Compaq ends an era, retires VAX

The message boards at open-source software news site Slashdot.org read like a virtual wake on Wednesday, with friends gathering to trade anecdotes and share memories of the departed, after the news that Compaq Computer is finally retiring its line of VAX servers.

The VAX's death was announced in a letter posted on Compaq's VAX Web site and on the site's product information page. The letter, written by Jesse Lipcon, vice president of Compaq's High Performance Server Division, explained Compaq's decision by saying the company had "extended the VAX CPU technology as far as possible." He also noted that many users had already replaced their VAX machines with higher-speed Alpha processor-based hardware.

"Thus, due to the rapidly diminishing demand for VAX hardware, and the associated business viability, Compaq will be announcing last order and ship dates for its VAX hardware products," the letter said.

Compaq will accept its last VAX orders on September 30 and will ship its last VAX computer on December 30. Though Lipcon's letter acknowledged that circumstances may change, it states that Compaq intends to offer technical support for these computer through 2010.

VAXen, as they're called, are servers, built originally by the Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), and now, after its purchase of DEC, by Compaq. The machines are tall - sometimes up to 5 feet tall - and, in their design bear a distinct genealogical line to the room-filling systems of the 1950 and 1960s.

Employed for many of the same uses as their real estate-spanning ancestors, VAXen are still found in some corporations, and often power servers at colleges and universities. In their heyday - the 1970s and 1980s - VAXen were found everywhere heavy-duty computation was done.

On Slashdot, readers have lamented the passing of an older era of computing, and with it, the values and knowledge of that time.

One user, "yakfacts," summed up that feeling, writing, "The loss of the VAX represents a loss of knowledge and it is sad."

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