The Hermit Project was a collaboration between Columbia University and Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), similar to some of the larger projects that DEC had with other universities such as MIT and CMU. It was active from 1984 to 1987. Columbia was chosen on the strength of its Kermit protocol and software work as well as its close ties with DEC. Columbia received equipment valued at $3,000,000.00, including four minicomputers, thirty workstations, various impact and laser printers, tape drives, a high-speed network and storage for our central mainframes, and Columbia's first high-speed backbone network, as well as an on-site DEC engineer. The goal was a distributed computing environment with centralized identities and file storage on both IBM and DEC mainframes, supporting IBM, DEC, and Apple workstations on the desktop (DOS, Unix, and Mac OS), able to operate over diverse communication media ranging from serial ports to Ethernet.

- fdc, August 2011

HERMIT PROJECT PROGRESS REPORT

Frank da Cruz
Principal Investigator

23 January 1987

Here is a summary of the components and capabilities of Hermit, and the current status of each component. There are three tiers to the Hermit architecture: the back end (our central systems), the cluster server (an intermediate MicroVAX Unix system), and personal computers. The cluster servers are attached to the University backbone Ethernet cable and communicate with the central systems using session, presentation, and application protocols built upon TCP transport protocols.

BACK END: The user's real identity resides on a "back end" -- a central system. So far, only the DEC-20s serve this purpose.

CLUSTER SERVER: The cluster server has "two faces". With one face, it provides services to the users who come in from the PCs; with the other, it relays information or requests for service to the back end.

PCs -- MS-DOS (Rainbow, PC/AT; Macintosh & Unix workstations come later)

Implementation:

Brief Synopsis of Where Things Stand:

Why the Delays?

Prognosis:

A March 1, 1987, deadline has been set for getting the bugs out of what we have so far, to produce a working Hermit environment encompassing the DEC-20, the intermediate VAX cluster server, and MS-DOS machines -- IBM PC's and DEC Rainbows, providing file, print, and virtual terminal service.


DIAGRAM:


HERMIT PROJECT COMPONENTS AND STATUS, SEPTEMBER 1986
                                                                Legend:

+----------------------------------------------------------+    (1) Done by us, debugged (4) Partly done (7) Easy to do     
|                    Common File System (8)                |    (2) Done, being debugged (5) Designed    (8) Existing service
+----------------------+-------+-------+-------------------+    (3) Almost done          (6) Done once   (9) Not designed
                       |       |       |
 DEC-20s               A       B       D                               VAX/UNIX hosts                VM/CMS hosts
+-----------------------------------------------------------+         +-------------------+         +-------------------+
| file    mail    telnet  print   finger   message  library |         | name     other    |         | CLIO     other    |
| server  server  server  server  server   server   info    |         | server   services |         | server   services |
|  (1)     (5)     (8)     (8)     (8)      (8)      (9)    |         |  (9)      (1-9)   |         |  (9)      (1-9)   |
+-----------------------------------------------------------+         +-------------------+         +-------------------+
                       A       B       D                                       C                          A       B
                       |       |       |                                       |                          |       |
Backbone Ethernet      |       |       |                                       |                          |       |                
-----------------------+-------+-------+-----------+---------------------------+--------------------------+----+--+----------
                                                   |                                                           |   
                    MicroVAX Cluster Server        |                                               MicroVAX Cluster Server
                   +-------------------------------+---------------------------------+           +--------------------------+   
Communications     |  TCP/IP/Ethernet (8)                                            |           |                          |   
                   +-----------------------------------------------------------------+           |                          |   
Back End Client    |  (8)    (5)    (8)    (8)      (7)       (1)     (9)            |           |                          |  
Application        | telnet  mail  print  finger  message  file/disk  CLIO   bid (9) | < - - - > |  bid (9)                 |  
PC Server          |  (1)    (1)    (1)    (1)      (1)       (*)     (9)            |           |                          |   
                   +-----------------------------------------------------------------+           |                          |   
Session Layer      | Hermit (2)                                                      |           |                          |   
                   +-----------------------------------------------------------------+           +--------------------------+   
Datalink/          | TCP (8)            :                                            |                                            
Transport Layer    |                    : - - - - - - - - - - - + Hermit (1)         |                                        
                   |                    :         LAT (8)       :                    |
                   +--------------------------------------------+--------------------+                                           
Physical Layer     | Ethernet (8)                               | RS-232 (1)         |
                   +--------------------+-----------------------+------------+--+--+-+
                                        |                                    |  |  |
Local Ethernet                          |                                    |  |
---------------+------------------+-----+------------------+-------          |
               |                  |                        |                 |  * Disk service:
               |            +-----+--------+     +---------+---------+       |    MS-DOS            (1)
               |            | Kinetics (8) |     | DEC LAT Box (8)   |       |    Pro/380 2.9BSD    (6)
               |            +-----+--------+     +---+---+---+---+---+       |    Macintosh         (6)
 Pro/380       |                  | Appletalk        |   |   |   | RS-232    |
 2.9BSD        |            --+---+--+--+------      |                       |
 (1)           |              |      |  |            | Rainbows or PC/ATs    |  MS-DOS
+--------------+--------+   +-+---+           +------+-----------------------+----------------------+
| Using standard TCP/IP |   | Mac |           | RS-232 (1)                                          | Physical Layer
| applications for now  |   | (6) |           +-----------------------------------------------------+
| (ditto for VS2)  (8)  |   |     |           | Hermit transport (1)                                | Datalink/Transport
| Hermit disk driver(6) |   +-----+           +-----------------------------------------------------+
+-----------------------+                     | Hermit session (2)                                  | Session Layer
                                              +-----------------------------------------------------+
Tools:                                        | login  print   mail  telnet  finger message   disk  | Application Layer
  ccmd (MS-DOS, Unix) (1)                     |  (1)    (1)    (1)    (1)     (1)     (7)     (1)   |
  TCP/IP interface functions (Unix) (1)       +-----------------------------------------------------+              



Epilog (Jan 2001)

(Not long afterwards we filled in all the pieces, including the Macintosh and PC clients. We gave a series of successful demos to the funding bodies at Digital Equipment Corporation, including transparent file service, terminal sessions, sending and receiving mail and terminal messages, pressing "print screen" keys on the Mac or PC and having graphics images come out on the shared dot-matrix Printronix printer that was connected to the MicroVAX cluster server, etc. But by this time the DEC-20 line had been canceled and all our work was made obsolete by NFS and similar products. Out of the Hermit Project we got our first campus backbone Ethernet network, our first PC lab, and our UNIX version of the MM e-mail client, which was to serve us and others well for many years to come.)


Frank da Cruz / fdc@columbia.edu / Jan 2001