BSDCan2019 - 1.8

BSDCan 2019
The Technical BSD Conference

Jeff Armstrong
Day Talks #2 - 18 May - 2019-05-18
Room DMS 1120
Start time 10:00
Duration 01:00
ID 1089
Event type Lecture
Track System Administration
Language used for presentation English

Modern BSD Computing for Fun on a VAX!

Trying to use a VAX in today's world

Do you have a spare mainframe lying around? In this talk, we'll take a look at installing, running, and attempting to use NetBSD on actual VAXen. Trying to perform modern computing tasks on this aging architecture is becoming increasingly infeasible with the rise of encrypted connections as the norm. We'll look at what is actually possible on your spare VAX.

NetBSD still supports the VAX architecture from Digital Equipment Corporation, and adventurous users can install the latest NetBSD release on these machines. Would you really want to, though? We'll consider two VAX machines, a relatively common VAXstation 3100 (which will be present) and a far more powerful VAX 4000/200 QBus machine (which won't fit in my car) as example systems. Starting with installation, we'll look at the challenges these machines present simply due to their processing power.

While NetBSD does support these systems, using pkgsrc to get your software can be tedious. Setting up a VAX for file sharing at home? Prepare to wait for 72 hours or more while Samba and its dependencies compile. Trying to build almost anything requires days, and we'll just ignore any graphical programs outright.

With the modern Internet shifting to encrypted connections for everything, this dated hardware again presents a challenge. Trying to ssh to another server from your VAX? On a VAX 4000, your chances of finishing the handshake are 50% at best before a timeout. Web browsing from the console is painfully slow with every HTTPS connection encountered. Even first boot after installation is an exercise in patience as SSH keys are generated.

The VAX does still offer up some fun and questionable practicality for those interested, though. With some lower expectations, anyone can navigate the modern computing world on their spare mainframe.