IBM upgrades AIX, ready to slice and dice servers

IBM Corp. Tuesday provided more details on the latest version of its Unix operating system, touting the addition of mainframe class technology that could give users more control over their servers.

IBM will start shipping Version 5.2 of AIX 5L by mid-October, offering it as an option, alongside the previous version, on the company’s pSeries servers. The new version of AIX includes a host of features IBM had promised to its users with dynamic partitioning – the ability to make many “virtual” servers – being one of the most notable additions, said Karl Freund, vice-president of IBM’s e Server pSeries products. The release will also bring improved clustering technology and improved management software that should reassure users of IBM’s commitment to the OS, according to an analyst.

“There has been a lot of talk that (IBM’s) emphasis on Linux was going to de-emphasize AIX,” Bill Moran, research director at Port Chester, N.Y.-based research company D.H. Brown and Associates Inc. “This release should contain those rumours. They are adding a lot of new features and are clearly investing in AIX.”

With Version 5.2, IBM has shown that it can match some of the technology found in competing operating systems from Hewlett-Packard Co. and Sun Microsystems Inc., which top D.H. Brown’s Unix OS rankings, Moran said. IBM, HP and Sun all compete in the market for powerful Unix servers that run a wide range of applications from specialized scientific software to Web serving systems. HP and Sun have made major revisions to their flavours of Unix called HP-UX and Solaris, respectively.

IBM, for example, has added new dynamic partitioning tools to AIX that could give the vendor an advantage over its rivals and provide customers with way to consolidate their workloads. Users can now run multiple copies of the operating system on one physical server and control processor, memory and bandwidth resources across each of these partitions. If a user wants to free more processor power for a particular application, the administrator can pull capacity from other software, while the server is still running.

In addition, by running a number of applications in different partitions, customers can use one server instead of many for certain tasks, Freund said. IBM allows users to create a logical partition (LPAR) that can run one processor and 250MB of memory.

This technology has trickled down from IBM’s mainframe systems and will be picked up by Unix users willing to give it a chance, said Richard Partridge, vice-president of enterprise server at D.H. Brown and Associates.

“In the mainframes, partitioning took years to be fully embraced, but there really is no longer any doubt about the technology,” Partridge said. “Those customers who have mainframe LPAR experience, may well be willing to give IBM a chance to show their Unix LPARs are cut from the same cloth.”

The vendors emphasize different approaches to partitioning, with IBM and HP slicing up servers into the most sections and Sun and HP offering hardware-based barriers between partitions for security. Regardless of the differences, users will likely be skeptical of any vendor’s pitch, Partridge said.

“The guy who is responsible for operations is often a bit more conservative than the guy procuring the platform who is being wined and dined with all the new features and functions,” Partridge said.

Also in AIX 5L Version 5.2, IBM has followed the lead of HP with Capacity Upgrade on Demand (CUoD) technology that activates a spare processor if the server detects a failure. Users can also turn on spare processors in a server for added horsepower but only pay for the new processors at the time of activation, not when they purchase the server.

In addition, IBM in December will release the Cluster Systems Management (CSM) product for working with clusters of servers running AIX 5L Version 5.2 and Linux. The CSM software allows a user to manage hundreds of servers from one console, Freund said.

IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y., also released an updated AIX Toolbox product for running Linux applications on AIX, new features for its AIX Workload Manager software and tuned storage management tools.