February 23, 2019

Test Plan Charlie Unplugged: An Interview with David Boyes

Meet David Boyes

  • March 21, 2001
  • By Scott Courtney

Anyone who works with Linux on IBM's System/390 mainframes has certainly heard of David Boyes. He made history early in the project by running no less than 41,400 Linux images on a single mainframe, all of them doing real work under simulated load as web servers. More recently, David has been involved in helping application service providers and other companies deploy Linux on System/390 hardware in the real world.

David Boyes is 34 years old and lives in Ashburn, Virginia, just a few miles west of Washington D.C. He is newly married to Margarete, a native of the former East Germany whom he met when she was in the U.S. as an exchange student. Together they run Sine Nomine (Latin for "Without Name") Associates and take care of their nine (!) Persian cats, all rescued from animal shelters.

This interview took place on March 20, 2001, between David Boyes and Internet.com Technical Editor Scott Courtney.

LinuxPlanet: How did you get interested in computers?

Boyes: I started out interested in English and History. I'm not really a computer geek at all, but am a person who gets interested in interesting problems. I started out at University of Oregon in 1983 as a biology major, but that didn't work out for me. I switched to History and English and graduated with an MA in History in 1988. I also have dual bachelors degrees in English and Roman History.

The approach [in college] was to study something interesting and then find out if there was a way to get paid for it. I started my computing career in college as a night operator on a IBM 360/50 running card decks through the machine and batching print back out to users. It was a great job as an English/History major. I got paid to do my homework, get up every hour or two, run some cards, collect some output, go back to homework.

When the university got a 370/155, that was a big upgrade, a big deal. Three months later they went to a 4341. IBM suggested that we bring in this thing called VM. We didn't want to break all the OS/360 stuff we were running. They brought in VM as a migration tool. It was VM/370 Release 6. It was love at first sight. No more coming in at 3 am to test system stuff! I've always had a soft spot for VM as an environment -- a long love/hate relationship with CMS, but CP -- that's beautiful. The sheer idea of being able to simulate whatever hardware you want within the architecture of the machine is an unbelievable idea. I got involved with it as a systems programmer because I had the time to do it.

The University went through a period of hard times...and a lot of positions simply disappeared. That was the main reason I left the University, because the job disappeared. That ended up transferring me to Rice University down in Texas. It's very small, right in the heart of downtown Houston. It's a fairly wealthy school, and very much an engineering school. They have a long relationship with IBM. Over the six years that were there, a lot of the players that are now part of the Linux 390 story had some connection with Rice. Myself, Rick Troth, Adam Thornton, and others. The thing that was particularly interesting at Rice was that the mainframe was relatively central to the Rice community. That was beginning to decline, and our interest was basically to preserve the platform that we were working on. Gopher and other internet tools were survival tools for us. Rick Troth wrote Webshare [the first web server for VM] and I wrote the IP sockets piece of it. It was based on work by us and by Serge Goldstein at Princeton.

So you were involved with VM quite early. What was it like working in that environment?

A lot of this stuff has really evolved as 'Can we do this?'

How much can we compress these things? How much of the data can be shared? One of the interesting things about VM is that it really is the first personal computer. We wondered if you could have a virtual machine with everyone running a private copy of the operating system. Rick had been thinking about what was involved in a personal UNIX workstation. Sun had just come out with the Sun 3. Rick had been playing with what he called VNIX, and the idea was that everyone had a personal virtual machine.

Since Rice was an engineering school, the tools ran on UNIX, mostly on Suns. The [mainframe] team dispersed, and I left for Notre Dame. Not much happened there. I was teaching economics at that point. After the experience at Notre Dame, I left that and went to the consulting business. I hooked up with Dimension Enterprises. The company had about four people. We were building fairly large-scale IP infrastructure at that point, taking advantages of different skill sets. I got stuck with the one-off machines that weren't necessarily mainstream. I got to work with a whole lot of weird hardware. You've got this one Sequent in the corner and an experimental DEC machine that DEC never manufactured [in quantity], and an Intel Hypercube. I had to glue that kind of stuff together. You come up with automation tools so you have to do as little work as possible.

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