OpenVMS on x86-64 reaches production status with v9.2

One of the most battle-tested OSes out there hits commodity kit, but does anyone still care?

VMS Software Inc. has announced the release of OpenVMS 9.2, the first production-supported release for commercial off-the-shelf x86 hardware.

The expectation is that customers will deploy the new OS [PDF] into VMs. Most recent hypervisors are supported, including VMware (Workstation 15+, Fusion 11+ and ESXi 6.7+), KVM (tested on CentOS 7.9, openSUSE Leap 15.3, and Ubuntu 18.04), and Oracle VirtualBox 6.1.

For now, there is a single supported [PDF] model of server for bare-metal hardware deployments: HPE's DL380.

The next version, 9.2-1, is planned for November or December 2022 and will add support for Microsoft's Hyper-V. VMS Software Inc. (VSI) is looking into adding support for deployment onto Microsoft Azure and Amazon Web Services.

VMS was originally developed at the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC) in 1977, long before Compaq bought the company. Then in 2001 HP bought Compaq. In 2013, HP announced it was killing VMS off, then changed its mind and spun it out to VMS Software Inc, which then announced it was porting it to x86.

VMS was originally known as VAX/VMS as it was the native OS of DEC's VAX 32-bit minicomputer. In 1989, DEC began porting version 5.4-2 to its Alpha AXP 64-bit RISC processors. The result, OpenVMS AXP, shipped in 1992, with a confusing version number of 1.0.

The Alpha and VAX versions reached parity with version 6.1, the Alpha edition went 64-bit with version 7.0, and the VAX edition was pensioned off after version 7.3.

Compaq announced [PDF] an HP released version 8 for Intel's doomed Itanium family. Version 8.0 was a test release for early adopters and ISVs, 8.1 was a field-test version, and 8.2 was the first production release.

New owner VSI has stuck with this numbering scheme: version 9.0 in May 2020 was the initial test release, 9.1 in June 2021 was for field testing, and now 9.2 is the first production release.

The big question, though, is whether enough people will care to keep OpenVMS alive as a commercial proposition.

Both the Alpha and Itanium editions hit end of life at version 8.4, so now OpenVMS 9 is the only direct migration path for owners of aging HP kit. Itanium was never a very compelling option and Alpha kit is long in the tooth now, although there are multiple emulators that allow you to run VAX and Alpha OSes and apps on x86 kit.

One of the key strengths of OpenVMS is arguably the most sophisticated clustering implementation ever built. A single VMS cluster can contain a mixture of VAX, Alpha, Itanium, and now x86-64 machines, and nodes can be physical hardware, VMs, and emulated instances. Individual nodes can be taken offline, shut down, upgraded, rebooted and rejoin the cluster while the cluster is running. This enables cluster uptimes measured in decades with 100 percent availability.

We see two main opportunities for VSI. One is to offer a migration path for customers still running Itanium servers onto more mainstream – and more affordable and maintainable – hardware. The other is people already using emulated hosts running on top of x86-64 servers. These customers now have a new option: incrementally moving to native x86-64 instances, perhaps even on the same host hardware, both removing the cost of commercial emulators and also improving performance.

As long as users have the source code and can rebuild their apps on the new architecture, this could be an appealing route. The new OS already has versions of existing compilers for BLISS, XMacro, and C++ with a new LLVM back-end for x86-64 code generation. The next release should add Fortran, BASIC, and Pascal to this, and also add OpenJDK and FIPS 140-2 compliance.

OpenVMS 9.2 already supports a range of existing FOSS tools, including cURL, HAProxy, Kerberos, Lua, OpenLDAP, OpenSSH, PHP, Python, RabbitMQ, Redis, and Samba. In theory, it could compete against existing x86-64 OSes, but even this former VMS sysadmin glumly suspects that would be an extraordinarily tough sell. ®

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