Home > OS News > OpenVMS: An Old Dog Still Doing New Tricks OpenVMS: An Old Dog Still Doing New Tricks Submitted by Ken Farmer 2004-07-14 OS News 39 Comments Datamation takes a look at OpenVMS. Thought by many to be long since dead and buried, the OpenVMS operating system persists inside many enterprises. About The Author Eugenia Loli Ex-programmer, ex-editor in chief at OSNews.com, now a visual artist/filmmaker. Follow me on Twitter @EugeniaLoli 39 Comments 2004-07-14 6:16 am I guess thats old, if no one has nothing to say on it ;-). To be honest, while it the article touts its advtantages, they seem very much like UNIX. Stable, Secure, Enterprise reliable. Of course people, and enterprise have been known to use what works versus what is the most feature rich. So i can imagine people hanging onto this legacy technology. But still again, I see UNIX doing the same thing so I guess from my point of view since i havent delved into it, and i just heard about this for the first time in the article that its not really that special, it just gets the job done. 2004-07-14 6:17 am There were no comments because the story JUST got published, not because it ain’t interesting. 2004-07-14 6:37 am Whoops i got this one confused with an earlier article on Open VMS. XD 2004-07-14 6:49 am Is OpenVMS free to download? I can’t find anywhere to snag it. 2004-07-14 7:07 am ”OpenVMS is probably the best designed and most robust general purpose operating system in existence,” says Colin Butcher, an analyst with consulting group XDelta Ltd. ”There are quite a few complete systems out there with uninterrupted service uptimes in excess of 15 years.” 1) I don’t think OpenVMS qualifies as a general purpose operating system. From my college years spent using Vax VMS, I don’t remember it as something on which one could play games or perform other benign tasks. 2) The uptime of more than 15 years is dubious. Is there really a place in the world that has never suffered a blackout during the last 15 years (despite using an UPS) ? 2004-07-14 7:31 am I truly don’t think I’d be able to get 15 years uptime out of any OS for a lot of reasons. Outages, moving, upgrade hardware, etc. 2004-07-14 7:38 am “It also shows annual growth rates of 18 percent over the last few years” That’s surprising if not hard to believe. 2004-07-14 8:04 am I think they were talking about cluster uptimes. You replace one machine, but the cluster as a whole stays up. 2004-07-14 8:10 am Uptimes of Complete VMS Systems can be in the years and that includes both hardware and software upgrades. For those who don’t know, rolling O/S Upgrades are part of VMS and have been for years. Also mixed H/W Clusters (VAXes and Alphas etc) are also fully supported. So, given this, your “Service” can be fully available for year after year even though you are changing the H/W & S/W being used to deliver the service as well as changing the numbers of separate systems used in the Cluster. One big advantage VMS has over some of its competitors is its Cluster wide Filesystem and the ability to underneath it to mirror them over 100km apart. DR? No problemo. This sort of availablity is what most Unix & Windows designers can only dream about. IMHO, the only things that can come near it (without tons of specialised H/W etc) are the even more ancient IBM Mainframes. (As a historical point, I spent 20 years working for DEC as a Software & Systems Engineer, most of it on VMS systems) 2004-07-14 11:12 am Those are avoided by mirroring your site 100km’s away. Now if a blackout like the nyc blackout happens where it’s in excess of 100km’s, then you’re SOL. As for downloading openvms, you can’t just run it on your laptop. You have to run openvms on either vax, alpha, or itanium. go to ebay, pick one up for under $500 and get a hobbyist license: http://www.openvmshobbyist.com This isn’t like linux or the BSD’s where it runs on commodity hardware x86’s. I hear that the Itaniums, however, will be priced competitively along the lines of Xeons for 2005 or 2007, forget which one, look on theinquirer.net for that one. 2004-07-14 11:26 am but I’m told we have an OpenVMS cluster running on Alpha here at the base. Solaris is also widely used, Linux is poping up too. 2004-07-14 11:39 am Actually, you can run VMS on a laptop or desktop PC using emulation software. I routinely use the open-source emulator Simh (works on Windows and Linux)to run a fully functioning VAX. I’ve run Simh under Fedora CORE1 and Fedora CORE2 for quite sometime without a hitch. 2004-07-14 11:44 am “1) I don’t think OpenVMS qualifies as a general purpose operating system. From my college years spent using Vax VMS, I don’t remember it as something on which one could play games or perform other benign tasks.” It runs X-Windows/Motif. Several games have been ported to it (Doom, Duke Nukem, etc.) and I remember playing “Flight” against other people on our DECnet with it. VMS itself also has (or at least had) very low memory requirements. DEC also has excellent compilers and editors, but they cost a lot of $dough$ $re$ $mi$ if you know what I mean. I fondly remember Ada and VAX BASIC in particular (and my favorite editor was SEDT). Mike 2004-07-14 11:46 am Hm.. I know places where data and systems are so important that the UPS is a Diesel engine starting up and can run for several days, and eaven longer if you give it some more fuel.. 15 Years of uptime? Why not! — as of general purpose OS .. I have no idea, but strongly belive you are right! 2004-07-14 12:22 pm We had a big diesel UPS outside the building, plus conventional battery UPSs in the server room to keep the clusters humming until the engine ignites. Not coincidentally, we ran a mixture of OpenVMS and Tru64 alpha clusters. We had a maximal outage of about 12 hours after the storm. Not sure if the diesel was refuelled. 2004-07-14 12:27 pm I can’t find the link now, but within the last year I was reading a trade article about a German government department that has had their VMS system up and running with no downtime since it was installed in the mid-1980’s. That’s almost 20 years of continuous operations, and that included moving the physical location of their headquarters. Yes this was for a cluster obviously. Individual node run times are on the order of years as well. I don’t know who the record holders are. Mainframes operate in much the same way, rarely if ever being brought down even for hardware, software or OS upgrades. 2004-07-14 12:53 pm The thing that is most special about VMS is that it is not special. I’ve been working on it for over 17 years and almost without exception, it is never thought about by the user community or management. Why is that? Because it is always on, up, and available for use. No exceptions. Ever. This is both a blessing and a curse. Because there are no problems, getting budgets approved can be tough because it is not a “squeeky wheel” demanding attention like other OS’s. My users take it for granted in much the same way many take electricity, plumbing and other utilites. VMS is not a cute OS meant to play games or run desktop style applications. It is meant to do enterprise level work in places that have no margin for downtime such as hospitals, financial institutions, and the military. 2004-07-14 1:33 pm A few years ago the record for a single box (not cluster) was at 12 years. IIRC it was used by an irish telco. I’ve heared that today it stands at 20 years… 2004-07-14 2:11 pm My father had a small VMS server that served a scale house for a chip mill. If I remebr correctly he forgot about the box for 4 years and found it again one day. 4 years up time. 1 GIANT dust ball. (scale houses sit outside the planet and air handling is usually a fan.) If I could afford VMS for my 164LX it would be running. The best OS I have EVER used… Donaldson 2004-07-14 2:47 pm It’s so strange.. it’s like having the cure for the common cold but no one wants to put it out there because so many doctors would go out of business. The younger generation is so used to Linux, Windows and other OSes having to reboot, no rolling upgrades, and so forth. Someone told me once that the joke for Windows and other clusters was.. Since when is a pair a cluster? VMS supports I believe 96 nodes in a cluster and it’s a share everything geographically spanning cluster model. The folks that know and use VMS wouldn’t go to anything less for mission critical operations. 2004-07-14 3:55 pm “My users take it for granted in much the same way many take electricity, plumbing and other utilities.” Let’s face it: all OS’es suck, some just suck more than others, or in different ways. I heard at least 2 downsides for OpenVMS here as well: (a) doesn’t run on common x86 hardware, and I doubt it would be easy to adapt it to embedded systems, and (b) it’s not free/open source software. If an OS sucks bad, you have to do everything the OS’s way. If it sucks less, you can get the OS to do things your way. If it doesn’t suck at all, it would get out of your way, and after a while you would stop noticing that it’s there. 2004-07-14 4:30 pm (b) it’s not free/open source software. oh no! heaven forbid it not being free/open source. what is with you people and having to have everything free/open source?? 2004-07-14 4:32 pm I few years ago i tried installing OpenVMS on my PWS 500a after i ordered a copy from the OpenVMS hobby site. I could not get it to boot. I still have an interest in it but now the box is running NetBSD as my webserver. It would be fun to play with never the less. 2004-07-14 4:36 pm HP has almost finished porting OpenVMS to Itanium. After sitting through an HP Webinar the Itanium 2 is looking pretty hot so very shortly you will be able to run 4 different OS’s on one HP server. Hoorah for choice. 2004-07-14 5:09 pm Why does netcraft not show it listed ? BSD runs 2.5 million sites . Uptime is great. Anyways ,anyone know what makes o.vms so special ? Microkernel ? Small kernel = better reliability. 2004-07-14 5:26 pm “Why does netcraft not show it listed ?” My question as well. We hear all these claims about how it runs flawlessly for years and such…where’s the evidence for this? Or is such a well kept secret nobody actually has any hard data on uptimes for it? 2004-07-14 5:41 pm Who said these machines were being used as webservers? There are applications for servers outside of the web and ftp servers… 2004-07-14 6:36 pm I have to agree with Hank here. Regardless of how important the internet has become to business these days, serving internet content is a rather trivial function. While I have read that apache will run on VMS, I seriously doubt most experienced VMS users (I am not one of them) would use it for that. I don’t really care if Amazon’s website goes down for a time, but I do care if the systems that track my money or control our strategic defense systems go down. 2004-07-14 6:54 pm “I don’t really care if Amazon’s website goes down for a time, but I do care if the systems that track my money or control our strategic defense systems go down.” As do I, but I still don’t see where people are drawing their conclusion that VMS has longer uptimes from. Based on what? How we are we simply deciding it’s better than Unix, BSD or Linux? Who’s word are we relying on? 2004-07-14 7:12 pm How we are we simply deciding it’s better than Unix, BSD or Linux? Who’s word are we relying on? Let’s put it this way, if Solaris, Linux or Windows had uptime that surpassed VMS or mainframe operating systems, don’t you think the vendors would be putting that all over their trade literature? While common users may think this uptime thing is “news” it is status quo for mission critical enterprise applications. You can be sure that these vendors trying to win over these markets wouldn’t keep that bundle under their hat. 2004-07-14 8:22 pm Anonymous wrote earlier: “(scale houses sit outside the planet and air handling is usually a fan.)” Wow! Ditto all the comments about how wonderful VMS is. 2004-07-14 8:40 pm “As do I, but I still don’t see where people are drawing their conclusion that VMS has longer uptimes from. Based on what? How we are we simply deciding it’s better than Unix, BSD or Linux? Who’s word are we relying on?” … most chip production lines actually use VMS, some even use VAX based controllers. Also OpenVMS is actually fairly pervasive in the health sciences field, a shitload of hospitals use it. Maybe that is not good enough for you… but if Intel and Co. think is good enough to trust a lot of their critical processes to it, I think it is good enough for me. 2004-07-14 9:10 pm <<As do I, but I still don’t see where people are drawing their conclusion that VMS has longer uptimes from. Based on what? How we are we simply deciding it’s better than Unix, BSD or Linux? Who’s word are we relying on?>> I can only say that you must be new to the industry. Gas Transportation, Medical, Defense, Financial… There is absolutely no comparison. I wouldn’t trust Linux or BSD to run the stock market systems or strategic defense. So the word we are relying on are from enterprises that know VMS is used in implementations with absolutely no room for error. 2004-07-14 11:03 pm Then I love it that HP is porting/supporting a lot of clustering software to/for Linux: http://www.openssi.org/ http://ci-linux.sourceforge.net/ http://www.lustre.org/ This will be great I think. 🙂 Finally 10 years of uptime for your webserver and non of the disadvantages (like: not OSS, not x86). go Linux ! 🙂 2004-07-15 1:33 pm I few years ago i tried installing OpenVMS on my PWS 500a after i ordered a copy from the OpenVMS hobby site. I could not get it to boot. Some alphas can only run NT, linux, or bsd. You have to mod them to run OpenVMS or Tru64. Others will run it. I think the PWS “au” are better about VMS than the “a.” You have to be very picky when buying on Ebay. It sucks cause I see the “a” model at $100. I’d like to get 2 alpha, one each for Tru64 and OpenVMS. 2004-07-15 1:39 pm Is OpenVMS free to download? I can’t find anywhere to snag it. You can get the hobbyist license for $30. I believe it comes with compilers and other stuff. Tru64 hobbyist license is $100. Very good deal either way, as no such program exists for Solaris, Irix, AIX, etc. That said, i’ve seen iso posted online. You just need to look in the right places. 2004-07-15 3:34 pm The SS7 network that implements the North American phone system has used VMS since the 80s. Additionally the switching network used RSX a real-time precursor to VMS written by Cutler and co. at DEC. Now there are many more systems and companies involved using a variety of hardware/oses. However, in the telco world, the VMS systems would only have downtime due to scheduled maint, and using the rolling upgrade procedure, clustering and parallel sites it was common for the machines to run for years. They were so stable the regional telcos were very reluctant to replace 20yr old hardware with new even in the face of massive growth in the business. 2004-07-15 5:05 pm Some alphas can only run NT, linux, or bsd. You have to mod them to run OpenVMS or Tru64. Others will run it. Right there is a lot of NT only Alpha hardware on ebay those considering messing with Alpha be warned. This pariticular box does have the PAL code for both Unix(i have a true64 hobby license too) and VMS hence the reason i am able to run NetBSD on it. I didn’t really try that hard to get it running it may have had something to do with the video card or perhaps there is a switch i need to set in the boot prom. I am going to check it out again since i have access to HP Open VMS CD sets since i sort of handle the Alpha hardware here at work too along with my HP responsibilities. 2004-07-21 7:29 pm VMS, or OpenVMS still has a presence in the financial services industry, more in the UK than the US. Having managed solaris/aix/linux/NT systems, I’d give it top billing.