a pang for a DECstation

Tonight I revisited a longstanding question of mine: what does Ubuntu bring to the table over Debian? This of course leads me to look at hardware support for each, especially non-amd64 support. Mix this with current efforts to get my SGI systems running again, and I wonder what the state of Linux is for such platforms.

Linux doesn’t even seem to try to support older platforms anymore. Debian 8 doesn’t support sparc anymore, and mips is limited to malta, octeon, and loongson. No sgimips, no decstation, no alpha, no vax, and no hp300. ARM is the hot thing, but slapping a raspberry pi in a rack doesn’t make it server-class, and actual server-class ARM hardware hasn’t made its way to my basement datacentre… yet.

NetBSD at least still tries to keep running on older hardware. NetBSD-7 boots on my dusted-off sgimips Indy, although it seems to have some issues with cache management, which might be kernel bugs, or might be bad hardware. I don’t know enough about page table fault handling on MIPS to know for sure.

The MIPS action of course made me think of and miss my DECStations. One DECStation, in particular. It was a DECStation 5000/240, and ran almost nonstop from 1999ish to 2013. It was the main brain of my home network, handling DNS, DHCP, YP, HTTP, SMTP, and NFS on my home network for most of its life. I moved SMTP off to a dedicated dual CPU sparc 20 when spam filtering became a pain point. HTTP and home directories were moved to an alpha, although I can’t recall if they moved before or after SMTP.

The 5000/240 never let me down. Drives failed, and I had to stop running local backups onto QIC tape at some point due to lockups, (I suspect to a dodgy power supply in the expansion unit which did eventually fail,) but the machine itself kept on working until I was <ahem> prompted to clear some things out of the basement in late 2011. I had been trickling the moving of services over to newer active systems since 2011, but it still made me sad to shut it down. Attempting to build the NetBSD world on a 5000/200 and never being successful due to a failing disk (after a couple days of running) really drove the point home of how far software has outstripped the hardware.

Luckily a (now ex-) co-worker was interested in collecting my 5000/240, and it avoided the recycler. I still miss it.

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