[Date Prev][Date Next] [Thread Prev][Thread Next] [Date Index] [Thread Index]

Re: lenny+1 and the future of the alpha port?

I can give partial answers to two of your questions, Steve, though neither is going to be enough to create an argument to counter your own conclusions.

Institutions and individuals in tight financial situations or in less technically advanced areas continue to use Alphas because they are what is available. Buying newer 64-bit machines may simply be out of the question for them.

The Alphas are the only 64 bit processors I have, and likely to remain so.Hobbyists use Alphas because they like them or because they happen to have them. I was running OpenVMS on the SIMH emulator (which works pretty well, actually) when my library consortium retired two Alphas and offered them to me. In essence, they declared them useless because there was no support for them any more. I accepted, and have the DS10 at work running a web server and the PWS 433au at home running OpenVMS and Debian on two different drives. In my case, both machines are really just toys so I can offer nothing that carries any weight in this discussion and especially so since I know little about Alpha coding other than in high level portable languages where the platform and OS don't matter much. The PWS 433au will probably be working into amateur radio applications for as long as I can keep it running. I may just stick with etch for that, since as you say, bits of lenny are already broken on the Alpha.

With respect to electricity consumption, the machines I have don't really use any more than other desktop PCs would. Nor do they take up a lot more space, as far as that goes.


On Fri, Aug 22, 2008 at 4:16 PM, Steve Langasek <vorlon@debian.org> wrote:
Thanks to all who've replied so far.  It sounds like we're generally where I
thought we would be at this point in time:  there are a number of people
still using alphas (in particular, folks who have newer and better models
than I), including some who expect to still be running theirs in
three-years' time, but not so many that I think it makes sense to continue
supporting a full Debian port of lenny+1 with all that entails (multiple
always-on buildds+porter machines, ~20G of space used on the mirrors,
headaches for maintainers when their package fails to build for any reason).

It's not a foregone conclusion that Debian should drop alpha for lenny+1;
but even http://wiki.debian.org/alphaLennyReleaseRecertification doesn't
list anyone other than me willing to do the work today, and I'm definitely
not willing to be on the front line for lenny+1.  So if lenny+1 for alpha is
really something people want, someone will have to step up to do the work.

Some alternatives to consider would be a minimal port of lenny+1 providing
only the server packages; or else getting a team together to provide
extended security support for lenny (preferably for /all/ archs, to share
the benefits/work) beyond the normal 1-year oldstable cut-off.  But these
are again both solutions that require a commitment from the interested

Responses to several posts in-line below.

On Fri, Aug 22, 2008 at 01:14:06PM +0200, Daniel Franganillo wrote:
> We plan to maintain our Ds10(4) and as400(1) for a long time, they are
> wonderful machines, and more important reliable.
> We have a mail, server, Databases, Suvbersions, Apache, Backup-raids,
> Trac, etc.. and we feel that the money we paid for them (10y ago?) was
> well spent.
> So...please, dont drop support on Alpha :P

Can you quantify how long is "a long time" for you?  I'm happy that Debian
has helped you get 10 years (13, by the time lenny ends) out of this
hardware!  But beyond that point, is continuing to use that hardware really
the most effective solution for you?  (Not a rhetorical question - I'm
interested to know under what circumstances it makes sense to continue
running alpha hardware, instead of consolidating on current-generation amd64

On Fri, Aug 22, 2008 at 01:30:08PM +0200, Gianluca Bonetti wrote:

> I am a proud Linux user and an Alpha AXP fan (for what it means these
> days...)
> I think that having Linux support on Alpha is still a positive goal,
> like having m68k support and taking care about 386/486/586 vintage
> machines.
> I am not interested into m68k, or vintage x86, but I like that there is
> still some care about the really lower end of computing and for
> architectures that have no hardware support by vendors, but still some
> users around the world.

So, it's partly with m68k in mind that I've started this thread when I did.
I do not think that m68k has set a very good example; I have a lot of
respect for many of the folks who have been m68k porters over the years, but
the m68k port had become a burden for the Debian project as a whole long
before the Vancouver meeting brought the issue to the forefront.  I don't
want alpha to go down that same road; I would like to see the port retired
with dignity, and not become a source of resentment for the rest of Debian.

I think we're at that point where we need to start planning its retirement
in order for that to happen - while users still have 3 years to plan what
they're going to do when support runs out, rather than having it come as a
slap in the face and have us desperately trying to hang on to doing full
Debian releases because users are caught unprepared.

> Of course, running Linux on Alpha today means running Debian.

Has Jay Estabrook's Red Hat Alpha build fallen by the wayside?  Not that I'm
seriously suggesting that anyone run Red Hat instead of Debian on their
Alpha ;), just wondering what the status there is since I haven't heard from
Jay in about a year.

Also, there do appear to be some folks running Gentoo on Alpha.

> What is your part of work in the Debian Alpha port?
> Do you take care of daily installer builds, or have also to hack some
> code?

In practice, my current role is in the area of minor updates to keep the
kernel and installer in shape for release.  There is code hacking that
*needs* to be done to keep alpha as a full-fledged port, but neither I nor
anyone else is doing this work.

Lenny will already ship without Java on alpha because no one was willing to
fix the toolchain; and atlas has also been dropped recently.  I'm not sure
if X in lenny or sid currently works on alpha, but sid had problems last
time I tried to get it working on the Matrox card in my alpha; and the
Matrox framebuffer has been broken on alpha since before etch's release,
with the result that console-based d-i installs on anything except English
are kinda messy, IIRC.

To keep the alpha port alive would not require a committment to fix *all* of
these issues, but these are really a taste of things to come as alpha
support continues to atrophy upstream due to lack of use and testing.  As
the alpha community continues to shrink, the work will become increasingly
difficult for the porters who remain.

> I have some Alphas (best machine a 2x500 DS20) and if I have some reason
> to put them at work, I will be proud to do it.
> Anyway, hacking the code could be a difficult task at times, but I don't
> know how much work it takes you to do each build.

The builds themselves take almost no effort on my part, they just require an
alpha to be running with a copy of the debian-installer svn tree and an
up-to-date sid install (chrooted is ok).  If there's demand for it, I would
even be happy to continue running the builds themselves on someone /else's/
alpha that already has to be powered on; but I have ethical objections to
having an alpha powered on 24/7 just for this purpose :), and I won't do it
if there aren't going to also be porters taking responsibility for package

> Could the Alpha port live with an older installer?
> Could it live with Lenny installer even when we would be at Lenny+1 or
> Lenny+2, Lenny+3... ?

This would not be releasable as a Debian port, no; it's a requirement for
Debian releases that the port be self-installable, and not require some
other OS (such as a previous version of Debian) to bootstrap it.

On Fri, Aug 22, 2008 at 07:28:07AM -0800, James Zuelow wrote:
> I'm not a coder, but I think I can work out how to make debs of tolerable
> quality if someone is absolutely stuck with a firewall w/o compiler or the
> ability to cross compile and needs help.

> But that's a while off.  Steve, when you say dropping the arch for Lenny+1,
> what does that imply for Alpha when Lenny is oldstable?

In what sense do you mean?  Lenny as oldstable would still have security
support on alpha, the same as all other architectures (assuming that we can
still find sponsorship for the buildds - and many thanks to Tim Cutts and
the Sanger Institute for providing this service for lenny to date!).  But it
would no longer be present in the 'stable' or 'testing' suites at that
point, which among other things means that there would be no guaranteed
upgrade path at all from lenny to sid, and therefore I would argue that we
should not continue to take up space with this port in sid either.

On Fri, Aug 22, 2008 at 07:11:14PM +0200, Adrian Zaugg wrote:
> At my university there are still a hand full GS1280 and ES40/45 around,
> which will be available in the future for giveaway, as there must be
> somewhere else too. These machines are worthless without proper support.
> Debian is one of the last useful OS for these machines, as stated in
> another answer from someone else (*BSD are single CPU, if I remember
> correctly).

Debian Alpha doesn't work very well on SMP systems any more, either.  Since
etch, we've had problems with modules not being loadable due to toolchain
changes, so you typically have to build a custom static kernel; and the very
Alphas that have been used as the Debian buildds for the past year have also
had problems when running under SMP.

Again, I'm certainly not encouraging anyone to switch away from Debian; I
would much rather see a trimmed-down version of Debian/Alpha distributed
from debian-ports.org than that. :)  But if there aren't enough folks to
keep Debian running well on alpha, it may be inevitable.

> From an ecological point of view, it is really questionable to run such
> energy inefficient machines. But the production of a computer like an
> Alpha also used a lot of energy, as such it should run over some years to
> justify this. I don't know how long, but estimate quite long (five,
> seven, ten years?).

In English, we have an _expression_: "throwing good money after bad".  Yes,
there's an environmental cost associated with the initial production of the
machine (not just in terms of energy but also in pollution), but that's
already done and can't be undone.  Computers can be had today that are more
powerful *and* more energy efficient, for relatively little money - how long
would a more energy-efficient machine have to run in place of your alpha, in
order to pay for itself in electricity savings?

For me, I know the answer is "not long".

Steve Langasek                   Give me a lever long enough and a Free OS
Debian Developer                   to set it on, and I can move the world.
Ubuntu Developer                                    http://www.debian.org/
slangasek@ubuntu.com                                     vorlon@debian.org

To UNSUBSCRIBE, email to debian-alpha-REQUEST@lists.debian.org
with a subject of "unsubscribe". Trouble? Contact listmaster@lists.debian.org

Reply to: