Museum logo

The period 1986 - 1990
Graphic services: GX4000 and I2S

During 1988, the graphic services working group (ITGC), being a part of the IT-policy advisory group of the Laboratory (ITBC), prepared the replacement of the Evans & Sutherland-system. It was decided earlier to buy a SUN 3/260 - Raster Technologies GX4000-configuration and a small SUN 3/60.

The SUN 3's were installed at the end of 1988. The GX4000-boards, monitors and other equipment were installed in the beginning of 1989 by Ponder Associates, then having the responsibility for the total system delivery. The GX4000, a "state-of-the-art" product, comprised PHIGS+-software and special graphical boards that could generate and display graphical vectors very fast. For the 3-D effects, a hardware Z-buffer was available. On March 28, 1989, the system was introduced during an internal colloquium by division 2.
Acceptance of the system could not take place because certain offered and documentend functionality did not work. In 1990, Raster Technologies was taken over by the Alliant Company, a manufacturer of multi-processor mini-supercomputers. The PHIGS+ sofware and special hardware boards contained many errors. It was decided to delay the acceptance until a new version of the SunOS and Raster software was received.

Many hours by Systeem Management & Support (SMS) and others were spent in trying to get the system operating as it should. Finally, it was decided to use the system 'as-is' and to program around all errors, which required a lot of extra resources for the projects.

After 2.5 years, the system was still in an unaccepted phase. That caused the management of the Laboratory to decide to retract the system as a general facility. The system was from now used as a UNIX workstation and delivered display facility by division 2. These experiences lead to the decision to stay away from "state-of-the-art" products intended as central user services.

VAXstation 3500/I2S

End of 1988, it became clear that the raster graphical COMTAL system had to be replaced by modern facilities as well. Begin 1989, a VAXstation 3500 was ordered from Eurosense Inc. The system controlled two IVAS-display stations (I2S-system).

Using the Local Area Vaxcluster (LAVC) concept, the VAXstation 3500 was connected to the VAX 11/750 being the server of this cluster. The VAXstation 3500 had 16 MB memory and a disk of 300 MB.

The acceptance of the system had also its problems as well. On April 6, 43 problems were reported. A part of these problems was solved shortly. The expectations with respect to the functionality of the graphical software were at certain instances much higher than the software provided them in reality. Contrary to the GX 4000, the system could be used without large problems in finding work-arounds.

As the ideas with respect to the use of (raster graphical) image processing within the divisie Observation systems changed drastically, the system was hardly used in the beginning of 1993. Reasons enough to decommission the system on November 1, 1993.

High wire time: plotting and previewing

Aside from the plot and preview facilities provided under NOS/VE, users at the Central VAX (VC) station required plot facilities as well. Because the CYBER system programmers had only a limited experience with the VAX VMS operating system commands, compilers and editors, it appeared to be a tough job to convert the NOS/VE plot library for VAX/VMS and to deliver an interpretable plot file in the same way as was done on the CYBER under NOS/VE. This time we used the dual-state facilities and the ftp-concepts again as was done earlier to move print files through the double gateway. Much to the surprise of many, including the VAX/VMS systems programmers, the complete package was compiled and ran within one day!

Beginning of 1988, users also wanted to have plot-preview facilities under NOS/VE. A first investigation led to the conclusion by an experienced GKS (Graphical Kernel System) user that it would require a man month of work if the architecture would be based on the Graphical Kernel System (GKS) software. Unfortunately, no one in the systems programming group had that experience with GKS, thus is was difficult to figure out whether his estimate was correct. On a Friday afternoon, a new book on GKS was discovered on a shelf in the library. It was tempting. The book and a print-out of the basic plot library under NOS/VE were taken to home. After reading the introductionary chapters with the basic principles of GKS, a pencil was used to scribble a number of GKS-lines for each Calcomp library routine. The largest problem was about dealing with scaling figures. Within some minutes after the first error free compilation next Monday, the first drawings could be "previewed" on a terminal screen. Within a week, the Preview application under NOS/VE was released to the users.

Enthusiastic now about all these sunts, the VAX/VMS system programmers teased their collegues. It should now be very easy to provide Preview on the VAX/VMS systems to our users community. A new and exciting challenge! It lasted not long to get it working after the GKS code was ftp-ed to the VAX. And not only that. Some code fiddling allowed us to support other output devices from the Calcomp software-library, as for instance a color printer and a Postscript-printer. Reason enough to write a Calcomp device driver for the VAX/VMS GKS-system. In this way, VAX/VMS previewed the GKS-drawings, which were transported via VAX/VMS, an Ultrix-gateway, a Network device interface (NDI), NOS/VE, NOS/BE and the Calcomp 906-controller to the Calcomp 1051 plotter where they finally were materialised on paper or velum.

Museum logo