Anyone remember Apollo's NCS (Network Computing System) from around 1990?

Here’s a promo video

The goal of NCS seems to be distributed and parallelised applications - RPC being just the machinery.

Excerpted from The Workstation War Heats Up in HP Professional, noting HP’s bid for a controlling stake in Apollo:

Even before the acquisition of Apollo was being considered, HP recognized Apollo’s Network Computing System (NCS) as the key to a new generation of network-based applications. Following that belief, HP licensed and ported NCS to HP hardware to unite HP systems with other vendors’ systems to create distributed applications. NCS, a de facto standard for network computing, is available for Alliant, Convex, Cray, DEC (VMS and Ultrix operating systems), IBM, Multiflow, Prime, Pyramid, Stellar, Sun and of course Apollo and HP systems. NCS consists of a set of software products that provide distributed computing among heterogeneous systems. With the distributing of individual program modules within an application, NCS lets you execute the module on the computer best suited to handle it. NCS supports concurrent programming and it allows an application run individual procedures in parallel on machines throughout the network.

The NCS product includes three major components:

  • A remote procedure call (RPC) facility developed specifically for performance, portability and network independence.
  • A compiler that converts high-level interface descriptions of the remote procedures into C source code.
  • A set of software tools that lets applications determine at runtime which machine can provide the necessary services.

Today and into the future, NCS will lend a common interface for distributed application development based on Apollo and HP network technologies as well as industry standards. And with the combined backing of HP’s and Apollo’s R&D and marketing, NCS can only enjoy a bright future as a leading-edge industry standard.

Related findings:
Domain/OS Design Principles - apollo
RPC and its Offspring: Convenient, Yet Fundamentally Flawed slides by Steve Vinoski

By the end of the 1980s, we had for example:

  • Apollo’s Network Computing System (NCS): RPC system with a declarative interface definition language (IDL), the start of DCE
  • Sun’s Open Network Computing (ONC) RPC
  • DEC and IBM RPC projects that later fed into DCE and CORBA

Introduction to the Distributed Computing Environment

The DCE system was, to a large degree, based on independent developments made by each of the partners. DCE/RPC was derived from the Network Computing System (NCS) created at Apollo Computer. The naming service was derived from work done at Digital. DCE/DFS was based on the Andrew File System (AFS) originally developed at Carnegie Mellon University. The authentication system was based on Kerberos, and the authorization system based on Access Control Lists (ACLs). By combining these features, DCE offers a fairly complete C-based system for network computing. Any machine on the network can authenticate its users, gain access to resources, and then call them remotely using a single integrated API

Wikipedia on NCS

via a comment by paulb in the fascinating(*) thread Any info on Acorn’s own computing environment? over on Stardot.

(*) OK, I admit, I started the thread


We had a couple Apollo systems in our department at uni - which were in competition with the Prime we had in the Engineering department - mainly for CAD use. I wasn’t that involved with them at the time but I think they were intending to replace the Prime at some point (and I left before all the politics got out of hand).

I’ve latterly learned more about their network operating system, but never used it myself back then.


I do. The uni had a “CAD room” which had … 4? Apollo workstations, there were a couple more scattered elsewhere.

The // in the URLs is the most visible remaining bit of it: Frequently asked questions by the Press - Tim BL

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I do remember the sharing of each machine’s filesystem, but at the time I wasn’t aware of any distributed applications - or even remote procedure calls, I think. This was in a CAD group in Philips where we must have had a few dozen Apollo workstations.

I didn’t know the // got inherited into URLs!

I did work on an Apollo workstation in college. it was a dream to work on. It was the first time I had a UNIX system all to my own!