IBM, HP Bring Unix Server Wares Front and Center

By Paul Rubens (Send Email)
Posted Jul 20, 2010


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The Unix server world was abuzz last week with IBM kicking off the public beta of AIX 7, and HP launching a no holds barred offense to persuade former Sun customers to abandon SPARC/Solaris environments in favor of Red Hat Enterprise Linux on ProLiant servers.

Lots of action went down in the usually placid UNIX world last week, most notably involving IBM and HP. The former was minding its business and pursuing profits, while the latter looked like it was trying to get even after a partnership went sour.

Big Blue has been chugging away with its proprietary AIX UNIX for almost 25 years, and last Wednesday it launched an open beta of AIX 7, which will run on any Power Systems, IBM System p or eServer pSeries system based on POWER4, PPC970, POWER5, POWER6 or POWER7 processors. (If you happen to have one of these beasts lying around, you can download the beta and give it a spin.) AIX 7 should provide binary compatibility for programs developed on previous versions of AIX "as long as the programs comply with reasonable programming standards," the company said.

One of the key new features you can try out on the beta is the ability to back up a logical partition (LPAR) running AIX 5.2 and restore it into a workload partition (WPAR) running AIX 7 on Power7. This is handy, as it enables you to consolidate smaller workloads running on older hardware onto larger, more powerful POWER7 machines, the company said. Once running in a WPAR, AIX 5.2 workloads can be live migrated in and across AIX systems using the checkpoint/restart mechanism, usually without any modification to the underlying applications.

There's other improvements in virtualization, too: Under AIX 7 you can attach physical or virtual Fibre Channel adapters to a WPAR so it can directly own SAN devices (including tape devices) to simplify management of storage devices. There are also enhancements to security, management and networking, and scalability has been beefed up to 1,024 threads or 256 cores in a single partition -- a big improvement over AIX 6.

IBM (NYSE:IBM) is clearly aiming for another 25 glorious years of AIX, but some commentators are not sure how much of a good idea this is. "IBM has fully embraced Linux and has also launched the 'i for Power' OS which is far more focused," Clive Longbottom, an analyst at Quocirca, said over at V3. "I'd just use AIX for dealing with immediate issues of the moment. A new version will give an additional two or three years where users can plan migration to another environment, whether this is Linux, i for Power, Windows or the cloud," he added, somewhat ominously for the future of IBM's UNIX.

Longbottom may have doubts about AIX, but everyone and his dog seem to have doubts about Solaris under the stewardship of Oracle. (Let's not even mention OpenSolaris, which is currently twitching in the very last throes of a lingering death-through-Oracle-neglect.)

HP (NYSE:HPQ), for one, is in no mood to give Oracle the benefit of those doubts. Yesterday, HP launched a salvo against the beleaguered Solaris UNIX, announcing a plan to get Oracle's former Sun customers to abandon SPARC/Solaris environments in favor of Red Hat Enterprise Linux server operating system running on HP ProLiant servers.

What HP has cooked up is a joint consulting service with Red Hat, offered through HP's Migration Center, which stresses how the two companies' open-source software and industry standard server credentials "can significantly lower total cost of ownership compared to older distributed application servers."

As ever, HP is walking a tricky line. Linux open source servers running on standard hardware is a proven migration path for SPARC/Solaris shops disenchanted with the high costs of UNIX. But HP has its own high-end UNIX to watch out for as well.

Still, there's probably little love lost between Oracle and HP these days: Until last month HP had an agreement with Oracle to sell Solaris support contracts for its ProLiant servers kitted out with Solaris, but Oracle abruptly terminated this agreement in mid-June, the Register reported at the time.

It's unlikely a coincidence that just four weeks later HP has come up with this. Revenge may be a dish best served cold, but it seems that when it comes to Oracle, HP doesn't mind serving it up while it's still warm.

Paul Rubens is a journalist based in Marlow on Thames, England. He has been programming, tinkering and generally sitting in front of computer screens since his first encounter with a DEC PDP-11 in 1979.

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