trip report DECUS europe symposium 1996


table of contents

  1. trip to barcelona
  2. the main messages
  3. serving your database via the Web (training seminar on sunday)
  4. understanding and tuning Digital UNIX (training seminar on monday)
  5. first day
  6. second day
  7. third day
  8. documentation
  9. a final note

1. trip to barcelona:

the journey begun on saturday october 5, 1996 on a rainy night at the zürich airport. even if it was a busy holiday weekend, our takeoff was delayed only 20 minutes. it was a spectacular takeoff in the dark. the last thing i could recognize on the ground was the campus of the ETH hönggerberg, then we were swallowed by the clouds. as we flew over grenoble, the clouds suddenly disappeared and we could se the lights of the towns in the valley of the rhone. around 9:15 pm, barcelona greeted us with an almost clear sky.


2. the main messages:

the overall impression was certainly very positive. the symposium was well organized and the equipment functioned well with a very few exceptions. for outside connectivity, there were nearly 100 Intel based Windows NT Workstations which from my point of view functioned very well. the exhibition was interesting and provided lots of opportunities to learn more about various products and services. i personnaly fell in love with the Alphabook even though they still want more than 10'000 dollars for it.

in my opinion, these are the main messages (with some comments from myself):

  1. 64-bit high power platform, Windows NT for the enterprise and the Internet are the three major technologies that Digital will build its strategies on. i got the impression, that basically no one questions the first and the last of these three technologies, but many people seem to have reservations against Windows NT. some say, Windows NT is not yet mature, but i believe, for most people it is simply a kind of state-of-the-art behavior "to be against Microsoft". personally, i agree with those who think Windows NT is a great operating system and that it provides a lot of opportunities for the future ...

  2. The Internet is THE market place of the future. analysts believe that business on the Internet will grow in orders of magnitude higher than "traditional" businesses. Digital will not only participate in this market, but it will provide solutions and services for companies who do business on the Internet.

  3. Digital is still strongly committed to OpenVMS. even though Digital does not see much growth potential in the OpenVMS market, they at least consider the installed OpenVMS base still as a strategic market. OpenVMS on Alpha will continue to be extended (full 64-bit capabilities, improved clustering, support for IP v6 etc.), whereas OpenVMS on VAX will only be maintained and kept functionally equal to the Alpha version without any major new features.

  4. Digital has great products, but there is not much faith in their strategies. Digital reports just another loss of nearly $400M for the last quarter and there are rumors that they will lay off another 7000 people next year. it is hard to believe that this company is really back on the track. for the last few years, Digital has mainly survived by selling parts of it to other companies, like Rdb, the storage manufacturing, training and most recently the Polycenter product family. i'm very concerned that the sell out will continue until there is nothing left to be sold. however, i hope the future will prove that i'm wrong ...

by the way, the quote i liked best was the one i heard during the session called Microsoft Internet Directions. The speaker said: "A PPTP is NOT a north american toilet !" (for those who don't know: a TeePee is a tent of the navajo indians and other native americans.)


3. serving your database via the Web (training seminar on sunday)

tim mueller gave a basic introduction to the World Wide Web, its terms, fundamentals and features. his talk was geared towards OpenVMS and Rdb, but he also mentioned Windows NT often and UNIX occasionally. he listed three of the available http daemons for OpenVMS:

  1. OSU: written at and supported by the Ohio State University, a freeware WWW server
  2. Cheetah: a commercial httpd available from Cisco (this server caches all documents at startup, therefore it has to be restarted each time a document gets modified !)
  3. Purveyor: a commercial httpd available from process software

personal note from the author: i would strongly recommend the OSU httpd for OpenVMS, it is fast and extremely reliable. we run it on VAXes and Alphas with great success ...

tim explained the interaction between the http daemon and cgi scripts. he pointed out that different http daemons act differently and the parameters passed to cgi scripts may even vary with different browsers. he therefore recommended to test cgi scripts with as many different browsers as possible.

in his explanations, tim assumed that data from an existing database shall be made available on the Web. he encouraged the audience not to change the database or operating system just because the data shall now be accessible on the Web. OpenVMS and Rdb in conjunction with the appropriate http daemon are easily capable to do the job. on the other hand, if he would have to started from scratch, tim recommended to consider Windows NT with Internet Server first. if the database already exists, tim suggested to write cgi programs in C which include SQL statements. the enduser shall be provided with a form to fill in the information needed to query the database, the program then would translate this into a SQL query and returns the results as an HTML document. unfortunately, tim was not familiar with the Oracle Web suite which provides highly sophisticated tools to generate such forms and relieves the programmer from writing his own code to create the SQL statements. i hopped he would talk about these tools. so to me, the training seminar basically ended, were it should have started ...


4. understanding and tuning Digital UNIX (training seminar on monday)

larry woodman gave an extremely valuable talk about tuning Digital UNIX. as a member of the Digital UNIX engineering, he is coauthor of the virtual memory subsystem of the UNIX kernel.

first, larry gave a short overview of the internals of the Digital UNIX kernel, which is based on Mach V2.x, BSD, system V and the Posix standards. the main features of the kernel are:

larry continued with a brief description of the virtual to physical memory mapping and the paging and swapping algorithms. Digital UNIX tends to use as much physical memory as possible. beside the so called wired memory, which holds the contents of the system, there are two memory consumers:

  1. the virtual memory manager, which caches the most recently accessed pages of VM objects, such as process headers etc. the contents of this objects is backed up by the swapfile.
  2. buffer for I/O operations, which caches data read from and to be written to files. the contents of this objects is backed up by the files themselves.

if the system runs out of physical memory, it starts to reclaim it from these two consumers. a set of tunable kernel parameters controls the algorithms that are used for these operations.

to be able to tune a system, a system administrator needs to be able to measure the current use of the various resources. possible tools are:

some of these tools are part of the operating system, others are either freeware or may require a license. all the tools mentioned above are simple tools. there are more sophisticated tools with graphical user interfaces, but these tools tend to use a significant amount of system resources so that these tools may influence the system's behavior. this is particularly true if the system is only under a light load and/or is not very powerful. therefore larry recommended to use the simple tools which do not consume a lot of system resources.

even though the information presented so far was very valuable, the most helpful information was yet to come. larry presented a number of different scenarios where he described the symptoms of a badly tuned system, a set of indications that help to identify that the system is badly tuned and a number of suggestions how to improve system performance. he described the effects that a modification of some kernel parameters may have and what undesired side effects that may occur. larry suggested not to change the parameters dramatically, but to test slightly higher or lower values. he also included a list of tunable parameters in his extensive documentation with descriptions of these parameters.


5. first day:

  1. opening session
  2. keynote: Digital's marketing strategy
  3. OpenVMS update and future
  4. AltaVista product overview
  5. social event

opening session

roland kessi "our" swiss DECUS europe president opened this symposium officially on tuesday, october 8. he introduced nancy strecker, vice president at Digital for DECUS and customer programs. she welcomed the attendees on behalf of Digital and showed a short film about the last thirty years of DECUS.
this year, DECUS celebrates its 30th anniversary in europe and its 35th anniversary in the U.S. !
DECUS europe started in 1966 with the first symposium in london. there were 51 attendees from 6 countries present. now, thirty years later, there are 23 DECUS chapters with 150'000 members and this year's symposium attracted about 1000 attendees.


keynote: Digital's marketing strategy:

harold copperman, vice president and general manager of Digital's systems business unit presented Digital's marketing strategy to the audience. he started his talk with a furious ride on a racing car in virtual reality, powered by an Alpha system. since the system was available for testing in the exposition hall, everyone had the chance to take a ride.

Digital's latest "go-to-market" strategy is based on three technologies:

  1. 64-bit high power platforms
  2. Windows NT for the enterprise
  3. The Internet

Digital has identified nine markets that promise noticeable growth opportunities:

  1. data warehousing
  2. continuous computing
  3. Windows NT integration
  4. enterprise applications
  5. visual computing
  6. mail and messaging
  7. intranet
  8. Internet commerce
  9. Internet service providers

as a fourth leg, harold mentioned the installed OpenVMS base. this is recognized as a strategic market, but has not much growth potential. interestingly enough, various speakers mentioned during the symposium, that the OpenVMS business is actually growing. more precisely, the OpenVMS sales were on the decline until the announcement of the affinity program. since then, the OpenVMS business has significantly increased again.

another important aspect of Digital's marketing strategy is the cooperation with partners, of which four are considered strategic alliances:

  1. Microsoft
  2. Oracle
  3. Computer Associates
  4. MCI

OpenVMS update and future:

The next version of OpenVMS will be V7.1 which will be shipped in december 1996. Oracle will ship its database products for OpenVMS V7 one month later.

OpenVMS V7.1 will provide the following enhancements:

  1. Improved cluster connectivity with memory channel with a data transfer rate of 100 MB/sec.
  2. Windows NT affinity: DCL will now support piping and there is support for PPP (Point-to-Point Protocol for TCP/IP).
  3. The Internet product suite V1.0 will be shipped with V7.1 and includes:
    1. various WebBrowsers such as Lynx, Mosaic and Netscape. all of them will be licensed through the Motif license.
    2. WebServers: the OSU WebServer (http daemon) is freeware and there will be a demo version of the purveyor httpd.
    3. other freeware products such as IUPOP3 and more.
  4. simplified system management with enhanced SDA (System Dump Analyzer) and the ability to place the dump file off the system disk. furthermore, there will be no limits in the number of locks the lock manager can handle.
  5. performance increase through extended 64-bit code deployment.
  6. communication: together with V7.1 TCP/IP services (UCX) V4.1 will be shipped and V7.1 will still support DECnet phase IV !
  7. OpenVMS management station V2.1 will now also support TCP/IP.

OpenVMS V7.2 - which will be available by the end of 1997 - will extend the support of the affinity and all connect program. the first addresses interoperability between OpenVMS and Windows NT, the second the interoperability between OpenVMS, Digital UNIX and Windows NT. It will provide the following additional features and enhancements:

  1. OpenVMS will get a Windows NT-like registry.
  2. products for OpenVMS and Windows NT will start to merge.
  3. compilers for OpenVMS will understand Microsoft dialects so that application developers can work on Windows NT workstations with tools with extensive support for graphical user interfaces and once the application is finished, compile and run it on OpenVMS systems.

in general, Microsoft and Digital plan a new affinity wave every six month. Windows NT will become to platform for application development and the centralized management tool for Windows NT and OpenVMS systems. OpenVMS will continue its leadership in high power, high availability and secure computing.


AltaVista product overview:

There were rumors that Digital has sold AltaVista to another company. This is not true ! Digital has created a new subsidiary to make extensive use of the well known name. Digital will keep 80% of the shares of the new subsidiary.

AltaVista is not only the world's fastest and most famous search engine on the World Wide Web, but it is now also a complete product line. Currently, there are six products available, two for navigation, two for communication and two in the area of security:

  1. searching: this is the well known search engine, available in three versions: for a single PC, a workgroup or a complete Intranet
  2. directory: provides directory services
  3. mail
  4. forum: WebForum, an electronic discussion forum based on the Web
  5. tunnel: provides secure transactions between two private locations over the public Internet by encrypting the data
  6. firewall: protects private networks that are connected to the Internet by filtering and monitoring the network traffic

social event:

the social event took place at the maritime museum near the harbor of barcelona. it was the birthday party of DECUS europe for its 30 anniversary. during the apero in the outdoor entrance area, people from barcelona built various spectacular "human towers" with up to five "floors". before the diner, nancy stecker provided five life time achievements awards to the following members of DECUS europe:

during diner, catalanian dancers delighted the audience and after diner, the dance floor was open to everyone.


6. second day:

  1. Digital's technology strategy
  2. Digital UNIX cluster overview, features and outlook
  3. Digital listens
  4. Microsoft Internet Explorer V4
  5. Swiss event

Digital's technology strategy:

the main message was: Digital wants to provide network solutions based on its 64-bit high performance platforms and the Internet. william strecker's technology strategy was in perfect match with harold copperman's marketing strategy. it focuses on the same three technologies: 64-bit platform, Windows NT for the enterprise and the Internet. In addition, OpenVMS is recognized as an additional important strategic market.

Digital wants to maintain its leadership in 64-bit UNIX. cluster capabilities shall be improved and Digital UNIX shall become the preferred platform for third party software vendors.

according to william strecker, Microsoft has committed to release future enterprise products on Alpha and on Intel platforms at the same time. in addition, Microsoft and Digital are working together on a 64-bit version of Windows NT on Alphas. finally, Digital wants to improve cluster capabilities on Windows NT and extend the interoperability of Windows NT and Digital UNIX.


Digital UNIX cluster overview, features and outlook:

the main goals of clustering are:

the speaker admitted, that OpenVMS-clusters are the de-facto standard, any other cluster solution will be measured against OpenVMS-clusters.

TruCluster is a successor of DECsafe. the later was SCSI based and basically a means to share I/O devices such as disks and tapes.

the TruCluster product family provides the following features:


Digital listens:

an impressive panel of top managers was lined up to answer questions from the audience. beside people from Digital, there was one representative from Oracle and one from Computer Associates present, two of the four strategic alliances of Digital.

i can remember "Digital listens" sessions, where the questions were a lot more aggressive and angry than this time in barcelona. this does not necessarily mean that i liked this session better.

many customers are concerned about the fact that Digital sold some product families to other companies (Rdb to Oracle, Polycenter to Computer Associates), mainly because they have to deal with more than one company now. also licensing issues become more difficult.

overall, the session was interesting, but there was not much news ...


Microsoft Internet Explorer V4:

Microsoft Internet Explorer V4 (MSIEv4) will become the central application to navigate on the local PC as well as on the Internet. Internet Explorer and Explorer will be merged into one application and will provide the following features (some of them are already available on V3):


swiss event:

because there is no national DECUS symposium in switzerland anymore, DECUS switzerland organized a so called "swiss event". there were about 50 attendees from switzerland in barcelona, of which about 30 joined us at the swiss event. gerhard wedening, chairman of DECUS switzerland, introduced reto ambühler (which is me) as a new member of the board. he pointed out that DECUS switzerland organizes what they call "stammtisch" every three month in zürich, bern and lausanne. see the DECUS Web pages for dates and exact locations. after the formal part, we enjoyed a true catalanian diner at the ???, an authentic middle age town, built for the world exposition in 19??.


7. third day:

  1. Digital's state of the company
  2. Computer Associates today and tomorrow
  3. Q & A with Robert Palmer and Charles Wang
  4. Microsoft Internet directions
  5. Windows NT registry
  6. Commerce and Internet
  7. Digital's Internet protocol v6 efforts


Digital's state of the company:

there were probably around 1000 attendees at this and the following two sessions, which means virtually everybody was present in the auditorium.

Robert Balmer, president and CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation, gave a brief overview of the state of his company. for the last quarter, Digital announced another loss of $320M. robert pointed out, that they have set about $500M aside for another re-structuring of the company. without that, Digital would have reported a profit of $180M, he said. robert believes, that with the new marketing strategies, Digital will be a profitable company again soon. Robert Palmer discussed the future of Digital and how his company will use and provide services for the Internet.


Computer Associates today and tomorrow:

Charles B. Wang, CEO of Computer Associates, briefly reviewed the history of his company. CA provides solutions for system management in heterogenous environments. recently, they have bought the Polycenter product family from Digital and became one of the for strategic alliances of Digital. Charles Wang assured the audience that his company will continue to support and enhance Polycenter products not only for Unix, but also for OpenVMS.


Q & A with Robert Palmer and Charles Wang:

Questions to Robert Palmer were mostly related to the financial performance of his company. Another person wanted to know, if the rumors about another layoff of approximately 7000 employees were true. Robert basically confirmed this and said, the layoffs will be world wide. Other customers complained because it becomes more complex to deal with Digital if more and more product families are sold to other companies. One customer asked Charls Wang to treat customers more polite than Oracle did ...


Microsoft Internet directions:

Microsoft's future Internet directions will focus on:

  1. proxy server on Windows NT will enhance user authentication, support permissions by protocol, improve existing and provide new security features. in addition, it will support IPX so that in can act as an IPX to TCPIP gateway. the proxy server will be extensible through ISAPI which for example will allow to include SQL server functionality.

  2. Normandy, a commercial Internet server which will support many services on the Internet. personalization allows to configure the server to customer specific needs. it will support various communication services like chat, bbs and mail. due to its support for security and billing services, it may also be used as a membership server.

  3. Office 97 will be Internet aware. all office applications support "save as HTML" as a replacement for the existing Internet Assistants. Internet Explorer V4 will allow to browse any document, including Word documents, Excel sheets, Power Point slides etc.

  4. tripoli will be Microsoft's indexing application.

Windows NT registry:

this was an in-depth discussion of the Windows NT registry. the registry resides in sysroot/system32/config and serves as a central information repository for:

entries in the registry consist of keys and values. keys are basically directories and values are filenames. there are system keys and user keys. the registry may be modified with Regedt32 or Regedit. many parameters are hidden. to make the visible, modify one of the parameters via the command line interface.


Commerce and Internet:

according to a study of INPUT, the traditional commerce will only slightly increase until the year 2000, but electronic commerce may triple its volume. Digital wants to provide solutions for companies who do business with or offer services for electronic commerce. these solutions will be based on Secure Electronic Transactions (SET). Digital's transaction servers will provide safe transactions over secure links using tunneling software. this means all data will be encrypted by the sender and decrypted by the receiver, but it is unreadable for anyone on the public Internet.

beside secure transactions, there is also a need for a charging mechanism to do electronic commerce. Digital's micro payment focuses on very small amounts of money, called "millicents". this is required to charge fractions of a dollar for small amounts of information, like phone numbers from directories, software, games etc.


Digital's Internet protocol v6 efforts:

the current implementation of TCP/IP is version 4 (TCPIPv4), the next generation of this protocol suite will be version 6 (TCPIPv6). it will provide the following enhancements:

some of these features will also be implemented in TCPIPv4, e.g.. RSVP and support for mobile networking.

Digital's contributions to TCPIPv6 include:

current status of TCPIPv6:


8. documentation:

i have hardcopies of the documentation from the two training seminars i have attended. all the slides of the sessions shall be available on a CDrom, but it has not yet arrived ...


9. a final note:

just a few days before this symposium, i was elected as a member of the board of DECUS switzerland. so i have now a personal interest in your opinion about DECUS in general and DECUS switzerland in particular. i believe there is a need for some changes in our user society. if you feel the same way and have some comments or ideas, please let me know ...

the next DECUS europe symposium will be held in september 1997 in kopenhagen, danmark.


trip report DECUS symposium 1997 in copenhagen, denmark

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