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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