OpenVMS Mini FAQ

(From real questions I get all the time)

Overview: In mid 2005, I spent a week at Learning Tree in Toronto which meant I got a chance to mingle with computer professionals outside of the OpenVMS world. Most people I met were either UNIX acolytes or Windows wonks. About 90% knew about VAX-VMS; About 75% mistakenly thought VMS was dying or was already dead; only my instructor had heard the phrase "OpenVMS". So I wrote this Mini-FAQ based mostly upon coffee-break questions of that week. I have decided to keep the FAQ very general and less than 10 questions.

Edit: 2015-03-31

Questions and Answers

  1. What is the difference between VMS and OpenVMS?

    Nothing. Due to customer requests, VMS source code was opened-up to paying customers around the same time it was ported from 32-bit VAX to 64-bit Alpha (~1992). At that time, the product name and version numbers flowed from VMS-5.5-2 to OpenVMS-6.2. The most recent (2008) version is OpenVMS-8.3, which contains some cool stuff including support for Intel's most recent true 64-bit CPU called Itanium.
  2. Do I need to port any code when going from "VMS on VAX" to "OpenVMS on VAX"?

    No because the two names represent the same OS but anytime you consider jumping a major OS version number you should always check with the vendor of your application software. If you authored your own software and still posses the source code then a simple recompile then link should solve 99% of most problems (but always do a trial port first). Going from VAX to Alpha is only a tiny bit more complicated but is a no-brainer if you have access to your source code.

    A diary of my VAX to Alpha ports:
  3. I thought OpenVMS was going to be shut down.

    No. This misconception started when Compaq announced the end of the "VAX hardware" line in the last quarter of 2000. When VMS was first released 1977, it only ran on the 32-bit VAX hardware line, so many IS/IT people from that era cannot think about VMS without also thinking about VAX. In 1992, Digital started manufacturing 64-bit Alpha hardware and supported OpenVMS on both platforms.
  4. So how many hardware platforms does OpenVMS (natively) run on?

    Three for sure, possibly four.
    1. VAX (32-bit CISC)
      Even though no new VAX machines are being manufactured, OpenVMS is still being supported on VAX by HP.
    2. Alpha (64-bit RISC)
      No new Alpha systems will be manufactured after December-2006 but HP still plans to support OpenVMS on Alpha up to the end of 2011. Maybe longer depending upon customer demand.
    3. Itanium2 (64-bit EPIC)
      This is Intel's latest dream chip for competition with IBM's POWER/PowerPC line and Sun's Ultra SPARC. Note that Itanium will be targeted at the server market, which is why many consumers have never heard of it. One implementation of Itanium is designed to execute up to three 64-bit instruction streams in parallel so stating that Itanium is 64-bit is really a misnomer. In this case, it is really 192 bit.

      p.s. note that HP uses the name Integrity in the product names rather than Itanium
    4. x86-64 (EM64T and/or AMD64)
      This is a rumor that never goes away. No one from OpenVMS Engineering has ever stated that they were porting OpenVMS to x86-64 but this rumor still persists. In addition, the popularity of Pentium compatible technology combined with the fact that it continues to be more powerful every year would make this rumor seem plausible.

      ps-1: Contrary to popular belief, EM64T and AMD64 are true 64-bit CPUs. Registers and all.

      ps-2: in the late 1980's DEC (Digital Equipment Corporation) did begin a trial port of VMS to x86 under the project names of Emerald and PRISM. When this project was cancelled, one of the project primes (Dave Cutler) resurrected it for Bill Gates at Microsoft. This resulted in a product known as Windows-NT (new technology) which later became products like: Windows-2000, Windows-XP, Windows 2003 Server, Windows-Vista, Windows-7, etc. I only mention this to prove that the porting rumor may not be so far fetched.

      ps-3: check out this private site for some compelling reasons:
  5. How is OpenVMS business doing in a world dominated by hype from Windows/UNIX/LINUX?

    Since HP merged with Compaq in 2002, the OpenVMS business has been growing world wide by 10-12% per year. Since we are talking about an annual gross amount in excess of 4 billion dollars, these numbers are not something to be ignored.

    (Observation: the biggest demand for OpenVMS technology is currently coming from Europe. I find this strange since Europe is the birthplace of LINUX).
  6. Prove to me that OpenVMS is not dying.

    In 2005, Oracle released "Oracle 10g For OpenVMS on Alpha". Oracle Corporation has never been known to waste money on foolish ventures. On top of that, they still make a ton of money developing and supporting Oracle-RDB on VAX, Alpha, and Itanium.
  7. What about all the freeware Open Source software in the public domain? Doesn't most of it only run on Windows or UNIX?

    Most of it only runs on UNIX and has been ported to other platforms including Windows. OpenVMS does support a UNIX "compatibility API (application programming interface)" which is used to run many UNIX applications like Apache and MySQL with little, or no, modification.
  8. How does OpenVMS compare to UNIX and/or LINUX?

    First off, UNIX is almost 8 years older than VMS although they were developed in the same decade. Although LINUX is much newer UNIX-like product, it is not a new operating system. In fact, it is just BSD UNIX applications with a totally rewritten kernel. Click here for a side-by-side comparison. All modern operating systems support Symmetric Multi Processing (SMP) but OpenVMS is still the industry leader in clustering. What the UNIX world calls "a cluster" is no where close to what is happening in an OpenVMS Cluster.

    HP is (understandably) unwilling to increase OpenVMS sales by relating to a horrible human tragedy so let me publish something which HP will not:

    There were more than a few OpenVMS clusters running in the World Trade Towers on 9/11 (unfortunately, some clusters were composed of nodes only found in buildings one and two).

    Some European financial businesses operated OpenVMS Clusters with at least one node in one of the Twin Towers with another located elsewhere, like New Jersey.

    These European businesses was very surprised as they watched the towers fall on TV but never saw their OpenVMS clusters drop any transactions.

  9. Itanium (the successor to Alpha)
    1. OpenVMS runs on Itanium 9300 (Tukwila) which was released by Intel on 2010-02-08. This chip maxes out at 4 cores
    2. Intel released the 8-core Itanium 9500 (Poulson) on 2012-11-08
    3. Great News:
      On 2015-07-31 HP announced that they have licensed all the OpenVMS source code to venture capitalist company VMS Software Inc. (VSI) for the express purpose of:
      • qualifying OpenVMS on 8-core Poulson
      • refreshing all the language compilers and software (TCPIP Services for OpenVMS, CSWS (Apache for OpenVMS), Java, etc.)
      • porting OpenVMS to x86-64 (this is a very big deal because after 2020 it appears that only two architectures will remain standing:
        • x86-64 for larger systems (desktops and larger)
        • ARM for smaller systems (tablets and smaller)
    4. On 2015-01-19 VSI announced that they had finished qualifying OpenVMS on 8-core Itanium 9500 (Poulson)

 Official HP information:

Official VSI Information

 My Links:

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Neil Rieck
Kitchener - Waterloo - Cambridge, Ontario, Canada.