IBM Releases AIX 6 Beta to the Masses

For the first time, Big Blue is offering the latest version of its Unix operating system as an open beta.

IBM is launching an updated version of its AIX operating system July 11, and for the first time Big Blue is looking to offer this OS as part of open beta program in order to entice more customers to its Unix platform.

In addition, IBM executives are detailing new features in AIX 6, including new virtualization capabilities in the operating system that complement the release of its Power6 processor, which debuted in May.

The competition within the Unix market is intense, with IBMs AIX operating system and Power-based System p servers fighting for customers dollars against Hewlett-Packards Integrity systems and HP-UX OS, and Sun Microsystems UltraSPARC line of processors and Solaris operating system. All three companies are also fighting for a market that watched RISC-Itanium server shipments fall 15.5 percent and revenues dip 1.5 in the first quarter of 2007, according to Gartner.

Scott Handy, vice president or marketing and strategy for IBMs System p, said the company would typically offer a beta version of a new operating to only 30 or 40 select customers. In this case, by opening up AIX 6 to more customers, along with the release of the Power 6 processor, IBM is looking to use this opportunity to lure more customers away from Sun and HP.

"This is a pretty competitive game and the Unix market is pretty big part of the overall server market," Handy said. IBM, based in Armonk, N.Y., has already had about 200 downloads of the AIX 6 beta and the company expects a total of 1,500 downloads by the time the operating system is generally available in the fourth quarter of this year.

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The full release of the AIX 6 operating system is expected in November and will have a price similar to the current versions of the OS. The System p 570 server, which is the first to use the Power6 architecture, started shipping in June.

Tony Iams, a senior analyst with Idea International of Rye Brook, N.Y., said that while IBM is looking to follow the open-source model by offering an open beta of AIX 6, he said it was not clear how the company would attract new users since AIX only works with servers that use IBMs Power processors.

Iams did note that opening up the beta will allow more people to see the new AIX and help with debugging the operating system.

"They are not going as far as Sun did by opening up Solaris, but this might help them get ahead of HP," Iams said. "By opening it up, IBM is taking a practical approach to this type of solution and trying to get a better product out there…The more users you have the more times you get a chance to kick the tires and you come out with a higher quality product."

The new features in IBMs AIX 6 will take advantage of the virtualization capabilities in the Power6 processor, as well as IBMs own hypervisor technology, in order to offer better availability and the ability to consolidate workloads.

The first of these improvements is what IBM calls WPAR (Workload Partitions), which is similar to Suns Solaris Containers virtualization technology. However, Handy said IBMs technology will allow for greater flexibility when consolidating workloads within a system.

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The WPAR feature will allow users to start multiple instances of workloads within a single version of AIX 6, which will reduce the number of images that have to be managed within the system. The feature also allows for each partition to have memory and file space separate from each other. These tools, Handy said, will help when users try to consolidate workloads within the data center.

"What is does is give consolidation benefits for virtual machines and allows for more workloads on the same system," Iams said. "It allows for sharing a single OS license, so users only have one host OS on one system."

Another feature, Live Application Mobility, allows users to move the WPAR between servers without restarting the application, creating better availability and giving customers a better way to control planned downtime of a system.

A third feature, Role Based Access Control, is a security tool, which allows administrators to set policies for gaining access to AIX resources.

In addition to the new features, Handy said, the new AIX 6 will have binary compatibility with both AIX 5.2 and 5.3, which will allow customers and ISVs to run applications written on the these two previous releases of the OS. AIX 6 will also work on systems that use Power4, Power5 and Power5+ processors.

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