Monterey, AIX move one step closer

Despite activity on both the AIX and Project Monterey front, industry observers remain cautious about the long-term prospects for blended Unix on Intel Corp.’s IA-64 architecture, also known as Merced.

For starters, IBM, on whose Unix AIX platform Project Monterey is based (with added technology from The Santa Cruz Operation Inc., Compaq Computer Corp. and Sequent Computer Systems Inc.), is now delivering the latest version of the RS/6000 operating system, AIX 4.3.3 – the first version to be directly affected by Project Monterey initiatives.

Project Monterey refers to the vendors’ ongoing effort to delivering high-volume Unix on Intel’s 64-bit processors.

Miles Barel, program director of Unix marketing with Armonk, N.Y.-based IBM, said most 4.3.3 changes were made “under the cover” and may not be immediately obvious to some AIX users.

“(4.3.3. represents) a lot of work to prepare AIX to run on Intel and Power,” he said, referring also to IBM’s PowerPC RISC processors.

With version 4.3.3., IBM has shifted control of the memory cache directly to the OS kernel, which should allow users to access Web pages that are stored there without having to initiate the server application, thus improving user response time.

In addition, AIX 4.3.3 allows up to 2GB of cache memory to be created on RS/6000 servers, significantly increasing the number of Web pages that can be stored. And the new S80 configured with the new version of AIX is expected to be up to three times faster than its predecessor.

Joyce Becknell, director of Unix systems at the Boston-based IT consulting firm Aberdeen Group, said that while the upgrades are not “huge,” they go a long way toward focusing AIX and the RS/6000 platform on workload management — the hottest competitive area today. “IBM is really focusing on transaction processing by concentrating on the cache and the operating system’s kernel,” Becknell said.

In related news, IBM recently acquired its Beaverton, Ore.-based Project Monterey partner Sequent Computer Systems. The deal, if approved by regulators and shareholders, should give IBM a boost in the areas of non-uniform memory access (NUMA) and multiprocessor I/O technology, as well as improved open platform integration, according to Barel. “We expect the Sequent deal to allow us to accelerate certain capabilities,” he said.

One industry observer said convincing ISVs – most of whom have already selected a Unix partner – to partner with Project Monterey poses a big challenge. “Why anybody would change their position at this point isn’t clear, and…unless there was some enormous, overwhelming reason to change, people have already adopted a strategy and are moving forward with it,” said Dan Kuznetsky, analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp.

Tom Henkel, senior analyst with Stamford, Conn.-based Gartner Group Inc., said that’s why Project Monterey partners are using their clout to convince partners that their Unix is the best IA-64 platform.

“What’ s happening now is powerful companies like IBM, and I’m sure Sun and HP are doing the same thing, are trying to leverage their past relationships with ISVs and put some pressure on them to trust them. ISVs as a group tend not to like a lot of platforms,” Henkel said.

“One of the concerns I have on IA-64 is will there be a critical mass of applications available with the initial systems to really allow customers to do useful work with an IA-64 hardware platform. And if that’s not the case, and it turns out that there’s a 12 to 18 month delay before you get that critical mass of software, I think that really undermines the market potential of IA-64 as a Unix platform.”

-with files from IDG News service