Your Own IBM Mainframe (or Vax, Or Cray…) The Easy Way

If you want the classic experience of working with an IBM mainframe or another classic computer like a DEC VAX, you have a few choices. You could spend a lot of money trying to find one, transport it, and refurbish it. But, of course, most of us will settle for an emulator. While there are great emulators out there, most of the time you aren’t interested in running just the bare machine — you want the operating systems, the compilers, and the other software that made these machines so interesting. Running your three lines of machine code isn’t as much fun as playing hunt the wumpus or compiling some Fortran IV code. Unfortunately, finding copies of all this old software can be daunting. But thanks to the efforts of [Rattydave], you can do it with no problems at all. The secret? Pre-built docker images that have everything you need in one place.

In addition to IBM’s MVS, VM370, and TSS,  you can also run Multics — the predecessor to Unix — on a collection of computers from DEC, HP, and DG, and even a Cray 1 supercomputer. There are good instructions, although some of the machines do take a little work. For example, the TSS image notes:

This is not a ready to run system. You need to IPL 250 and then you can control via the telnet connection. (If you dont know what IPL 280 means then this container is not for you.)

We aren’t sure if both of those are supposed to be 250, or both 280, or if that sentence even makes sense as-is. It has been a long time since we IPL’d an IBM computer. We think they both should be 250.

The collection has a lot of SIM-H machines including the Altair 8080 with and without a Z80 CPU, an IBM 1130 and many others that probably still need some attention to get working.

Of course, you still need to know how to work the computer in question, although the notes for each image will help you get at least a foothold. You probably ought to know a little about docker, too, although just to use it, it isn’t all that hard. Plus if you start using docker, you’ll find a lot of different uses for it.

34 thoughts on “Your Own IBM Mainframe (or Vax, Or Cray…) The Easy Way

      1. I saw the open VMS, but the last time I worked in software development, VMS was not “open” and was something like version 3.5 on 750, 780 clusters and MicroVAXen 1 and 2’s. MicroVax are crazy priced on eBay and through resellers. Once upon a time you could get VMS through DECUS to run on SIMH.

          1. “VMS Software Inc.” says they can give you a hobbyist license for the Alpha AXP version of VMS, but they’re not allowed to generate license packs (paks?) for the VAX. There’s a decent supply of Alpha emulators. The company is producing an x86-64 version of VMS and I think it’s in early access of some sort.

    1. yeah that’s one of many reasons this package uses mvs 3.8, which is the last open source mvs from ibm. it is old enough that it’s not a threat…not sure if ibm might still have some claim to it but there’s no profit in pursuing it.

      but yeah if you try to run modern z/os (64-bit mvs) under an emulator and run business loads on it, ibm will be onto you very aggressively.

  1. Sweet! However, the 70’s were so long ago, all I can identify with now is sitting at that console! IBM 360/370. FedEx had 2, back to back! Ah, how I miss those days…

    1. I supported a 370 at one stage in my career. Writing even simple “hello world” code to test both the system AND my knowledge was… educational.

      Damn EBCDIC. Every Bloody Code’s Different, IBM Crap.

  2. IPL 250 is correct. At the time (late 1960s to very early 1970s), TSS, which ran only on a System/360 Model 67, would have used IBM 2314 DASD (disk) storage devices. Almost without exception, 2314 disks would have been installed with control unit addresses of 4 or 5. Connected to channel 2, the individual disk drives would therefore typically have unit addresses from 240 thru 24F and 250 thru 25F. Tape drives, in contrast, were at the time typically attached to a control unit assigned an address of 8. So 180 would be a typical unit address for a tape drive on channel 1, and 280 would be a tape on channel 2. One would IPL a 360/67 from a tape only to run diagnostic tests or a stand-alone utility program, such as a disk drive backup.

  3. So, can I find Guy Steele’s LISP interpreter for the 1130 emulator?
    And where can I find a card reader for all those old programs I have on card decks?
    Plus, it would be something to have a virtual 029 keypunch that created virtual cards to go into the 1442 Card Eat Crunch…..

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