RIP ucbvax 26 years ago, today.

Today, in 1994, a literal backbone of the internet was turned off.

UCBVAX was one of the more common western backbones for UUCP mail, before the internet was on 24/7 – mail would hop through it to get to the final location. Email worked differently then. You’d tell it how to get there, kind of like GPS on your phone, today.

An email hop would look similar to:


Not only was this unwieldy, but it was a bit difficult- you had to know how to get there!

Herein lies the full text of the final statement, by Cliff Frost.

Path: agate!agateway!CMSA.BERKELEY.EDU!CLIFF
From: CL…@CMSA.BERKELEY.EDU (Cliff Frost {510} 642-5360)
Subject: Network News: The passing of ucbvax
Message-ID: <>
Date: 23 Aug 94 20:58:00 GMT
Sender: usenet
Distribution: ucb
Organization: The Internet Gateway Service
Lines: 81

Friday, Aug 19, 1994, at approximately 2PM, Berkeley Time, a group of
programmers gathered in the old CS department computer room,
fourth floor of Evans Hall, amongst the scattered remains of network
wiring, ancient hardware, ghosts of legends, and general debris, for
a mysterious and moving ceremony; a rite of passage for a computer,
and perhaps its human caretakers. A semiologist could write a thesis
on this event, but here we confine ourselves to the facts.

What actually happened on Friday is that Keith Sklower and Eric Allman
halted the computer that had carried the name of “”
for the last several years of that venerable name’s history. Then
Kirk McKusick turned the power off, an honor due him as he was the
first person to turn the power on to that particular piece of hardware.

Shortly before this, Keith gave a brief history of ucbvax, and
told us that although the machine was retiring, it would be following
recent local tradition by immediately coming back to work in another
capacity—as a card-key access system controller for the UC Police
department. (See below for Keith’s history.)

Keith’s eulogy was followed by Eric Allman’s moving tribute:

Alas, poor Ucbvax! I knew him, Horatio. A machine of infinite jest, of most excellent software. He hath borne my mail in his queue a thousand times. And now how abhorred in my imagination it is! My gorge rises at it. Here hung those disks that have spun I know not how oft. Where be your news now? your dialins? your routes? your flashes of congestion that were wont to set the department on a roar?

The assembled multitude of T-shirted and blue-jeaned programmers
(more than a few of us also sporting just a touch of silver in the
hair) applauded enthousiastically, then dug into the carrot cake
and diet pepsi generously provided by Keith.

Cliff Frost Network Services

ps Keith’s brief history:

In the summer of 1978, the computer science department took delivery of the campus’ first Digital Equipment VAX computer, obtained via a grant from NSF (due in large part to the efforts of Prof. Richard Fateman). In fairly short order, it was running a variant of UNIX developed by Bell Labs. (Local CS people were interested in adding virtual memory support, which ATT UNIX lacked, which eventually led to the widespread interest in BSD, but that’s a different story). The people at Bell Labs offered to have their computer call up ours in order to facilitate research collaborations, using the UUCP protocol. We had to choose a node name, and “ucbvax” seemed to follow their naming conventions. Netnews and the birth of usenet followed closely. After a couple or 3 years, the mail-handling and news functions of the departmental vax were chewing up more than half the cycles, so it was decided to segregate those functions onto a separate machine (when the opportunity arose). So, “ucbvax” became VAX/750 devoted specifically to those functions. For a long time, it was one of two gateways between the ARPANET and the Berkeley Campus. After the load on ucbvax-the-750 began to exhaust it’s capacity, there was talk of replacing it with some flavor of SUN workstation, but a DEC sales person got wind of this and thought it would be much better for DEC if ucbvax were to stay a vax, and managed to “upgrade” the 750 to a decstation 3200, which was its final incarnation. At the time it was turned off, ucbvax was the last operational vax in the computer science department, so to stretch the truth only a little, it was both the first and last VAX in the computer science department at UC Berkeley.

pps The actual power-down was delayed by about 20 minutes from the scheduled 2PM time, because of having to move about 74 pieces of queued email to another machine for eventual processing.

ppps Although ucbvax’s IP addresses are retired, there is still a significant amount of email traffic being supported under that name, rerouted earlier in the day (through the magic of MX records) to a machine supported by Information Systems and Technology’s department of Data Communication and Network Services. This computer is named, with full cognizance of the irony, “”.

ucbvax left us before the world wide web, but remains a memory to those of us who used, but never had direct access to it. I hope you’re still scanning keycodes, UCB – the Internet would never be where it is without you.