IBM beefs up AIX for closer ties with users of Unix

IBM Corp. plans to invest US$200 million over the next two years to equip and staff its new AIX Collaboration Center. The vendor hopes the facility will help create a closer working relationship between IBM and users of its flavour of Unix.

The AIX Collaboration Center is located in Austin, Texas, home to the majority of IBM’s Unix development efforts, according to Karl Freund, vice president, pSeries product marketing for IBM. The company is due to officially open the center Friday.

Although he wouldn’t comment specifically on the staffing for the center, Freund said Thursday that it would be “sizeable.” The center will be managed by Satya Sharma, an IBM distinguished engineer and the company’s chief AIX architect.

The center will provide AIX customers, developers, ISVs (independent software vendors) and academics access to the company’s latest hardware, software and training, as well as technical consultants onsite and in remote locations. IBM will use the center as its base to develop and test new applications and middleware for AIX. The company will also work on key technology areas in relation to AIX, including virtualization and high availability of systems, according to Freund.

IBM will give customers and partners early access to the upcoming releases of AIX so that they can have more input into the development of the operating system, according to Freund.

“We’re taking a slightly different approach to releasing AIX,” he said. Customers and ISVs will have access to a new release of AIX next year through the center. The release, AIX 5.4, isn’t due to become generally available until 2007. The upcoming release will feature technology IBM gained through its acquisition of middleware company Meiosys in June.

Aimed at the high-performance computing market, Meiosys’s MetaCluster software can move applications between a server or a group of servers to other machines without the need for application modification or recompilation.

If IBM is so keen to get closer to its customers, why not release an open-source version of AIX? IBM rival Sun Microsystems Inc. went that route earlier this year with OpenSolaris, an open-source version of its Unix-based operating system.

“We’ve already got a great open-source strategy with Linux,” Freund said. “There’s no real market demand to open up AIX.”

As well as its specific purpose of promoting more proactive collaboration between IBM and its customers and partners, the center also demonstrates the continued commitment the vendor has toward AIX, according to Freund.

“IBM is deeply serious about Unix,” he said. The announcement additionally serves as something of a counterbalance to IBM’s ongoing investment in Linux, showing that the company supports both operating systems, Freund added.

IBM doesn’t provide numbers for AIX customers, but Freund pointed to recent analyst estimates pegging the global AIX user base at about 800,000. “Our Unix business has been growing quite well,” he said. Areas where AIX is particularly strong are France, China and the U.S., with India a rapid growth market, Freund said.

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