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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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