It has been over thirty years since I wrote my first computer program as a graduate student. I was in awe of this new tool then, and I still am today. Some things do not change. What I am also in awe of is the pace of change in information technology. It has not slacked in those thirty years. If anything, it has accelerated in the last decade or so. New technologies have replaced the technologies that only a short while ago we thought were new and wonderful. In fact change has been the only constant in computing.
About twenty years ago, the Computation Center, which was the name for the CAC, installed a new operating environment, VM. By the way, VM stood for Virtual Machine. In this environment, the large mainframe computer was divided into a number of virtual machines each of which provided service for a single user. An operating system called CMS provided each user with their own environment that they could control. This system was well received by the academic community at Penn State. This VM/CMS combination was really the precursor for today's modern desktop computer.
I said earlier that what is constant in this business is change. Modern desktop computers that run operating systems like Windows NT or 98 have much in common with VM/CMS. The computer has become a real one that sits on or under your desk. An operating system like Windows 98 has replaced CMS. What this newer environment has is something that VM/CMS simply could not provide, a "What you see is what you get" type of visual interface. Most people prefer this new interface to the line-oriented interface of VM/CMS or earlier Microsoft DOS versions. Similar changes have taken place in the UNIX world as well where the command line interface has been partially replaced on most systems.
We are now, however, approaching a watershed point for VM. The current operating configuration is not Year 2000-compliant. We are fully prepared to replace the current system with a Year 2000-compliant version, but our current operating environment has been significantly modified to support special user needs. (This is a throwback to the era of the 1970's and 80's when institutions modified OS's as the only way to provide certain capabilities). The CAC does not have the resources to install these modifications in the new operating environment, and even if we did, it would be an inappropriate use of our limited resources.
We are now faced with a dilemma. We can continue to run the VM system with its non-compliant features, or we can install a Year 2000-compliant system that does not have any local modifications. Since the first option leaves people exposed to the possibilities of having applications fail to produce the expected results, we are choosing the second option that at least will ensure that those applications that do complete (and some will not, due to the lack of local modifications), will complete correctly.
Thus, at some point prior to December 31, 1999, the VM operating environment will be updated to make it Year 2000-compliant. As we develop more detailed dates for this transition, we will announce them, but for now, I simply wanted you to be aware of the direction we are moving and the timeframe for such a move.
After we convert to the unmodified, Year 2000-compliant VM/CMS, it will continue to run for the remainder of the 1999/2000 Academic year, but the time has come to say goodbye to VM/CMS. It has served us well. The functions it provided have been replaced by the distributed computing model that we now have at Penn State. We have promised to give two academic years warning of its demise and we are doing so. We intend to cease operation of VM/CMS on June 30, 2000. For those who need help doing so, we will assist in moving applications to other environments.
Russell S. Vaught, Ph.D., Senior Director,
Center for Academic Computing