Charles Bachman was a pioneer in the management of computer database systems. He spent his entire career in industry, working for Dow Chemical, GE, Honeywell, Cullinane Database Systems, and his own startup Bachman Information Systems. His work at GE in the early 1960’s, building the first company-wide database management system, called Integrated Data Store (IDS), allowed users across the company to access a common database. In 1973 he was awarded the ACM Turing Award for this work.
Bachman also devoted a significant portion of his career to advancing international standards. In 1975 he was asked to join the ANSI SPARC Study Group on Data Base Management Systems (DBMS) that ultimately recommended a 3-layer architecture for DBMS. In ’77 he chaired the ANSI SPARC study group on Distributed Systems, which was tasked with providing recommendations for architecture and protocols for network connections. They would present their recommendations to a new ISO sub-committee, ISO TC97/SC16 on Open Systems Interconnect. When the ANSI group was given the secretariat of SC16, Bachman was the logical person to assume the chairmanship, though there was initial opposition from IBM on the grounds that the chair should be neutral. Bachman was, in his words, “an aggressive chairman,” setting a tight schedule for their work, and pushing the committee to deliver on what he viewed as important work. His proposal of a multi-layer model of network communications, based on his work on HDSA, Honeywell’s proprietary networking architecture, became the committee’s working document. The OSI reference model was adopted by ISO in 1983.
Though he is mostly remembered for his early work on database management systems, Bachman left an indelible mark on the evolution of computer communication by skillfully advancing his vision for computer networking through the international standardization process.
I met with Charles at his office at Bachman Information Systems, overlooking the Charles River. He was surprised when I told him my main interest was his work on the OSI reference model, as most of the interviews he had given focused on his database work. He was a pleasure to interview and spoke thoughtfully and clearly about his experiences. I could see how not only his technical knowledge, but also his understanding of people, gave him a unique ability to inspire others to work collaboratively toward a common goal.
Keywords: Database Management System, IDS, ANSI SPARC, distributed systems, ISO TC97/SC16, Open Systems Interconnect (OSI), OSI model