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IBM prunes low-cost AIX rev

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IBM has radically improved the bang for the buck on its Power7-based Power Systems 701 and 702 blade servers this week, and is expected to soon deliver similarly priced entry rack and tower servers. And now it has a new, lower-cost AIX 6.1 Express Edition that will match the less expensive hardware and therefore help Big Blue's AIX platform better compete against Windows, Linux, HP-UX, and Solaris alternatives.

The new AIX Express Edition takes the special low-cost pricing that was available only on JS series blade servers and now makes it available across the Power Systems line, including logical partitions on the largest Power 595 (and before too long Power 595) servers.

With the Express Edition, IBM is dropping the price by almost half, but is making the edition on suitable for smaller machines and lighter workloads. It can only scale across four cores in a single system image and only allows 8 GB of main memory to be allocated in each core using the PowerVM hypervisor.

By contrast, the regular AIX 6.1 license, known as Standard Edition, can scale up to 64 cores and 128 threads and has no limits on the amount of memory that can be allocated to a core using PowerVM. AIX 6.1 Standard Edition also includes PowerVM Workload Partitions Manager, the dynamic allocation tool for the hypervisor, and its Live Application Mobility feature, which allows for running AIX applications to be transported from one physical AIX box to another one.

Standard Edition also includes Micro Partitioning, which allows a single core to host as many as 10 logical partitions, an encrypted JFS2 file system, Trusted AIX security extensions, dynamic tracing with a feature called ProbeVue, and a number of other features.

IBM rolled up AIX 6.1 Enterprise Edition back in September 2008, adding in workload partitions (WPARs, which is IBM's riff on virtual private server), plus a bunch of systems management tools - Tivoli Application Dependency Discovery Manager, Tivoli Monitoring, and Usage and Accounting Manager Virtualization Edition for Power Systems - to help big AIX shops keep track of who is doing what.

AIX 6.1 EE now includes Systems Director Enterprise Edition, too, and will eventually scale to 256 cores. Right now, AIX 6.1 tops out at 64 cores and 128 threads, but when AIX 7.1 EE comes out later this fall, it will span 256 cores and 1,024 threads (as far as the initial Power7 servers are expected to go). AIX 6.1 will be tweaked to support 64 cores and 256 threads in a single image, which means if you want to use more than a quarter of the future Power 795 in a single image, you have to upgrade to AIX 7.1 EE.

Ian Jarman, manager of Power Systems software at IBM, says the Express Edition pricing will vary based on the size of the server--using the small, medium, and large categories that the company is starting to use for a lot of its Power Systems operating systems and related systems software.

On a small Power Systems machine using Power7 processors, AIX 6.1 Express costs $300 per core, plus $75 for a year of software maintenance (what IBM calls SWMA, or "swamma") for 9x5 business hours. On a medium machine, the license costs $800 per core and SWMA costs $200 for basic SWMA, and on a large machine, the Express Edition of AIX 6.1 costs $1,500 per core plus $375 per year for SWMA.

The price of AIX 6.1 Express Edition closely follows the special AIX pricing on blade servers, which ran to $85 per core plus $299 for a year of maintenance. The long-term cost is lower with the new Express Edition pricing, however, since the annual support cost is a lot lower now. Customers pay for this difference by having a crimped version of AIX, of course, but the special low cost AIX licensing now applies to all machines, not just blades.

That means customers can more easily afford to do AIX consolidations (or port Solaris and HP-UX infrastructure workloads with modest CPU and memory requirements) on bigger iron.

Customers with older Power5 and Power6 machines will also pay a premium for AIX 6.1, regardless of edition. It costs $375 per core for a license to AIX 6.1 Express Edition on a small Power7 box, and the price is the same on a small Power6 box. But with AIX 6.1 Standard Edition, a small machine costs $625 per core including SWMA with Power7 chips, but costs $849 per core for Standard Edition.

For AIX 6.1 Enterprise Edition on small machines, a license costs $988 per core (including on year of standard SWMA), but costs $1,212 on small Power6 machines. Roughly the same price differential holds on medium and large Power Systems machines comparing Power6 and Power7 boxes.

Basically, if you want to spend less on both hardware and systems software, move to Power7. ®

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