Unix still data center darling, says survey
Updated Unix systems may not be all the rage that they were two decades ago, but in nearly eight out of 10 data centers based on them, their use is either holding steady or increasing.
That's the assessment of a recent survey of the HP, IBM, and Oracle Unix customer bases by Gabriel Consulting Group, which has just finished up its fifth annual slicing and dicing of Unix customer sentiments.
Unix systems have successfully colonized their neighborhoods in the data centers of the world, and are resisting the onslaught of Windows and Linux on those systems' relatively inexpensive x64 iron. The Unix colonists are also resisting all of the marketing muscle and money that is dedicated to evicting them.
The GCG survey, which ran in late 2010 and early 2011, solicited input from places where Unix techies like to hang out; 306 shops responded to the full survey and the results were normalized for the HP, IBM, and Oracle installed bases.
If you are a Unix expert, the recession was probably a bit unnerving, as CFOs and CIOs ran around with machetes trying to cut costs anywhere they could, with Unix systems being a target in the same way that proprietary mini and mainframe systems once were – and continue to be.
According to the Unix shops polled by GCG, Unix usage was indeed on the wane in 2007, as the recession in the United States was building up a good head of steam. As you can see from the chart below, some shops slammed on the brakes while others kept on increasing.
By 2008 and 2009, GCG's data from surveys of Unix customers showed the declines slowing, but the share of customers who were boosting their budgets also slowed. Now, in the 2010-2011 survey, 45 per cent of Unix shops say they are increasing their spending, and a third say they are holding steady.
Unix system spending is on the rise
While the Unix-system makers have always competed fiercely against each other, each are notoriously difficult to completely dislodge. The tendency to have two, three, or more Unix variants running in the data center has changed only slightly in the past five years, and in this case, the change has been toward more diversity, not less, among Unix shops.
Perhaps Unix should have been called Multiplix?
This is all the more striking as the Unix market collapsed down to three vendors, and server consolidation reduced the number of Unix footprints, says Dan Olds, the principal at GCG and a Reg contributor. Only a fifth of the Unix customers surveyed by GCG say they have only one Unix variant running in their shops, and a third say that have two different Unixes and nearly half have three or more.
The simple fact is that companies choose a particular Unix to run specific jobs based on the technical characteristics of the platforms and the skills their employees have – the same reasons that all applications end up on a particular OS. Or don't.
Despite the similarities between Unix and various commercial-grade Linuxes (meaning they have third-party tech support from reputable companies), Linux has not become a replacement for Unix.
"Enterprise customers who have both commercial Unix and Linux see value in both systems," Olds explains. "While they're increasingly relying on Linux, they don't see it as a complete substitute for commercial Unix systems at this point. They see commercial Unix platforms as a bit better choice for mission-critical workloads, particularly those that require vertical scalability combined with high availability.
"These are also customers who see a lot of value in vendor support," he says, "and on this score they believe that the commercial Unix vendors have more to offer than what they can get with Linux."
About 60 per cent of the shops surveyed that have both Unix and Linux workloads say Unix is the better choice for hosting some applications and databases, and about the same proportion of shops that have both in their data centers say Linux is not as technically sophisticated as their Unixes. A little more than half of those polled who have both Linux and Unix running in their data centers said Unix is more reliable and has better availability than Linux.
Of those shops polled by GCG, 76 per cent said they are planning to have Unix systems installed five or more years from now, and only 5 per cent indicated that they would not. As a control question, CGC asked Unix shops later in its poll if they had plans to migrate away from Unix, and 65 per cent said they had no such plans. However, 17 per cent said they did have plans to do so and another 17 per cent said they were not sure.
So depending on how you ask the question, you get a slightly different answer. Perhaps the situation is more like this: There are some shops that want to migrate away from Unix for economic, skills, or technical reasons, but at least some of them don't expect to actually do the migration.
What would be interesting to learn now, of course, is how shops that have Unix, Linux, Windows, and proprietary minis or mainframes running their applications think these different platforms stack up. ®
An earlier version of this article included a chart and analysis that raised a few somewhat problematical points. Unfortunately, since the author is incommunicado on Monday here in the US, currently winging his way 'cross the continent, we've elided that portion until we can ascertain complete accuracy.
"I wonder what Windows users mostly use?"
The reset button?
My 'alternative' universe. What's yours like?
I said up front that I make a living supporting AIX. As it happens, I am currently contracting for IBM on a customer site, and have in the past been an IBM employee for a number of years.
But with my 20+ years of AIX (mostly outside of IBM) and over 30 years of other UNIX experience including 10 years of Linux in fields such as banking, utility, engineering, education and government, on systems running from micro-processors through departmental minis to Amdahl mainframes, AIX really has been this easy, at least if sensible design (i.e. like the manuals say plus a bit of common sense) has been followed. And it is still improving! (no, this is not a sales pitch, merely my observations).
I will stand my UNIX experience up against anybody else's. When I started working with UNIX in 1978, there were about half-a-dozen UNIX systems in the UK, and the total number of people with any experience in the UK probably did not exceed 100. And I have worked almost continuously with UNIX ever since.
Back to AIX, and no platform is without warts, and as good as I perceive it to be, sometimes you have problems. But where I am currently we have in the area of my responsibility 300+ AIX systems, being thrashed (literally) 24 hours a day, with 10's of TB of data changing on a daily basis, managed by a team of 5 people, some of whom have other responsibilities. On the same site, we have large Linux and Windows deployments, and there is also a Mainframe doing critical work.
Our current uptime on the AIX systems is low at around 60 days (having had some global power work done in the last two months), but normally runs into the 100's of days. In that 60 days, we have had about 8 disk failures out of an estate of about 4000 all of which were handled without any outage (including system disks). In the past, we have had memory failures, with the systems continuing to run until a convenient time to move the workload, and CPU's taken out of service in the same manner. We've also replaced complete RAID adapters (in an HA RAID environment), power supplies and cooling components without losing service. This is BTW, a clustered environment.
We are just about to embark in replacing 100s of RAID adapter cache batteries, and we do not expect to take *any* service impact at all during the work.
I would suggest that if the systems you 'have been forced' to use have been a bad experience, either you are not giving the whole picture (like if you think that you need the latest and greatest Open Source products - which would really be an application problem, not a deficiency of AIX or POWER platform), or there has not been due diligence in setting them up. Get someone who knows what they are doing in on the installation!
I have often found that sites tend to be partisan. Solaris or HP/UX sites often do not embrace AIX enough to understand how to run it properly, and vice-versa. But I do try to keep an open mind, and I do appreciate that I am not as knowledgeable of more recent Solaris or HP/UX systems as I am AIX. But in recent years, I have perceived them to be less innovative than the IBM offering, and when I last has serious work to do on them they just felt like they had been left in the last century when it comes to RAS and sysadmin tasks. But that's my opinion. I'm sure there are other opinions out there.
But I would say that AIX looks destined to the the last Genetic UNIX standing, given HP and Oracle's current attitude towards their products, and Linux still has a way to go in enterprise environments to replace it. I hope so, anyway, as I would like to get to retirement age without losing my career!
'Unix for mission critical roles, Linux not so much' is misleading
While certain types of workload seem to be popularly run on Unix, often things like corporate databases, it would be misleading to characterize the Linux workloads as non mission critical.
Unix seems to be often favoured for database servers, applications servers, and often web servers.
Linux, on the other hand, is very heavily used in firewalls, filter proxies, DNS servers, DHCP servers, IP administration systems, intrusion detection, intrusion prevention, network monitoring, server monitoring, packet capture and analysis systems, FTP, syslog servers and similar infrastructure components. Obviously failures in some of these will be vastly disruptive to delivery of services. These days, scratch an appliance, and you'll find Linux under the hood.
If I had to classify the situation, it would be that Unix is currently strong at the applications level, while Linux is coming to dominate the infrastructure level.