer was intensively used.

On his “inauguration” as a young engineer, Sokolov was involved in its modernisation, what also became a “testing field” of new memory devices and peripheral units in general. That was the first time when RAM of a computer was based on electron-ray tubes. Although the improved model — named BESM-2 — appeared later as planned and already was not the quickest computer its performance and reliability were good and BESM-2 was given to serial commercial production. The need in efficient calculating equipment was enormous and BESM-2 was popular at big computing centres. Essential contribution of the young specialist in improvement of BESM was appreciated and prized — he was decorated with the order “Red Banner of Labour”[7].

Experience obtained at the laboratory also helped him to become a high-level engineer-programmer. Later he himself brought up a number of younger engineers, many of whom eventually became his assistants.

In 1958 Sokolov was engaged in another project of the institute — that was its last electron-valve computer M-20. Together with V.N. Laut[8], V.A. Melnikov[9] and P.P. Golovistikov they notably improved its initial variant and finally made it the quickest computer of the time. By that time he already possessed rich experience in maintenance. For demands of the end of the 1950-s, M-20 was reliable and very convenient in programming, and in usage in general.

In spite of intensive work general atmosphere at the institute was everything but stressed. People often worked till late but mainly from enthusiasm and scientific interest. Younger collaborators made several sport-grounds at the territory and Sokolov continued his exercises in athletics. He also was very good volleyball player, tall and slender.

In the beginning of the 1960-s, director of the IPMiCE  S.A. Lebedev started one more project. That was the most famous soviet universal computer BESM-6. Sokolov, as one of his leading assistants-designers, performed essential part of the work. BESM-6 already belonged to the second generation and was very advanced one. It was very popular among the customers and remained in the world history as one of the best universal computers of its time. Serial commercial production of BESM-6 lasted more then 17 years; some few of those computers are still in operation. In 1969 the designers were awarded the USSR “State Premium” — Sokolov was one of them.

The BESM -6 authoring team: A.A. Sokolov – the fifth from the left (S.A. Lebedev – the second from the right)

The BESM -6 authoring team: A.A. Sokolov — the fifth from the left (S.A. Lebedev — the second from the right)

When all works on BESM-6 were completed, Lebedev started design of new computation complex — AS-6. That was a powerful digital system aimed at processing of space research information. Sokolov shared leading role in this project with Lebedev and Melnikov. After the death of Lebedev in 1974, Melnikov became the director of the institute and Sokolov was appointed a deputy of the AS-6 designer-in-chief. He completed the project in 1975.

Computation system AS-6 was a three-level structure. The first level was composed of high-performance processors, RAM units and connecting devices. All those devices were connected with communication channel of the highest performance. The second level of AS-6 was designed for preparing information (data) for the central complex. It consisted of hard- and soft-ware compound connected the central complex with peripheral data storages, input-output devices and displaying devices connected with (unified) communication channels of the second level. The peripheral devices connected with the system were classified as the third level of AS-6. They were connected with the standard input-output channel of ES Computers.

AS-6 was in commercial production from 1977 till 1987. 8 complexes altogether were produced and mounted at various researching centers. AS-6 was a predecessor of the future super-computers. In 1982 AS-6 was coupled with BESM-6 for monitoring and control of the USSR-USA joined space flight “Soyus-Apollo”, and then was engaged in the following soviet space researches. Complex BESM-6 — AS-6 was subsequently improved and efficiently used at various space research centres.

Designers were awarded one more USSR “State Premium”. Sokolov was also awarded a doctorate (without submitting special thesis) for his outstanding scientific work.

In the middle of the 1980-s he was appointed the designer in chief of the modular conveyor processor  — MCP. In fact, the idea — “prototype” of that system belonged to S.A. Lebedev, who suggested it[10] (in a simpler form) already in the beginning of the 1950-s, however Sokolov's researches created scientific basis for creation of really advanced installation. Thus, he produced central processor MCP, which was able to perform 0.5 Milliard flops. Unfortunately, the following course of events in the country hampered development of both computation science and industry and MCP remained only as an experimental piece. In the 1990-s he already suffered a heavy decease but nevertheless continued theoretical researches on mass-parallelism and multi-processor cluster systems based on matrix switches.

In different times he worked as a designer in chief, head of a laboratory and a department director. His close friends and colleagues emphasise that Sokolov was always an informal leader — “de facto”, no matter where he was working. In reality -outside bureaucratic papers- his team was always characterised with absence of any formal hierarchy — the one who was a better expert (or just “knew more”) gained more authority, irrespectively of his official position. Sokolov himself possessed outstanding erudition and his authority was unquestionable. “Working with him was always interesting”. He was a quiet and modest one but very humorous and, same as his teacher S.A. Lebedev, always managed to create friendly and enthusiastic -“family”- atmosphere around himself. “Living is working — that's self-realising”, was really the way of his -and his people's- life. That was only natural that most of his younger colleagues often stayed in their laboratories almost till midnight sharing not only creative ideas but also all scientific, social, etc. news and problems. For all those who personally knew Sokolov, that was “self evident” that his wife, engineer-designer Margarita Golovina[11], also worked together with him. She participated in development of BESM-6, AS-6, designed the logical transformations unit for super-computer “Elbrus 3-1”, and took part in some other important projects.

Same as his father, Sokolov was always fond of reading and of music. He himself made a huge collection of musical records both of symphony orchestras and jazz.

However, the last years of his life were full of moral hardships. The whole computing industry of the USSR — his scientific and ideological “habitat”, was literally “crumbling into pieces” and the scholar of his dimension was no more “in demand”, at least for anything worthy of him.

Andrey Andreevich Sokolov died on the 14th of October 1998. His wife Margarita Golovina lived only two more years, working at “their” institute until her last day. They both were buried in Moscow.

Notes

1.Andrey [a n d r e i] (also Andrei )- Russian equivalent of English Andrew.

2. Moscow Institute of Physical Engineering.

3. ‘Bestuzhev Higher Courses' — the first Russian university established specially for women in St. Petersburg in 1885. It functioned until 1919 when it was integrated into the University of St Petersburg.

4. In his philosophical searches L. Tolstoy developed interest to Indian ideology, especially to Buddhist doctrines. He propagated those ideas in many of his writings and was very popular both in Russia and outside it. His theories irritated administration of the Russian Orthodox Church and he was eventually excommunicated.

5. More on MPEI in — www.computer-museum.ru

6. Russian abbreviation ITMiVT - (Institut Tochnoi Mekhaniki i Vychislitelnoi Tekhniki) is more popular, even in translated texts.

7.Soviet civil award of higher level.

8.Valeriy Nasarovich Laut  — famous computer researcher and designer. Born 1929 in Nikolaev (Ukraine). In 1952 graduated from the Moscow Power-Engineering Institute. As a student made his diploma project at the ITMiVT, where he participated in assembling of computer BESM. After graduation remained working there. In 1958 received the first scientific degree (‘candidate of technical sciences'), in 1968 was appointed a chief of department. In 1981 successfully submitted doctoral thesis and was awarded a doctorate, in 1986 was awarded professorship. Participated in design of computers BESM, M-20 and BESM-6. V.N. Laut also took part in design of supercomputers “Elbrus”: “Elbrus- 1” and “Elbrus- 2” . In 1969 he shared the USSR “State Premium” with other leading designers of the BESM-6. V.N. Laut was decorated with orders and medals. In 1956 with the order “Red Banner of Labour” (for computer BESM), in 1982 with the order “Friendship of the Peoples” (for computer “Elbrus- 1”), in 1988 with the order “October Revolution”, in 1970 with medal “For Noble Labour”.

9.Vladimir Andreevich Melnikov  — famous soviet computer scientist and organiser of researches. His biography in: www.computer-museum.ru

10. In the beginning of the 1950-s A.S. Lebedev initiated research and design of so-called Special Electronic Computing Machine (Russ. — SESM), in Kiev, which incorporated his idea of conveyor processor . Of course it was technically “simple” (almost “self made”) performance.

11.Margarita Alekseevna Golovina (1932 — 2000). She was born in Leningrad, in 1950-56 studied at the Moscow State University (faculty of physics). In 1956 — 2000 worked at ITMiVT as leading engineer-designer of electronic computing devices. She always enjoyed reputation of a “brilliant specialist and outstanding personality” among her colleagues.

Sourses:

  1. The basic source materials were kindly presented by the museum department of ITMiVT.
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