More about FAFNER...

Where does the name come from?

FAFNER is the name of one of the two dragons (the other one is called FASOLT, a nice name for a OpenVMS-system, too, but in use for another machine :-) ) of Richard Wagner's Ring des Nibelungen. Unfortunately, FAFNER gets slayered during the opera Siegfried by Siegfried himself and his sword Nothung. (I have never said that I like Siegfried - I prefer dragons :-) ).

The beginning of the story

The first DIGITAL machines I fell in love with were PDP-11 systems (see some of the pages at The first model I got, was a small LSI-11/2, which was followed by an 11/23, an 11/34 (with 192 kB semiconductor memory - an unbelievable amount of memory! :-) ) and finally a large 11/44 with lots of peripherals.

This 11/44 I had (and still have) at home was my main compute and file server. I had a modem connection into the garden (I was still living with my parents who sometimes had hard times with my large machines and more than one power outage caused by tripping the main fuse of the house. It was no simple task to get three phase power into my room in the old house - the only source was the kitchen - with the drawback that you could not cook while I was running my machines or the fuses would blow - a large thank you to my parents who were not only always very supportive but also most of the time very amused by my hobby :-) ) and terminals in every place I was so I could work with my 11/44 all of the time I was at home.

At this time I was not only already studying mathematics (and philosophy) at the university of Mainz but I was working for the local computer center and my boss at this time (Markus Koenig) was not only a brilliant OpenVMS man but a hardware freak, too and a good friend of mine who let me do many things in his office which others would not even think about allowing a student to do. :-)

One of these things was to hook up a modem to a serial line on one of our VAXes running VMS 5.5-2. This modem I could call from home and run DDCMP over the serial line. So I could simply say SET HOST 60.125 to establish a DECnet connection to a machine at the computer center from my PDP-11/44 at home. :-) These were the days...

One day a chemistry professor called Markus and me because he got some surplus MicroVAX-systems from a large chemical laboratory which he wanted to use for his own purposes at his institute. Sitting next to the (wonderful :-) ) MicroVAX-systems was a quite shabby BA23 housing a MicroPDP-11/73. When I saw this machine and noticed that he was not at all interested in using it, I started to talk him nuts to get the machine from him. Eventually he gave in and I could take the machine with me.

You can probably guess what I did with the MicroPDP-11/73, can you? I took it with me into Markus' office and put it under my desk. Fortunately the machine was not too loud, so he allowed me to let it run under my desk. (Do you know, why I feel lost without a running DIGITAL machine near to me? :-) ) Obviously I had to name the machine. All of the other DIGITAL-machines at the computer center had very bureaucratic names like VZDMZI which were useful acronyms but nothing really cosy. So my friend Ingo and I thought for a long time how to name the machine. Since we both like (no, that's wrong - I like, he loves) Wagner and his "Ring der Nibelungen", suddenly we thought about the two dragons, FAFNER and FASOLT. Eventually I decided to call my machine FAFNER. :-)

Over the time, FAFNER got more and more tasks, there was MACRO (as always on RSX-11M+ systems), a FORTRAN compiler, PASCAL, DECUS-C, and lots of programs written by me. So the 4 MB of memory FAFNER had, became to small, its disks were always full - for short: The dragon was on his limits.

The first VAX :-)

Then - a miracle occured! :-) My friend Bernhard from Hamburg who is an OpenVMS enthusiast, too and collects old DIGITAL machines, too (hi Bernhard! :-) ) sent me a packet containing a MicroVAX-II CPU board and two memory boards for a total of 9 MB RAM. So FAFNER was converted to a MicroVAX-II and I installed VMS-4.7 - finally I had my own VAX under my desk in the office! :-)

As time goes by :-) - you can guess, what happened, can you? FAFNER became somewhat "small"... :-) But - fortunately - I knew someone who sold used hardware - and he had a KA650 CPU board with memory for 650 DM (which was a fortune at this time for a student like me) for sale. I asked my parents and grandparents for a credit to buy the card and finally, FAFNER was converted to a MicroVAX-3200 with 2.8 VUPs instead of the 1 VUP MicroVAX-II. It was heaven - the memory had nearly doubled to 16 MB! :-)

Probably you can imagine, what happened after some time? :-) I am sure, you can... FAFNER was getting slower and its disks became fuller so I was looking for new hardware and found someone selling a VAXstation 3100/38 for 1500 DM (horrible expensive at this time :-) ). But since I now had a job at the computer center, I could afford buying the machine and this was the end of my QBUS-based FAFNER under my desk. The 3100/38 was much quieter, smaller, did not produce so much heat (imagine sitting on your desk in the summer, when it is hot and having a VAX heating your feet :-) ) and had a large monitor, so I could run DECwindows for the first time! :-)

After some years I eventually had to leave the computer center since they were abandoning OpenVMS and there was no place for me to live there anylonger. A friend of mine of the institute of psychology asked me whether I would like to start working part time at this institute maintaining their computers and their psychophysiological measurement systems (something which was always fascinating me - I am still developing measurement systems for applications in this field :-) ). So I left the computer center (it was a hard time for me - I felt so much at home there, that leaving was something which caused more than a tear) and moved to the institute of psychology.

At my new office, I felt instantly at home - it was wonderful - years that I would never like to miss in my live. I never learned this much in such a short time - they had inhouse developed software for data gathering, written in 68000 assembler, they had OS/9, OpenVMS, AIX, and lots of interesting, special hardware for their measurements. I started building and maintaining hardware, programming software for filtering huge amounts of physiological data and the like, and... :-)

...FAFNER came to its limits and I was in need of a larger machine. :-) This time I got hold of a VAXstation 3100/76 SPX with a whopping 7.6 VUPs which served me well over all the wonderful years at the institute of experimental psychology. :-)

Leaving university

During all these years I had lots of computers at home and there was always a VAX running OpenVMS, but most of my work was done at the office in the university, so at home, a MicroVAX-3200 was more than enough. When I left university after completing my master thesis, my work was shifted to my machines at home and I needed a larger and faster VAX. :-) Over the time, I build a rather large VAX-cluster consisting of more than 20 machines, ranging from MicroVAX-II systems up to BI-bus machines (like my unique 8370 :-) ) and a lot of other machines.

As time went by, my machines got larger and larger until now, where my FAFNER at home is a wonderful VAX-7000/820 mit 512 MB of RAM and Ethernet-, FDDI- and CI-controllers. On the CI bus is a HSJ40 SCSI-controller which is housed in a separate rack containing six drawers of SCSI disk (one drawer for each SCSI bus of the HSJ40). This FAFNER is so incredibly fast (for a VAX :-) ), it will last longer than every other machine before it.

Pictures of FAFNER, the VAX-7000 :-)

Since today I rearranged some machines in my cellar, there is a new picture from FAFNER and some of its surrounding racks (although one rack on the left can not be seen because of the angle the picture was made from):

On the far right is FAFNER itself, the VAX-7000/820, left to it an SW800 storage works rack with a front loading 1/2 inch tape drive can be seen. Left to this is a rack containing a VAX-4000/400 (TICHY) which contains a homebrew QBUS-MIDI-card which is connected to a Roland SC-55mkII located in another room in the house. Located on top of this rack are a VAX-4000/60 and a VAX-4000/90 with some SCSI devices connected to it. On the far left a rack containing a few DSSI disk drives, an RA90 drive and some SCSI gear can be seen - the VAX-4000/500 on top of this rack is unfortunately hidden - this machine serves as a testbed for installing new versions of OpenVMS, database experiments and the like. Left to this (and invisible) is another rack with the necessary network equipment, a star coupler for the CI-systems, a DEChub-900, a DSL-modem, a router to the internet, etc.

If you would like to have your own account on FAFNER, just send me a mail to and I will create an account for you. If you need anything on FAFNER, I will do my best to install it or support you in questions concerning OpenVMS in general or FAFNER, etc. You might also want to have a look at FAFNER's mainpage.


30-NOV-2004, B. Ulmann fecit.