IBM serves up Unix booster

In the midst of continued competition in the server sector, IBM Corp. recently announced a strategy in which Linux and Unix factor heavily into the mix.

In October IBM unveiled new eServer software designed to boost Unix server utilization. The software, AIX 5L Version 5.2, improves system utilization with mainframe-style workload balancing and the ability to add resources on the fly, IBM said.

The announcement comes hot on the heels of Framingham, Mass.-based IT research firm IDC’s quarterly server tracker survey, which reported that worldwide Q2 2002 server factory revenues dropped 16 per cent (US$10.5 billion from US$12.6 billion) in Q2 2001. Server vendors such as Sun Microsystems Inc., Hewlett-Packard and Dell Computer Corp. are chipping away at IBM’s market dominance, IDC said.

IBM has the luxury of a very strong install base in Canada, particularly into the large enterprise and government accounts, said Alan Freedman, Toronto-based research manager for infrastructure hardware with analyst firm IDC Canada Ltd. Freedman said the Canadian market is a lot more polarized than the U.S., as Canada has a fraction of the number of vendors playing in this space.

Linux is not going to be on the scale for the next little while, but it’s definitely an emerging market, Freedman said. Linux doesn’t yet have that mainstream appeal for most enterprises, he noted, although he said the concept of a platform-agnostic interoperable type of relationship that Linux currently can provide is a popular one.

AIX 5L v5.2 allows users to divide their servers into smaller “virtual” servers running either Unix or Linux, allowing administrators to create virtual servers on “dynamic partitions.” The smaller the partition, IBM claims, the more efficient the resource allocation.

IBM also released new Linux and AIX Cluster Offerings for managing mixed clusters of Unix and Linux servers. Clustered Systems Management (CSM) Version 1.3 provides a single point of control for installing, configuring, maintaining and updating IBM eServer xSeries servers running Linux and IBM eServer pSeries servers, or their logical partitions, running AIX.

What is responsible for this sort of flexibility, according to company officials, is the ability to create virtual servers on dynamic partitions that can be as small as one processor and with 250MB of memory.

“Essentially we are taking the [AIX 5L] we have today, which supports logical partitioning, and taking it to the next level. The operating system, in conjunction with other system software, can carve out a collection of partitions from a pSeries server and create a set of virtual servers with each one running its own operating system image,” said Mike Harrell, AIX product marketing manager with IBM in Somers, N.Y. Enterprises with both Unix and Linux applications can consolidate them on a single CSM-managed cluster, IBM said.

IBM also upped the ante in the blade server market with its new eServer BladeCenter system which it says beats other players by having unique features as well as being cost competitive. IBM sees its RISC/Unix behemoths through the lens of the mainframe, said Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata Inc. in Nashua, N.H. The Unix mainframe isn’t just about software – it’s about an exquisitely complex marriage of all aspects of software and hardware. In a sense, Haff noted, IBM’s goal is to translate, as faithfully as possible, the mainframe’s solidity and controllability to the “comparatively chaotic” Unix world.

The company is also keen to exploit the burgeoning blade server market which according to IDC, is projected to grow to nearly US$3.7 billion by 2006. IBM, however has built in more redundancy for each blade with regards to Ethernet connectivity, midplane, fans and power supply. IBM also touts the IBM Director management software which draws on its eLiza program, an initiative to make machines self-managing, according to the vendor.

With general availability in November, IBM’s BladeCenter will support Microsoft’s Windows 2000 Server and Advanced Server, Red Hat and SuSE Linux and Novell’s NetWare operating systems.

– With files from IDG News Service