OpenVMS 9.2 for x86-64 is now available: Planning a path forward

On July 15th, VMS Software Inc. (VSI) announced the availability of OpenVMS 9.2 for Intel x86-64 processors. The 9.2 release operates under various CPU virtualization products including VirtualBox, VMware, and KVM. The initial 9.2 release contains a native MACRO compiler; Itanium-hosted cross compilers are available for FORTRAN 90, BLISS, COBOL, PASCAL, and C. VSI’s announcement stated that self-hosted, native compilers will be released as they become available.[1] Many are considering whether to wait for the complete suite, or start building experience now.

Lack of experience and familiarity are never better than the alternative. Familiarity, knowledge, and experience vanquish fear, uncertainty, and doubt (“FUD”). When OpenVMS Engineering announced the first port from VAX to ALPHA, there were no small number of industry pundits with little technical knowledge who pronounced that the port of an operating system written in MACRO was simply not possible. They were wrong.

When OpenVMS transitioned to ALPHA, the costs of dipping one’s toe into the water was more than a petty cash expenditure. The cost of the smallest ALPHA was more than US$ 10,000. When IA-64 was introduced as an OpenVMS platform, the US$ 2,000 registration cost for attending the IA-64 Porting Seminar was cheaper, but certainly not petty cash, even taking into account that attendees received a rx2600 as part of the seminar.

The x86-64 port is far less expensive. Dedicated for-purpose hardware is not necessary. OpenVMS x86-64 has been uneventfully running as a Virtual Box guest on my Dell Inspiron 6420 mobile computer since day one of the OpenVMS x86-64 Field Test. Cost is no longer an obstacle to starting early. All that is needed to run OpenVMS x86-64 is an Intel x86-64 system with sufficient resources manufactured sometime in the last decade.

Developing experience and familiarity with a standalone OpenVMS 9.2 for Intel x86-64 system is straightforward and as close as your Windows or Linux desktop, whether a physical machine, or a virtual machine somewhere in the corporate or public cloud. Creating an OpenVMS x86-64 OpenVMScluster node is a small increment in complexity. An admitted speedbump is the limits of Fibre Channel connectivity from within a client instance under a virtual machine. A speedbump, but certainly not a significant obstacle. An OpenVMScluster member can still indirectly access data on a Fibre Channel-connected enterprise storage array using MSCP via other Alpha or IA64-based OpenVMScluster member nodes.[2]

An experimental non-voting OpenVMS 9.2 node has little impact on other OpenVMScluster members. The experimental node has its own system disk and does not have any votes for quorum. Such configurations are clearly not suitable for intense production I/O, but are more than sufficient for evaluation and testing. With 1Gbps Ethernet, it is comparable in performance with first generation Fibre Channel, which operated at comparable speeds.

One or more experimental nodes connected to an existing OpenVMScluster can be used to develop familiarity with the OpenVMS x86-64 environment. It can also be used to start the process of porting locally-developed software components to OpenVMS x86-64, as well as testing Open Source and proprietary software as it becomes available.

If one wants faster performance from a particular volume or volumes, one can also use Host-based Volume Shadowing to create a local copy or copies of a modest sized volumes. The definitive copy can be stored on the MSCP-accessed enterprise storage array.

In summary, my counsel to OpenVMS sites is essentially the same as for the previous transitions from VAX to ALPHA and ALPHA to IA64: develop familiarity as early as possible and leverage OpenVMS features to ensure as seamless as is possible transition to the new CPU architecture.

When better hardware resources are needed, or when support for non-virtual machine operation becomes available and is desired, it is a straightforward exercise to migrate an existing virtual machine-hosted OpenVMS x86-64 instance to a different physical host.

Little risk and a significant upside. A worthwhile investment.


[1] VMS Software, Inc. (2022, July 14) OpenVMS V9.2 for x86 is Available
[2] VMS Software, Inc. (2022, July) VSI OpenVMS x86-64 Release Notes, Section 2.1.15 OpenVMS Clusters on Virtual Machines


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