Getting Started With SoftDist

SoftDist is an IBM Global Services offering that Almaden I.S. management signed up for in April, 1997 that provides a means for installing AIX software and service on RS/6000 machines. It allows one to select and install the AIX operating system and virtually any program product IBM offers.

The SoftDist team also manages Almaden's license managers used for AIX software, for example the C+ compiler. The SoftDist team is actually in a sister department (we have the same second-level manager) in Tucson.

For an overview on SoftDist, see their web page. This page will tell you what to answer to some of their obscurely worded, and sometimes just plain wrong, questions, as you use SoftDist.

Oh, the Things You Can Do With SoftDist

Obtaining a SoftDist Userid

Softdist has the concept of userids, which have passwords ("Groan," I hear you cry, "not another password to maintain!").
  1. The first thing to do is to request a SoftDist userid by going to their web page
  2. and selecting the "How to Register as a Customer" link.
  3. From that page, select the "SoftDist Access Request form" link in the second paragraph.
  4. Specify Almaden as your home location, provide your serial number, and press enter.
  5. After a slight pause while the code looks up your serial number for your personell info, you get a form to fill out.
The curious fields on that form and their answers are
"Is this a new request or to change an existing one?" The "one" in that question refers to your SoftDist userid. A better wording would be "Do you have an existing SoftDist userid already or do you need a new one created for you?"
"Machine name to define to SoftDist ..." If you're requesting your SoftDist userid, this field is asking you for the first machine you want defined. A SoftDist userid controls one or more machines. If you already have a SoftDist userid, this is where you can define additional machines that you control.
"Prefered SoftDist user-id" This question is asking you what your SoftDist userid is, or what you want it to be. I don't know why they recommend your machine name. Your userid would be a better recommendation, if it's available. Jasper wasn't available for me - I had to settle for rjasper.
"Machine Serial Number" The last 5 digits of the 7013-26-22799 on the box exterior.
"Machine CPUid" The whole 12-character string returned by uname -m. If you can't get this info 'cause for example the machine is down or doesn't have an operating system on it, leave it blank for now and send the information to them when you get the machine up.
"Network Adapter Address ..." Do a lscfg -l -v. Again if you can't get this data right now, send it to them later. Ignore their "(optional but required for AIX 4.1)" message. That's not true.
"Name Server Address" 9.1.snb.254, where "snb" depends on the third octet of your I.P. address. Use 8 if it's 8-15, 24 if 24-31, or 72 if 72-79. For example, if your I.P. address is, use
"Network Port Type" Important: Choose either "Token Ring (16 MB)" or "Standard Ethernet (cable type dix)."
"Subnet Mask"
"Gateway Address" 9.1.snb.253, where "snb" is the same as it was for the "Name Server Address" above.

In a little while (10 minutes or so if you lucky, a few hours normally), you'll get e-mail telling you that your SoftDist id got created and what your initial password is (probably temp4now or new4now). This is the password you'll use after you invoke a softdist session with the SDinit command.

Note also at the very bottom of the note what the initial root password is should you install AIX from softdist. In reality, it's always firstpw.

Obtaining the SoftDist Client Code (SDinit)

While you're waiting for your SoftDist id to get created, you can do this next step, installing the SoftDist client code on some RS/6000 machine. It doesn't matter which machine you install and run SoftDist from. You can do things to any machine that SoftDist believes you control, from any machine that has this SDinit program installed on it.

One invokes SoftDist with the AIX command, SDinit, which lives in /usr/bin.

To install /usr/bin/SDinit on your machine, become root and follow the Softdist documentation on installing the SoftDist client code. It will talk you through tftp-ing a tar file over and installing it. It's easy enough to follow.

This will also give you some configuration files needed for SoftDist in /etc/sd and work files in /usr/lpp/inst.

Starting a SoftDist Session

Once you get the mail telling you your SoftDist userid has been created and are on a machine that has the SDinit code installed, you're ready to run SoftDist. To start a SoftDist session, type
SDinit -s softdist
Technical Note: The SoftDist web pages tell you to specify (that's snjr-one-sd-one - with ones, not els), also known as kronos, for your SoftDist server. At Almaden, we have softdist set up as an alias for, which is why the above works.

The above command will presume you want to do something to the machine you're running on. If you want to work on another machine, specify

SDinit -s softdist -t <machine-name>
or if the machine is down right now or doesn't have the SoftDist daemon running on it,
SDinit -s softdist -t <machine-name> -nc
The -nc tells SoftDist "No Checking" is to be done. The option isn't documented.

One further technical note. The SDinit command tries to run from an X-window and will default to line mode (yuck!) if it can't find the display. One "gotcha" is SDinit starts a program on the SoftDist server in, which then exports the DISPLAY back to you. Should you be telnet'd or rlogin'd in to some machine to run SoftDist and have your DISPLAY environment variable set to jasper:0.0 for example, the program running on the system will not be able to find your display. It'll be looking for your display at Try setting your DISPLAY to your fully-qualified host name, for example.

Supply your SoftDist userid and password to get to the Main Menu. Everything you would want to do is under "CUSTOMER SERVICES".
Normally you'd go next to "Select PKG(s)", but the "CUSTOMER SERVICES" screen is where you can change your SoftDist userid password.
The "SELECTION MENU" you see next is where the SoftDist folks had grand ideas of using SoftDist for platforms other than RS/6000, like maybe OS/2 or Windows. That never happened, so there's only one selection on this screen.
Finally, you're at the screen where you can choose what you want to do for your target machine. Essentially, you select what you want and click the "OK" button, but see below for details.

Installing AIX

There are custom AIX images for Almaden. Scroll down the list of package names, past all the AIX things ("Almaden" comes after "AIX" alphabetically), to get to "Almaden AIX 4.1.5 Base Client" (or 4.2.1 or whatever level you want.

After selecting the level of AIX you want and clicking the "OK" button, you get the "Immediate NIM Delivery?" screen. Ignore the wording of the question. It's misleading. Always choose "YES". If you're really interested, their wording is

      This Image is installed via the Network Install Manager (NIM).
      If the target machine is ALREADY running AIX 4.1 or higher, you
      may deliver the image immediately.  Click on YES to deliver immediately,
      or click on NO to deliver when you boot the machine in NIM mode.
Since we do plan on booting in "NIM mode", one would think that "NO" is correct. It's not. Choose "YES".

Click on "OK", then "Order", to get to a screen that has an incredibly long time estimate of 1800 minutes. Don't panic! It won't take but a minute or two. What they do is take a worst-case time estimate as if you were actually going to do the install of 3 hours, and multiply that by a "Network Delay Factor" of 10, to get this stupid 30 hour time estimate.

When it finishes, you'll see the "CUSTOMER ORDER RESULTS" screen. It's normal to see "Network Install not completed." That just means you need to go to the machine and boot, either using the IPLROM Emulation floppy diskette if this is a really old RS/6000, or whatever procedure is right for your machine. Their instructions for this are excellent. Follow them if you've never done it before.

If you need to create an IPLROM Emulation diskette, you can follow their directions or run Almaden's script. From an AIX machine, type make-install-diskettes (it's in /local/bin, which is normally in your path).

You'll be booting from their NIM server (which is the same machine as their SoftDist server), which is I.P. address

When you get done with the install, root's initial password was at the bottom of the note you got when you registered this machine. What? You didn't read through that whole big, long note and notice the password buried at the bottom? Shame on you! Don't worry. It's always the same password, firstpw.

Installing Program Products

This is straight-forward. Invoke the Softdist session and select the program product. Some of the more common program products you can get are Some of the other pieces of AIX you may want are

Applying Service

  1. From the "PKG Listing" screen, you can select "Topic" from the pull-down menu bar along the top of the screen, and select "PTFS".
  2. Select "Selective Software Fixes" and hit the "OK" button. (The "Base Maintenance Levels" selection is to go from a point release to the next point release, e.g. AIX 4.1.4 to AIX 4.1.5.)
  3. Double-click the "Generally Available Fixes" line. This brings up a modified version of Fixdist, if you're familiar with that (if you're not, don't worry about it).
  4. If you want a specific fix and know the APAR number, you can select that. If you know the PTF number, you can select "PTF View" from the selection button in the upper right of the screen and search for the PTF. If you just want the latest service, search for "Latest AIX 4.1.5" and select that APAR.
  5. After selecting the fix(es) you want to install, click "Okay".
  6. Click "Okay" again on the next menu.
  7. Select the level of AIX that's on the target machine, then click "Okay".
  8. Don't panic when you see a huge image size on the "Package Size Information" screen that comes next. Something over a half a gigabyte is not abnormal. Unlike the real Fixdist, this half a gig isn't ftp'd from Boulder (which takes 10 hours or so to ftp). It's NFS-mounted from the SoftDist server in San Jose and is applied quickly.
    After clicking "Okay" on this screen, if you see a "Transfer" screen with a progress indicator on it, this indicates that the SoftDist server doesn't have a local copy of whatever it is you ordered on its local disk, and is getting a local copy. This screen shows you the progress of that. It goes fast.
  9. The instructions on the next screen you need to follow closely. It says that
    PTF selection completed!
    Return to the main menu, under "File", select "Continue..." and then "ORDER" to install selected PTFs, or select "CANCEL" to terminate your request.
    If the target machine is some machine other than the one you're running on, this will communicate with a daemon on that machine (presuming it's up and running) and really install the fixes remotely. Kinda slick.