[rescue] x86 vs. SPARC BIOSes (was: Small servers (was Re: WTT: 1.5G of PC2700 for 1G of PC100))
ag at computer.org
Thu May 8 04:01:30 CDT 2008
On Thu, May 8, 2008 at 4:07 AM, Shannon Hendrix <shannon at widomaker.com>
> On May 5, 2008, at 16:15 , Ethan O'Toole wrote:
> I don't mind the PC stuff really. I mean, once a server is setup and
>> deployed you don't really have to deal with it that much. Even on Sun and
>> SGI boxes you don't really mess with the boot prom stuff once it's up and
> The issue comes at 0400 when you have to drive out to a server, or even fly
> out to it, all because they could not spend $1.50 in quantity to have a real
I agree. And for me, it can take *days * to travel to some of my machines.
And transporting the video data requires links that are fast & fat (by our
standards, anyway). Obviously, since these boxes are in remote places, the
cost of such links is prohibitive. And the rest of the time, we don't
*need* video. So a serial BIOS is essential.
However, the reality is that x86 boxes are built to run Windows, and Windows
assumes a keyboard, mouse, and hi-res bitmapped display. So the x86 BIOS
writers can assume the same I/O will be available. This is a major reason
why I favour SPARC machines -- they were never designed under this
Some of the things that drive me nuts about x86 BIOSes are:
- There's no command-line, so there's no way to script a setup. OK, you
can capture the settings with dmidecode, but how do you enter them
programmatically? (The OS hasn't booted the first time yet, remember.)
- There's no standard way to enter the menu system. It could be <DEL>,
or <F11> or who knows what.
- The menus contain all kind of stuff that you don't understand (what
does "optimised settings" mean? And why wouldn't I want it?)
- BIOSes on motherboards, video boards, RAID cards (don't get me started
on RAID cards...) all assume that they can clear the screen, wiping out that
vital error that appeared for a brief, tantalising, moment. Why can' they
- How do you tell an x86 box the equivalent of "setenv auto-boot? false",
so that it comes up in the BIOS, where you can run "probe-scsi", "test-all",
and then "boot"?
And here are some of the things that I love about the OBP:
- emacs keybindings
- devalias: "boot disk" can point whereever.
- FORTH: you can actually *program* the darn thing without booting an OS.
Or even having disks or CDROMs plugged in. And F-code is portable to other
CPUs, so it should suit the peripheral manufacturers too.
- Plugin-cards can extend the boot environment with their own F-code. So
the basic PROM can be lean & mean. Video cards, SCSI cards, etc.can do what
they need to.
- TFTP net-booting (actually, HP's ILO feature where it boots from a
http:// URL is pretty neat)
- OBP is designed to be upgradeable, without needing to boot an OS.
IEEE 1275-1994 must be the most under-rated feature of the SPARC boxen.
OK, enough now. Back to work. Sorry, I get carried away...
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