Rasberry Pi VAXcluster: Retrochallenge 2012 Entry


I have long been interested in recreating older platforms on new hardware. During the last year I have really fallen very much for Digital Equipment Corporation’s line of machines and operating systems. In particular RSX-11M (PDP-11) and VMS (VAX and Alpha). One thing that has taken particular interest recently is the idea of simulating big old machines on little new hardware.

At DEC Legacy 2011 I exhibited my first DEC emulation project, a Intel Atom D410MO-based small form-factor computer using only solid state storage and a single 12V power supply. This system was able to simulate a MicroVAX 3900 system, using the SimH computer history simulator, with ease, giving a useful and functional OpenVMS 7.3 working environment that consumed less than 15 Watts of power at peak CPU usage as well as accurately and fully emulating the original DEC VAX hardware.

Also in the last year gathering momentum and production of the RaspberryPi Foundation’s first Model B low-cost, low-power ARM project board has become a reality. Having taken delivery of on Raspberry Pi I have been able to assess the board and it’s features.


At some stage along the way the idea for a project hit me. One of (Open)VMS’s greatest strengths is it is one for the best (and still to this day) systems available for creating clusters of computers that interoperate and share resources seamlessly. VMS clusters have traditionally use high-powered hardware (VAX, Alpha and latterly Itanium) to create these clusters, consuming vast amounts of power and resources but creating a powerful computing environment. I, however, want to take a different approach. Knowing now that RaspberryPi makes a feasible and useful platform for running VMS, via SimH, I propose the following:

  • A cluster containing 3 or more simulated VAX systems running OpenVMS 7.3 linked together as follows:
    • A file/storage server (possibly using USB attached SSD or hard drive storage)
    • A DECnotes server (because Notes rules)
    • A database server
    • A ‘workstation’ with several programming languages, word processing and Mail
  • Physically the cluster will consist of a powered USB hub, Ethernet switch, a RaspberryPi board for each ‘VAX’ and necessary power supplies.
  • Cluster interconnection will be achieved via ethernet.

Challenges in this project include:

  • Creating a standard base-setup Debian Linux image to start out for each ‘VAX’
  • Continued learning on topics of OpenVMS and VAX systems
  • Learning how to build and interconnect OpenVMS clusters
  • Creating a physical package for the RaspberryPi boards to live in (optional task)

All information will be published via: http://dectec.info/blog

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