A Raspberry Pi VAX Cluster (2012) (rs-online.com)

81 points by awiesenhofer 124 days ago


ChuckMcM 124 days ago

Back when the Y2K thing was a thing all of these little VAXStation VLC's were being dumped on the market left and right. I had 15 of them at one time with an average acquisition price per unit of less than that of a Raspberry pi :-). Even built a 4 unit cluster for fun with a NetGear 4 port switch.

Easier to get RasPi's of course, and even easier to run multiple containers running simh to get the same experience. I can recommend playing around with a VAXCluster for while to get a feel for what a nice clustered computer command line felt like back in the 90's. There are still lessons to be learned for current developers of "cloud" systems.

    pstuart 124 days ago

    > There are still lessons to be learned for current developers of "cloud" systems.

    Any notes of your own or links on such? I'm old school myself (e.g., my first computer was a Northstar Advantage), but I never had the pleasure of working on a VAX.

      ChuckMcM 123 days ago

      I kept some notes on my "House of VAX"[1] but really DEC's documentation was a wonder to behold, binder after orange binder on everything. A lot of that is online (scanned) on the bitsavers.org web site.

      [1] http://www.mcmanis.com/chuck/computers/vaxen/

        pstuart 122 days ago

        Lots of cool stuff, but I'm curious for your elevator pitch of "VMS could do <awesomeness> but nobody does this today, if they did, they'd make cloud computing even more powerful".

        Lessons for the lazy, as it were :-)

    mustntmumble 124 days ago

    I find that odd that the VAXStation VLC's were being dumped because of Y2K. VMS has a 64-bit datetime data structure. The C run-time library still had the Year2038 time problem though...

      ChuckMcM 123 days ago

      It wasn't just VLCs, at one time in my collection I had an example of every kind of QBUS VAX DEC ever made and every chassis type.

      That said, its possible that some less than ethical IT people may have used the Y2K fix it mandate as an excuse for upgrading all their toys to new gear, but I know nothing about that.

cowmix 124 days ago

Ok.. The problem I've haven been trying to obtain a copy of VMS to try out this very setup. I have tons of old VMS programs I created in college back in '89 I would love to execute again..

In theory you can get a hobbyist free copy of VMS via this site, but no one has responded to me from it. The instructions on how to get the license and binaries are not very clear:


    icedchai 124 days ago

    You can find links to VMS installation images with a Google search, for both VAX and Alpha.

    You can also find links to a license key generator if you search for "VMS Liberation Front" This gives you keys for VMS and all layered products.

    I am only advocating this until you get a "legit" Hobbyist license, of course.

    Theodores 124 days ago

    I foolishly thought that there would always be 12" reel to reel tapes around. I guess you were smart and got your programs onto QIC tapes or something else futureproof?

    Floppy disks?

    I had lots of imagery I wanted to keep so that option was ruled out. But when there is a big room with an operator and tape machines as big as washing machines and racks of tapes it is hard to imagine it will all be absolutely gone one day, particularly if that kit is used daily and extremely valuable. But it all ended up in the trash.

    For me the VAX was a different tool, we had a hardware version of 'Photoshop' with every pixel having many logic boards so everything in image processing was instant. On its own without the fairly custom hardware and the networking environment the VAX would have been useless to me, like having just the dashboard of a car with no motor or wheels. So it would have been the images and not the code I would have wanted from then.

    inetsee 124 days ago

    The page for getting a hobbyist license is really unclear. I finally found 2 links on the page which mentioned the hobbyist license. One link brings up a warning, and if I say go ahead anyway, I get a file not found message. The other link does bring up a signup page, but one of the things it asks for is the name of a "participating chapter" and a "membership number". Can anybody explain what this is? Do I have to sign up for a membership in some obscure organization to get a license?

      inetsee 124 days ago

      Did some searching (should have done it before I posted). The "obscure organization" is actually an HP Enterprise User Community, and you can get a free membership by signing up here: http://www.connect-community.org/

    ChuckMcM 124 days ago

    Lots of good info in these comments, the problem with the hobbyist license is that it has gone through about 5 corporate reshuffling/iterations and it leaves each one a bit more damaged.

      ch_123 124 days ago

      The most recent iteration involves a package of an Alpha image + a Windows based emulator: https://training.vmssoftware.com/hobbyist/

      It is trivial to run it with a Linux based emulator (if you have access to one, and they are not cheap/easy to do so) and it can probably be transferred to hardware with some creativity. However, the image comes bundled with licenses which expire after 6 months, and require you to download a new image...

        ChuckMcM 124 days ago

        As a collector of fine VAXen :-) I often watched Ebay for people selling "Condist" (Consolidated Distribution) sets. These were packets of CDs that contained the then current version of VMS and all of the layered products that DEC sold at the time. Often when buying a surplus VAX from the original owner they included the various authorization codes that they got with the system. Those generally would never expire and follow the system around.

        icedchai 124 days ago

        an Alpha Emulator for Linux x86-64 is out there. This is a good guide: https://astr0baby.wordpress.com/2017/03/30/installing-openvm...

          ch_123 124 days ago

          The guy (technically company, but as far as I know, it's one guy) discontinued the free availability of that emulator since it was eating into his commercial business, as such, I would be reluctant to recommend to link people to old copies of it.

          On the other hand, I have that software set up on a machine from a time before his change of policy, and I've been able to use that machine to run this new Hobbyist package under Linux.

Zenst 124 days ago

Given the emulation is for a 64MB VAX, would it not be viable to run several VAX emulators upon a single Rpi and play with clustering that way and removing the limit of needing two Rpi's with idle resources.

Had a quick search and whilst no clear cut examples jumped out, it seems that some emulations require multiple instances of SimH running (HP!), so would appear viable, just some hacking (original definition, not the tabloid definition).

    ch_123 124 days ago

    Newer version of SIMH let you allocate up to 512MB to the VAX instances.

floren 124 days ago

Neat writeup. I was always a fan of VMS; my university still had a VMS cluster that was used every quarter for class registration and completely ignored the rest of the year, but if you poked around you could still find relics of the old days, like ancient discussion forums software still containing posts from the 90s.

If I can put on my enormous pedant hat for a moment though, a VAX is a minicomputer, not a mainframe.

    TheOtherHobbes 124 days ago

    A MicroVAX was certainly a mini. But the range extended up to the VAX 9000 which was a >$1,000,000 mainframe.

      slavapestov 124 days ago

      Well, to be extra pedantic, the latter MicroVAXen used the same enclosure as the "desktop" VAXstations, except without the graphics and peripherals -- just serial ports for a VT terminal!

      walshemj 124 days ago

      VAX and their competitors where supermini's

    virusduck 124 days ago

    We had that too in the early aughts--used a program called OASIS (may have been a custom application...not sure). Some older profs still used the VMS sys for email (I think it had PINE for VMS installed for easy use).

    the_seraphim 124 days ago

    That must be quite the pedant hat to be arguing that point

    especially considering a mainframe and a minicomputer and the decision to label a machine one or the other is almost purely a marketing decision, i would enjoy your justification

rutthenut 124 days ago

Aha, I mentioned this yesterday in the 'oldies' thread. Be interesting to see if others have anything to say on it, or if the idea of a VAX Cluster has passed most people by.

    rollthehard6 124 days ago

    After my initial computing forays with BigTrak, a ZX Spectrum and some time on a BBC Micro and Apple Mac, my first multi user computer use was on the VAX Cluster at uni. I hated UNIX when I tried that on a Sun workstation as it seemed so much less friendly than VMS with it's hierarchical HELP command. Ironically I went onto to a 25 years and counting *NIX/Linux based infra career :)

musicale 124 days ago

SimH is a beautiful thing. I use it to run Multics (and explore the features that Unix left out.)

Should also be possible to run SimH in a web browser to make a living computer history museum on the web.

    michrassena 124 days ago

    Thanks for this. When the Multics source was released a few years ago, I really wanted to play around with that environment. It's nice to know there's something a mere mortal can install and use.

jdblair 124 days ago

Don't tell Dave Cutler you're running OpenVMS on top of a *nix!

    vaxman 124 days ago

    He is the turncoat that brought down the empire. He was full on correct about Unix though, except that we're not fighting over sub-MIPS resources anymore so the "waste" created by that architecture doesn't affect the bottom line as much (unless you're Google hah -donworrydeyreworkinonit).

    ch_123 124 days ago

    From Wikipedia:

    > [Cutler] expressed his low opinion of the Unix process input/output model by reciting "Get a byte, get a byte, get a byte byte byte" to the tune of the finale of Rossini's William Tell Overture.

hestefisk 124 days ago

This is really cool. Since reading about Masters of Deception, Legion of Doom And other legendary hacker groups with a thirst for VAXen in the late 80es, I have always wanted a VAX machine to hack on.

    segmondy 124 days ago

    I don't think they were priced because they were a delight to use or hack but rather because they were nice targets due to the companies using it and what might be found on them.

124 days ago

bangelo 124 days ago

what is an anti-vaxxer to do?

epynonymous 124 days ago

lmfao, absolutely gosu!

+1 openvms

i remember the good old days of setting up vms clusters and good old dcl. we had easily 96 node clusters, alphas and vax hw, if my memory serves me correctly.