Skip to comments.Supposedly Dead Operating Systems : Digital's VMS Just Keeps Going and Going and Going...
Posted on 01/10/2006 10:17:04 AM PST by SirLinksalot
Digitals venerable VMS just keeps going and going and going....
By Keith Parent and Beth Bumbarger
MASS HIGH TECH : JOURNAL OF NEW ENGLAND TECHNOLOGY
New Englanders old enough to have worked in the regions computer industry in the halcyon days of the mid-to-late 1980s participated in one of the great entrepreneurial periods of our nations history. Those were the days of the Massachusetts Miracle, when technology titans such as Digital Equipment Corp. (DEC), Wang Laboratories, Data General and Prime Computer Inc. employed tens of thousands of high-tech professionals in what then Gov. Michael Dukakis described in a famous understatement as good jobs at good wages.
The Big Four as they were known, disappeared in the late 1990s. In the space of two years, Wang went bankrupt and was acquired by Getronics. Prime became Computervision Corp., which later was bought by Parametric Technology Corp. Data General was sold to EMC Corp., and Digital disappeared into Compaq Computer Corp., which shortly thereafter merged into Hewlett-Packard Co.
Thousands of minicomputer alumni in the region still work here, and we share some bittersweet memories of those years when New England ruled the roost. It is hard for todays New England high-tech workers to comprehend the scale of those companies. Yet a funny thing happened on their way to extinction. Their products lived on. The hardware and software they developed in the 1970s and 1980s is still being used by customers worldwide.
Take Digitals Virtual Memory System (VMS) operating system. VMS was released in 1977 to support the VAX 11/780, the first commercially available 32-bit computer in the world. The VAX/VMS system was wildly popular, and by 1982 Digital was second only to IBM Corp. in computer sales.
In 1992, Digital introduced the Alpha 64-bit computer and renamed its operating system Open/VMS. Its clustering capability which allows users to link many VAXes into a virtual mainframe is still considered state-of-the-art. Stories abound about the systems reliability; the most famous, perhaps, being how the Irish National Railroad ran its system for 17 years without a single reboot. Try to accomplish that on todays systems.
VAX, Alpha and Open/VMS are particularly prized in the financial, health care and telecommunications industries, where high availability is critical. No wonder more than 400,000 VAX and Alpha systems are used by 10 million people daily. All good things come to an end. While Open/VMS will probably survive for decades, the VAX and Alpha architectures will gradually be phased out by Hewlett-Packard, which wants customers to migrate to its newer Integrity servers. As HP removes its support for these products, the ecosystem of Digital spin-offs, most with fewer than 100 employees, will step to the fore and keep these venerable systems running. Whether its memory boards, storage controllers, or the most sophisticated software consulting services, New England really is the digital center of excellence.
New technology life cycles tend to be measured in months, not years. That may be true of consumer goods such as cell phones. But there are so many examples of robust, mission-critical systems in use today that are still supporting the financial, transportation, health care, telecommunications and energy infrastructure. We would not be the least bit surprised if Digitals systems outlive the people who created them.
Keith Parent is CEO of Court Square Data Group, an IT consulting firm in Springfield. Beth Bumbarger is CEO of Nemonix Engineering of Northborough, which provides VAX and AlphaServer upgrades, service and support.
I don't use VMS anymore ( I do UNIX and LINUX nowadays ). But I cannot help but feel nostalgic for this venerable Operating System which is reliable, easy to use and program, highly scalable, and virtually unhackable ( and which apparently, is not dead yet ).
I agree. I coded under VMS for six years, and I loved all the system services and library routines. Very powerful.
I wrote assembly for a VAX, it was like writing C.
They forgot to include 'planned obsolesence' in their feature list.
There is plenty of 'old' tech that gets phased out because someone wants to sell you the 'new' thing. But some of the old stuff is still the best.
VMS! now that brings back fond memories. they even had a help feature that was actually understandable.
who can forget sysgen, autogen, authorize, ncp, etc.?
"ran its system for 17 years without a single reboot. Try to accomplish that on todays systems.
I dunno about that. We ran a Solaris machine for five or six years without rebooting. Then the hardware wore out.
My college (James Madison University) had a VAXcluster when I was a student there 1984-87. Started off with an 11/785, 11/780, and 11/750; by the time I graduated they'd moved up to an 8650, 8600, and the 11/785. As a student operator and Computer Information Systems major, I LOVED those things. Super-easy to work with, far easier than IBM's stuff. Manning the help desk was never easy, but it was a lot easier trying to get the psych majors who were taking a computer stats class up and running on VAX/VMS instead of on, say, MVS.
Later on I worked briefly with a company that was trying to hook an early Windows PC network (circa 1992) running Gupta SQLWindows up with a MicroVAX II as a file server. The Wintel network wasn't capable of doing what they wanted it to do, but that little VAX was absolutely bulletproof.
I've got a soft spot in my heart for those things. :)
"I wrote assembly for a VAX, it was like writing C."
You say that like its a bad thing...
A lot of the reason VMS is still around is that there isn't really that easy of a migration path away from it.
When Windows came out, you could still (and can still) run most DOS programs on it.
Same story here. What a great old warhorse! I still think VMS clustering is the best of class and it's been around for a very, very long time now.
i configured the first state-owned mixed architecture VMS cluster (VAX/Alpha). a lot of unsupported stuff could be made workable under VMS. it was fun in those days!
anybody remember pathworks?
Could you sit on the hill when you were at JMU?
If you don't know what I am talking about, the answer is "no".
I was a Data General (and look alike) geek using IRIS O/S. One of the first true multi user systems. File and screen handling was a little obtuse but you could develop a lot of programs in a hurry.
The DOD has a huge investment in VMS, I can't elaborate on that but some very crucial functions in DOD depend on VMS exclusively
We still use it, running OpenVMS Alpha 7.3-2 on an AlphaServer ES40 with 2 EV67 500Mhz CPUs, 5 Gb of memory. Bulletproof. The system is used to run an Oracle data server.
The lack of support for end-user reporting tools on VMS may cause us to move to Linux at some point (~3-5 years), but the systems (hardwaree and software) are well built and run well.
This doesn't sound right.
As I recall, IBM was building 32-bit machines for decades before the VAXen.
Perhaps the article meant "...first commercially available 32-bit minicomputer..."
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