Archive for January, 2019

Preparing for SIMH – Setting up the Google Cloud account and installing the Google Cloud SDK

This installment shows how to set up a Google Cloud account in order to run the SIMH emulator in a GCP instance. This is NOT a complete training or tutorial on Google Cloud, but does explain the settings needed for this project.

In this prior post, I’ve shown how the guest OS will be running on the emulator, in a virtual instance in Google Cloud. This post talks about getting a Google Cloud set up to make all this possible.

Google has written a huge amount of documentation. There are tutorials, quickstarts, API docs, and examples and labs. If you have trouble, Google Cloud Help has everything you need to get unstuck.

In order to prepare for the rest of this series and running SIMH in GCP, start with the Google Cloud console and go through this example. It uses the Google Cloud console to do a part of what we’ll do later with scripts.

Those examples show how to set up a project and enable billing. After that, a VM (instance) is created and Linux is installed. Once you have logged into the instance, and logged out, you can then delete the instance to clean up.

Follow the example, and your Google Cloud account will be ready for the rest of this series.

You’ll also want to set up SSH keys for use with “oslogin” – see the documentation here.

Keep the project open, as you’ll need it later to run the emulator instance.

Finally, we’re going to be using BASH scripts and the Google Cloud SDK (AKA gcloud) for all the future example.

You’ll need to install the SDK, using these instructions for your particular operating system.

Next time we’ll begin the first bash script, to use gcloud to set some configuration variables we need to create and run the SIMH instance.


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An overview of installing and using SIMH in the Google Cloud (GCP)

As I mentioned in this prior post, I’m running some legacy operating systems (Multics, UNIX v7) using SIMH in Google Cloud. In this post I’ll give an overview of the installation process, and how the legacy OS stacks on the emulated hardware SPU, etc.

The process of using Google Cloud to run SIMH for hosting a legacy operating system has these major steps, no matter which CPU you’ll be emulating, or which operating system you’ll be hosting.

  1. Configure your Google Cloud account. Since we’ll want to script all of this later, we’ll save some key values in a script that can be included in later steps.
  2. Configure the GCP instance. This involves selecting the zone, CPU (instance type), operating system, etc. Again, this all gets saved in a script for future (re)use.
  3. Create the GCP instance. This creates the instance (virtual host) of the proper instance (CPU) type, in the correct location, and does the initial operating system install. When this is done, you have a virtual instance running Linux (typically) in the cloud, albeit with an un-patched operating system.
  4. Patch the base operating system.
  5. Install the development tools that are needed to compile SIMH.
  6. Load the SIMH source code, configure and compile it. At this point you have an SIMH binary that will emulate the desired CPU(s) all running in GCP.
  7. Copy (and then customize) the files needed run the desired guest OS on the emulated CPU to the running instance. This will include SIMH configuration files, disk image files, and other SIMH resources. This may vary considerably depending on the version of SIMH and the guest OS.
  8. Start SIMH, which will bootload the guest OS. If this is the first time the OS has been booted, you may need to then log into SIMH to issue commands, or even directly into the running guest OS for final configuration.
  9. After this, you can halt the guest OS and save the disk image. This saved state lets you reboot the system again (and again) with emulated persistent disk storage.

At this point, you’ve got a guest operating system, running on an emulated CPU, on top of a Linux system, running on a hypervisor, in the cloud.

It looks something like this:

For simplicity’s sake, we can combine some of the steps above into fewer steps, each of which can be a separate script.

  1. Capture configuration information – a single script to set environment variables for the Google Compute Account and the instance configuration.
  2. Create the GCP instance, install the operating system, patch it,
  3. Install the development tools needed to build SIMH, load the SIMH source code, configure and compile it. Copy the needed SIMH configuration files at the same time.
  4. Copy (and then customize) the files needed run the desired guest OS on the emulated CPU to the running instance. This will be different for each operating system.
  5. Start SIMH, which will bootload the guest OS.

Next time, we’ll look a little bit more at the GCP account setup and capturing the account and instance configuration information.

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Retrocomputing – using SIMH to run Multics on Google Cloud Platform (GCP)

Last Fall (Oct 2018) I started playing with SIMH, and using it to run some rather ancient operating systems in the Google Cloud (GCP). So far I’ve been able to run Multics, UNIX V6 (PDP-11), and 4.0BSD (VaX).

I started down this path by using the dps8m fork of SIMH to run Multics on a Raspberry Pi 3. This worked very well, and produced performance that for a single user, matched the original mainframe hardware. Not bad for a US$35 pocket sized computer emulating a US$10+ MILLION mainframe (of the 1980s). Of course, Multics supported 100s of simultaneous users using timesharing, but at its heart, Multics (up to 8) CPUs were about 1-2 MIPS each and the system supported up to 8M 36-bit words (32 Mbytes) per memory controller,  up to 4 controllers per system for a grand total of 128 Mbytes per system. Yes, that’s Mbytes, not Gbytes.

For comparison, The $35 Pi 3 B+ runs at about 1000 MIPS, and has 1Gbyte of RAM. The Google Compute f1-micro uses 0.2 of a ~1 Ghz CPU and has 0.60 Gbytes (600 Mbytes) of RAM, making it a reasonable fit.

I’ve been building tools to allow anyone to install SIMH and any of these operating systems in the cloud, so that they can be experienced, studied and understood, without having to use dedicated hardware, or understand the details of using GCP, or SIMH.

In this series of posts, I’ll introduce how I’m using GCP (with scripting), a little about SIMH, a little bit about the hardware being emulated, and the historical operating systems and how to run them all in the GCP cloud, pretty much for free.

You should start by looking into Google Cloud Platform (GCP) and using some of their tutorials.

All of the SIMH examples I will show are running Ubuntu Linux on tiny or small GCP instances.

You can get started by reading about SIMH on Wikipedia, at the main SIMH web site, or at the Github repository for the software.

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