Straightforward Unix

Many organizations are basically forced to use their existing computer platforms for all new development projects. While there are often efficiencies to be gained from this approach, there are often limitations as well. Ironically, some new projects may actually benefit greatly by choosing obsolete computer platforms for their new projects. It’s all about the software.

Back in the earliest days of computing, the choice of which computer platform to use was often clouded by economics, salesmen and irrational decisions. New projects may be needed to use a particular brand of computer simply because that was the kind of equipment already installed, for example. This did make sense in the early stages when machinery was very expensive. The economics shifted as new computer equipment became cheaper over time. Unfortunately, the software actually became more expensive as the utility of the computer hardware decreased. Some organizations were convinced to continue using certain computers on the advice of salesmen. This was often a good choice. However, sometimes it wasn’t.

OpenVMS has suffered from its marketing position as an alternate to the greater available computer systems. When the system was first released, it competed with large mainframe models that cost extremely high amounts. OpenVMS was poised as a less expensive option. This resulted in a bargain for organizations that wanted to save money over the price of a mainframe. It was still expensive, compared to the cost of early personal computer systems. OpenVMS saw success in the chosen market. Part of the success was attributable to the fact that OpenVMS ran on specialized computer hardware which was far more powerful than personal computer models. In time, the ability of basic computer systems has greatly increased. This has reduced the ability of OpenVMS to offer an inexpensive option to large organizations. Now, any company can install very cheap small computers which have far more ability than they used to have. This has narrowed the field considerably. There remain some agencies which require large mainframe computers which are always very expensive. Everyone else is in a position to install OpenVMS, Unix or Windows to accomplish their needs. Since Windows is normally the cheapest, most organizations choose that system.

In a technological project, risk is a most real item which has a cost. What is the threat to the organization when a computer system is attacked? What is the cost to repair such attacks? If a system is highly vulnerable to attack, does it make sense to reduce the initial system cost if the ongoing operating costs are high or if a debilitating attack is likely? Instead, is it a better option for the risk planning to consider the price of a secure OpenVMS system? This approach would be most expensive initially but would offer ongoing savings, mainly attributable to the fact that a system attack is very unlikely to occur.

Investigating Unix

Now with the luxury of time, and continual development of established systems, the choice of computer platform for new applications is extensive. Standard systems such as Windows or UNIX are the obvious choice of most projects. These may not always be the best options, for several reasons. These systems are definitely the more popular with millions of installations active worldwide. UNIX is the commercial operating system which has been elaborated into open systems called Linux and Ubuntu. Windows is the server operating system released by Microsoft.

There is an alternative operating system which can be used only for new applications. HP corporation sells the OpenVMS operating system which is capable of handling thousands of application users. This operating system was orginally developed by the Digital Equipment Corporation in the 1970’s. Digital was purchased by Compaq which was then purchased by HP. OpenVMS was originally supplied with large, expensive computers produced by Digital, (then Compaq). Today, HP offers OpenVMS with specialized hardware produced expressed for the system. The operating system is also provided as a server product that can be mounted on any modern computer with an appropriate bridge system.

Project managers may find it incredible that a further application should even consider implementation on an operating system that is over 30 years old. There are real benefits to be learned from the selection, however. Security is a big one. OpenVMS is used by far fewer servers which results in a significant advantage. First, since there are so few OpenVMS systems, the world’s hackers are much less likely to target such a system. Should hackers actually target OpenVMS, the system is practically immune to the regular attacks that can devastate a Windows or UNIX server.

OpenVMS is an operating system which was designed from the outset to be secure, multiple user and 64 bit. It did originate as a 32 bit system but a major re-design in the 1990s created a new 64 bit version for new systems. Conversely, both Windows and Unix started with much less capable specifications. Windows was not a single user system in the beginning. 64 bits refers to the magnitude of data that can be handled by the computer in one step. Generally, bigger is better. This is because more data is moved in one transfer.

If an application needs a truly secure implementation platform, the HP OpenVMS might be a great choice. It surely represents a safe environment. OpenVMS, (or ‘VMS’ form in which it was originally known), was intended to be a secure, multiple user operating system from its earliest release some 35 years ago. The developing company, Digital Equipment Corporation, designed this system to bring their existing models. Some of the requirements were that the new system, (VMS), had to include a wide range of security controls on virtually every appearance of the system. Unlike many other systems, operators could establish specific rights on devices, files and processes per individual user. As well, there was a group feature incorporated into the system. This allowed similar people, all accounting users, for example, to get the same access rights.

This ability to define security exactly was a departure from earlier systems. Some of the other platforms took a different approach. Unix, developed about 10 years before OpenVMS, considered security to be all of nothing. Users were either restricted, or they were not. If any elevated abilities were needed by a user, they had to gain access to the core account which had absolute power over all areas of the computer system. Unix did implement a file protection scheme which lets users and groups control reading and writing files but this is only applicable to the computer disks. MSDOS, which evolved into Windows, was never supposed to be a secure system. Rather, these were personal use platforms. In time, Windows evolved into Windows NT and the other multiple user versions. While these now have customizable security levels, they remain open to vulnerabilities due to design.

While many, or most project managers will opt for installation of applications on Windows or Unix, but OpenVMS should be considered. The increase in security for the completed application will be considerable.

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