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IBM AIX users look forward to a cloudy future

IT organizations that rely on AIX-based applications still whirring away may feel the cloud computing age is passing them by -- but help is on the way.

While the cloud computing tsunami has drenched most major enterprise platforms over the past decade, IBM's AIX...

has managed to stay relatively dry.

There are a number of well-known reasons for this: the difficulty and expense to adapt legacy applications built to live on premises to be cloud-aware; the lack of technical expertise as many AIX IT professionals retire; and of course, the old favorite, inertia driven by the maxim: "Why fix it if it ain't broke?"

The reasons to "fix" the AIX problem are compelling for some IT shops. Chief among them is the increased acceptance of open source tools to develop web-based applications, upon which enterprises have rapidly become reliant. However, many of these applications either can't take full advantage of age-old AIX applications or can't interact with them at all.

The other incentive is the growing need to more easily exchange workloads between Linux and the once-hated Windows operating systems, as users of those two platforms migrate sizable amounts of on-premises data to the cloud.

"The world recognizes now that Linux is the open source platform for the cloud," said Anirban Chatterjee, product marketing manager for IBM's Power Systems. "We have to play catch-up to bring AIX into that world. We need to make sure when you put AIX side by side with Linux you are able to leverage cloud technology equally with both."

IBM will devote a lot of attention this year to deliver technologies that ensure AIX users can more readily access the latest cloud technologies with their most ancient applications, according to Chatterjee. The goal is to ensure that IBM AIX applications not only run well on premises but also handle off-premises development and better orchestrate workloads spread across AIX and Linux and other open source products such as Chef and OpenStack.

In addition to IBM's internal development efforts, a new partnership with Seattle-based Skytap Inc. last month will allow AIX users to "lift and shift" their entire environment into the cloud, to share workloads across Linux and Windows through Skytap's AIX On-Demand Instances.

Many AIX shops can't afford to wait for help to get to the cloud. Their own customers increasingly conduct more business through a variety of cloud-based technologies, which puts shops with on-premises-only applications at a competitive disadvantage. At the same time, there are fewer workers with Unix and AIX skills to help with this transition.

"Some IT shops are starting to ask, 'Why keep all this on premises? Why not put it all in the cloud and let someone else run it for us?'" said Jean Bozman, a vice president at Hurwitz & Associates LLC in Needham, Mass.

Another complication with interaction of on-premises AIX-based applications and the web-based world are the tentacles that reach out and touch other supporting applications and hardware components.

"No AIX app is an island unto itself; most have peripheral apps they are leveraging in a single AIX instance," said Dan Jones, director of product management at Skytap. "This is the advantage we have of replicating a full on-premises stack in the cloud and making as many copies of it as you need."

Most of Skytap's success comes from companies that are moving away from the waterfall development approach to adopt agile computing and a variety of DevOps practices, Jones said.

To date, the IBM AIX community has had few alternatives that offer true cloud capabilities. Choices for IT shops were either buy Big Iron and manage it themselves, or rent server space from managed service providers.

"The Skytap offering is one of the first times [AIX] users can access the cloud and have Power and x86 servers sitting side by side," said Jennifer Lin, IBM's AIX offering manager. "This is good for Power customers who always have some x86 machines in the mix."

AIX on Power still quietly growing

There is ample financial opportunity to bring AIX shops into the cloud. It is the largest installed base among the remaining Unix variants with over a quarter million IBM Power Systems currently running AIX, according to market researcher IDC. Shipments of Power 8-based servers were slightly below 20,000 in both 2015 and 2016 with another couple thousand Power7 boxes running AIX shipped in 2015 and 2016.

A large number of AS/400s in departmental closets with AIX on them [are] humming away in obscurity ... These folks are slowly starting to look at cloud-enabled technology.
Geoff Woollacottprincipal analyst, Technology Business Research Inc.

"The AIX user base you see out there now is pretty dedicated to that operating environment," said Peter Rutten, research manager, server solutions with IDC's enterprise platforms group. "This is why we are seeing a good uptick in sales of new AIX boxes. The loyal AIX user base seems to be renewing on AIX."

Also part of the AIX sizable user base are the often overlooked, ancient IBM AS/400 systems in smaller and midsize companies.

"There's still a large number of AS/400s in departmental closets with AIX on them, humming away in obscurity," said Geoff Woollacott, senior strategy consultant and principal analyst at Technology Business Research Inc. in Hampton, N.H. "These folks are slowly starting to look at cloud-enabled technology and wondering what to do with the 'it-ain't-broke' assets that are still out there."

Further driving interest among some for AIX is the OpenPOWER Foundation, which now has 200 participating companies and individuals, and has open sourced all of the hardware components of the Power servers. Last year the Foundation announced that 10 new OpenPOWER servers had been delivered specifically for higher-performing cloud deployments.

"You can now choose from many more vendors to buy an open source Power system," Rutten said, noting OpenPOWER systems currently only work with various versions of Linux. "And I have a feeling these [OpenPOWER] systems at some point will be running AIX," he said.

Ed Scannell is a senior executive editor with TechTarget. Contact him at escannell@techtarget.com.

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How much competitive pressure do you feel to take your AIX environment to the cloud?
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a) I have a bias, or at least will be perceived to be biased. I work for IBM as a "management consultant" re: POWER, AIX and Linux on POWER. -- PLEASE take note: all comments here are my private opinion and do not reflect IBM's position on anything (above my pay grade ;) )
b) I host the oldest portal for AIX (and POWER) - dating back to 2001 (http://www.rootvg.net, @ROOTvgNET)
c) the last 6 or 7 years I have been more actively porting, more accurately - packaging, opensource to AIX (Michael Perzl has been active much longer but we have different approaches and goals) - (http://www.aixtools.net)

So, back to my bias: a) work for IBM: b) have been answering questions on AIX - publicly since 2001; and c) have experience with the dilemmas of open-source and "platform of choice".

What I miss in this article is a clear position of the writer. As I read the opening paragraphs I felt the content was leaning against AIX - almost to the point of saying "lost battle" - yet, towards the end leaning towards "maybe there is a tunnel that can be followed and maybe there will be some light to lead the way". In short, not very positive.

Quick comment on (retiring) admins: yes, that is a problem - admins get old and retire. Getting new ones is perceived as difficult. IMHO - this is partly IBM's fault - it is much harder to get a system to play on, and learn AIX administration (basics) than to learn a distribution of Linux. However, anyone who has worked "a bit" on AIX in the last 20 years can got to work tomorrow - because AIX is consistent. There are (surprise! surprise!) new features - but what was there is 1992 (lets take the start of AIX 3.X) is still there today. In two words, consistency and stability.

For the record: I was using Linux back in 1994-1995 (Slackware was my favorite in 1998-2000). Recently I experienced RH7 (more accurate Linux 3.X (where X>10 or 12, not sure which)) and with my nearly 40 years experience with UNIX - I could not do "a thing". Because they can - "linux" changed the default commands for network configuration - 'ifconfig' is now 'ip'. There were a couple of other commands - but I remember feeling like I had just put out with the trash. ALL of my knowledge is for naught. My employer should be looking at retiring me for someone less expensive - because my knowledge of the system is now, probably less than someone coming from high school!

So, yes - there are fewer new (young, fresh from school) admins with knowledge of AIX. But the intricacies of Linux can, and do, change at the whim "of the community". Do not make the mistake that most admins are actively involved "in the community". They just want to do a job.

My apologies. I failed on "quick." But I still remember the pain in my gut when "Linux 3.X" took my world away (yes I know there is a package to bring those commands in, but I prefer a lean basis. More packages is more to maintain.

My conclusion, er comment: the "community" has little, or no perception of the cost of retraining a workforce. And this (the way linux is developed (the way opensource is developed!)) is a risk to business continuity.

So, now I shall be quicker: AIX to the cloud yes/no. I speak (read visit) about 40 different customers a year. There is interest in cloud, yes - but less for AIX because what they are doing with AIX is not suited to the cloud. These are virtual machines that are configured and fine-tuned and monitored - for years!, not for hours. In other words, their system management is more focused on keeping 'unique' "pets" healthy than grazing 'generic' "cows".

I see "cloud" as XAAS - "something(X) as a service" with the goal being managing risk (of cost) of having the resources needed to get something done. The real challenge for business is getting their cost model aligned with the economics of "Business" As A Service.

For the customers - using AIX - the call to go cloud based systems management is, in my experience, not as acute for other 'platforms'.

While there is merit in a discussion about 'agile' application development and 'agile' application deployment - that is a large, important, segment. But that segment is not where most of the 40 customers I visit annually are concerned about when they look at the applications they existence depends on - and many of these run on AIX.

IMHO: cloud is a still nice buzz word - to get clicks for a blog - but focusing on "to cloud or not to cloud" is not focusing on the business needs of a large group of "IT technology consumers". Even if you want to argue "cloud" is the home of the majority of applications - do not, in the same breath - discount the importance of the 'minority' for a business to survive.

(my 4 cents! ;)
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Thanks for the feedback, it rang true and I found it enlightening. First, I am a news/features writer and so I don't take a personal position pro or con on anything I report and write on. Any perceived "position" I take is based on a consensus of a cross section of users, consultants, analysts and vendors I interview. Unfortunately in this case, no experienced AIX/Power users were willing to step forward and talk to me about this issue -- but that's been an ongoing problem for quite a while now. So, I was merely trying to state as accurately as I could what the 10 or so people were telling me. By the by, I was at the introduction of AIX and the RS/6000 RISC-based server in NYC back in 1989 I believe it was, so I am aware of the product's evolution. I know AIX-based apps still control some pretty critical apps among many F 1000 accounts and have for a couple of decades. But when I see a solution like Sky Tap's, the real value of it being to allow AIX workloads to interact with workloads from Linux and, more importantly, Windows Server, I thought that was something IT shops should know more about. With long-time proprietary vendors such as IBM and Microsoft the past couple of years opening up to work with open source and other open standards platforms, there has been more interest on the part of users to migrate environments to the cloud. (And yes I know IBM's interest in open source goes back to 2001 with its $40 million investment in the Eclipse tool set.) But I do appreciate the points you made about what real world admins out there do with AIX and what their day-to-day priorities are, and that not all AIX apps are appropriate for the cloud. Depending on the feedback from users I receive, maybe a follow up story is warranted. But thanks again for the enlightening feedback.
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