IBM to keep AIX releases rolling

More or less annually

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ComputerWire: IT Industry Intelligence

As we reported back in March, IBM Corp is said to be readying the next release of its Unix operating system, AIX 5L V5.2, to get it into the market by October of this year,

Timothy Prickett Morgan writes

. It is expected to deliver the kicker to this release sometime in the second half of 2003.

IBM is timing AIX 5L 5.2 to coincide with Power4-II servers, using expected 1.5GHz to 1.8GHz dual-core processors, this fall and the Power5 servers, due sometime in the second half of 2003 using dual-core Power chips running in excess of 2GHz with support for hyperthreading, which makes them effectively quad cores.

There has been some talk about IBM executives wringing their hands about what to do with AIX, and some have even been suggesting that IBM might be thinking about dropping AIX and focusing solely on Linux.

This is hogwash. What IBM is working is a Power-based platform that uses a variant of OS/400 logical partitioning technology to create a line of servers that can support AIX, Linux, or OS/400 equally well within its partitions or as a standalone operating system on those Power machines.

Linux, of course, does not yet scale as far as either AIX or OS/400, so it has some limitations as a standalone operating system until someone helps the Linux kernel writers extend the code to support the crossbar memory switches that are the heart of modern servers that scale beyond eight processors.

Once IBM has such a machine, it will not care what operating system customers install on it, so long as they buy lots and lots of them. Kind of like Intel, when you think about it.

While AIX will no longer enjoy exclusivity on Power platforms because it is one of three operating systems supported on the machine (and possibly four if IBM moves the mainframe z/OS environment over with the Power6 generation, as has been rumored), that doesn't necessarily mean that IBM is looking to dump AIX. In fact, the AIX roadmap seems to suggest quite the opposite.

Throughout the history of the IBM's participation in the Unix server business, the company has put out a new Unix release approximately every two years or so. But IBM is adding so many new technologies to its Unix servers over the next few years - from the guts of the processors with hyperthreading, to memory subsystems, to advanced I/O, and out to clustering technologies - that Big Blue will be doing a more or less annual refresh of the AIX operating system. However, to cushion the reseller channel and its customer base from all of these changes, IBM will reportedly, according to sources familiar with its plans, sell two overlapping AIX releases at any given time, and three overlapping releases will be under support services simultaneously.

The pattern that IBM is establishing for AIX 5L 5.1, announced in the second quarter of 2001 along with the "Merced" generation of 64-bit Itanium processors but ironically is not really supported on them any more, looks to be the new annual pattern for AIX releases. (The AIX for Itanium code works, by the way, but IBM is waiting to see if demand for the non-Power version of AIX materializes before bringing the topic up again, and seems content on trying to establish Linux as a better alternative on Itanium machines, and indeed any Intel-based server or workstation.)

New and as yet unspecified software technologies will be rolled into each successive AIX release - AIX 5L 5.2, 5.3, and 5.4 - but the prior release will only get support for each new generation of processor and I/O hardware that is announced alongside the AIX releases - in this case, defined by Power4-II, Power5, and Power5-II machines announced about the same time. The latest software features will not be backcast into the prior release.

As things currently stand, IBM will continue to offer support services on AIX 4.3.3 until December 31, 2002. Prior subreleases of AIX 4.3 (4.3.0, 4.3.1, and 4.3.2) had their support discontinued a year earlier. IBM's current status for AIX 5L 5.1 says that it will withdraw support for that operating system on April 3, 2004, but we hear that IBM may extend support until the fourth quarter of 2004.

AIX 5L 5.2 is still expected around October 2002, and will be supported for two years after that until the fourth quarter of 2005, according to the latest roadmap we can get our hands on. AIX 5.3 comes out in August 2003 and is supported until the third quarter of 2006. AIX 5.4 comes out in late August or early September 2004, and is supported until the second quarter of 2007.

These dates seem to suggest that we might see Power6 machines in the third quarter of 2006, but that something big is going to happen in the second quarter of 2007 that would necessitate AIX 5.4 being killed off a few months earlier based on these new AIX 5 pattern. Maybe this is when AIX 6L is coming. Maybe IBM is trying to get its server announcement schedule away from August through October and into the May to June timeframe, which gives it more time to sell iron in the third and fourth quarters.

Then again, this slight shift might be caused by something else entirely, like the advent of Power6 servers running z/OS or a z/OS runtime environment (much more likely), should this perpetual rumor of the mainframe environment being ported to Unix, which has plagued the mainframe market for 15 years, actually turn out to be a reality this time.

© ComputerWire

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