Sunday, July 30, 2006

OpenBSD on a Sun Microsystems SparcStation 5

Manufacturer: Sun Microsystems
Model: SparcStation 5
CPU: MicroSparc II, 80 MHz
RAM: 64 MB (Upgraded from 32 MB)
HDD: SCSI 73GB (Upgraded from 2GB)
Release Date: Mid-1994 (Most likely August)

(Stock photo shown)

There are a few of the hardware underdogs that I admire. Sun Microsystems has always been on my short list. Those of us who are sysadmins and have been for a while might not understand me calling Sun an "underdog". The general population has no idea they exist, though. Mention Dell, Apple or IBM and normal people know what you're talking about. Talking about Sun, Silicon Graphics, or Cray will certainly draw a few blank stares unless you're in the presence of geeks.

Historically, the SS5 wasn't truly groundbreaking. It was designed to be a compromise platform, nestled neatly between the rather inflexible entry-level SparcStation 4 and the more feature-packed and expensive SparcStation 20.

I actually acquired my SparcStation 5 from a table of "free" stuff at one of my old jobs about a year ago. It's easy to tell that this was already a dinosaur by the time I'd rescued it. It had Solaris 8 already installed, but it had an unknown root password. That doesn't stop me, but I had already decided that Solaris wasn't this machine's destiny. I have a somewhat newer (but still 90's era) Sun Ultra 5 for running Solaris. More on the U5 later on.

I originally installed OpenBSD 3.8 on the original 2GB SCSI hard drive. I used it as my primary "gateway" machine; My firewall would pass all SSH traffic to my SS5. Even after a fairly minimal installation of OpenBSD, there wasn't much in the way of drive space left. X.Org didn't work with the on-board video card, which required a 13W3 VGA adapter anyways. I left well enough alone and it was used as a headless terminal.

When OpenBSD 3.9 was released, I thought about upgrading it. I decided that along with upgrading the operating system, I would upgrade the RAM and HDD as well. I slapped a 73GB drive in (the SS5 requires SCA80-style drives) and doubled the RAM to 64MB. The newer X.Org that shipped with OpenBSD 3.9 functions well at 1024x768 at 256 colors, so I went ahead and installed it as well as some normal GUI utilities that I use. I also purchased a 13W3 adapter so that I could use the video.

The SS5 is still my front line of ingress to my network from the outside. In this age of multiple GHz of processing speed, 80 MHz seems to do just fine for quite a few mundane tasks. I won't be watching video podcasts or even editing graphics with GIMP on it. It currently runs as my primary testing environment for PHP, MySQL and NewLISP.

OpenBSD is just about as cutting-edge as you can get. This system is more than a decade old and yet remains just as functional as the day it was released, running applications and services that were just released weeks ago on a modern operating system. It's by no means the oldest functional computer I own. That said, if my incessant rambling about using old computers in a modern world had to be defined by one system in my posession, the SS5 would be it.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Old meets new(er) - AIX 5L on a 13-year-old machine

Manufacturer: IBM
Model: RS/6000 7011-250
RAM: 64 MB (Upgraded)
HDD: SCSI 18GB (Upgraded)
Release Date: October 1993

Shown here atop my NG/NAI Sniffer. Above it, the external CD/ROM and my Cable modem.

To put things into perspective, IBM Released the RS/6000 Model 250 about the exact same time Apple announced the Macintosh PowerPC line, and about the same time Intel released the original Pentium CPU. The POWER architecture, a mainstay of IBM's server line from the late 80's forward, has roots back to some of IBM's first RISC processor R&D in 1982.

This particular system was originally shipped with IBM's SystemV-based AIX operating system version 3.2. When it was released, the RS/6000-250 would run circles around many other modern machines. Designed to be stable as well as powerful, most RS/6000 systems work very closely with AIX to provide a darn-near bulletproof environment with automatic hardware failure detection, extensive logging facilities far beyond most other UNIX servers, and security features that met strict government standards.

I acquired this machine at a local surplus auction in 1998. It was already 5 years old and showing it. There was 64 MB of RAM in it, and no hard drive. I picked up a 4GB SCSI drive which lasted quite a while but died in 2001. The only network interface was AUI so I had to purchase an ethernet transciever for it. I found some AIX 4.3.2 media that my work was disposing of and rescued it from the garbage. It installed flawlessly and I've used this machine off and on for close to 8 years now.

Fast forward a bit. AIX 5L (the L means Linux Affinity) was released in 2001. I wasn't aware of it, but Version 5.1 SHOULD work on the trusty Model 250. I found a new unopened AIX 5.1 box on eBay and snatched it up. It's currently installing.

I'll update this tomorrow sometime after I've given AIX 5L a test-drive. The way I look at it, what better way to open up my Retro Computing blog than to toss a 5 year old operating system onto a 13 year old computer? Wish me luck!

Welcome to Retro Computing!

I'm Noah (A.K.A. Axon). I'm obsessed with old computers!

This is where I'll chronicle my adventures in retro computing. Retro can mean a great many things, but most of what I do revolves around workstations, desktops, and servers from the 90's. The older, the better!

I've already got quite a bit lined up to post here. Keep your eyes peeled. I'll try to keep my posts frequent so you can stay up to speed with what I'm working on this week!