Does Anybody Care About AIX on the iSeries?
by Dan Burger
AIX on the iSeries. It's been available for approximately one year, but what is its impact? The sales pitch from IBM is impressive: server consolidation, virtualization, infrastructure simplification, return on investment, total cost of ownership, support for multiple operating systems, expansion of the application universe, and, not to be downplayed, replacement of competitors' Unix boxes. Sounds like something for everyone or, at least, everyone who has Unix playing a role in the data center. So, what's the story?
The story begins with a statistic. It comes from Craig Johnson, the IBM iSeries AIX and Linux product manager. Johnson sites an internal IBM survey that indicates 28 percent of iSeries customers have Unix in their data centers. They could be Sun Microsystems Solaris servers, Hewlett-Packard HP-UX or Tru64 Unix server, an IBM AIX server, or possibly one of several other brands that are quickly dying away from the Unix landscape. That 28 percent is the target and Johnson has a handful of darts. Not every dart is sharp. Not every dart will hit a target.
One of the sharpest points is on the server consolidation dart. "We can offer iSeries customers the capability to replace a Unix server or multiple Unix servers and run them on the i5," Johnson says. "It could be that their lease is coming due or they are running out of power. There obviously needs to be a business reason to do it."
For some companies, the opportunity to eliminate the cost of a server or servers is a financial incentive. The capability to run AIX 5L in logical partitions on the i5 allows companies to optimize their investments by sharing processor and memory resources, by moving workloads where they are needed, by exploiting the iSeries storage subsystem, and by leveraging skills and best practices. And since this is an iSeries shop anyway, the loss of any Unix boxes is not likely to be mourned. Unix was probably contested in the first place when it was installed many years ago, and only used begrudgingly.
"I think AIX on the iSeries will be a growing trend because of the server consolidation standpoint," says Mike Grant, founder and CEO of iSeries vendor Bytware, which has recently introduced its StandGuard Anti-Virus software for companies that run AIX on the iSeries. He says companies aren't interested in maintaining older, slower RS/6000 and pSeries boxes. He sees Bytware customers moving them to a partition on an i5 as a cost-reduction advantage.
Grant's opinion is that the pSeries will most likely be consolidated onto the iSeries as opposed to competitive servers from HP or Sun. Speaking about Bytware customers, he says, "They use the partition just like they would normally use their servers. Many used to have RS/6000s and have consolidated those onto the iSeries for ease of use. Whatever those old applications were doing on the RS/6000s, they are now running in a partition on the iSeries."
As an example of how this makes financial sense, Grant cites a customer with an iSeries in its corporate offices that originally had pSeries boxes in thousands of stores. "It did not make financial sense to put an AS/400 in every store, but now they have consolidated all those pSeries boxes to the main iSeries. Each one runs in a partition and they are hooked up over the Internet. They run critical store software, just like the iSeries. In some cases they are only used as a file server." He also says Bytware developed its AIX software because of customer requests, which would indicate an existing desire to run AIX on the iSeries. The banking and insurance industries are leaders in this strategy according to Grant.
Ron Oliveira, chief technology officer at Aldon, a change management software vendor with strong ties to the iSeries market, also has some perspective on the AIX on iSeries server consolidation play. Aldon's Lifecycle Management software supports and runs on OS/400, AIX, and Linux.
"It is very cheap to run AIX or Linux partitions on an iSeries," Oliveira says, "because you can do it with virtual I/O. No dedicated hardware needs to be thrown at it, because an AIX partition can be carved out. Some memory and processor must be given up, but no disk, IOAs, or IOPs. It just requires a network storage space within the existing disk. It lets you experiment very cheaply." Oliveira says he has a hunch that iSeries shops will discover that running Web applications on AIX on the iSeries will be an attractive alternative to running WebSphere on the iSeries, a proposition that has not gained much traction.
"Even though IBM licenses in both directions now" (meaning companies can run AIX on i5 boxes and i5/OS on p5 boxes), Oliveira notes the difference is there is no restriction to running AIX on the i5, but if you go the other way, you are limited to the number of processors you can devote to i5/OS. "If you are serious about i5/OS, you are going to want to run it on an i5 because of the licensing," he says.
"Eventually it won't matter," says Bytware's Grant. "There will be one Power5 box that will run whatever you want on it." That's not an official statement from either Bytware or IBM. "That's just my personal opinion," Grant says.
And as Oliveira points out, an i5 and a p5 are really the same hardware. "It doesn't matter which way the boxes are carved up. It's not a different version of AIX is required. It's the same as what runs on the p5. In situations that dictate a box is being replaced, what really upsets the apple cart is when the operating system is replaced. But when AIX is run on an i5, no operating system is being replaced; it no longer is fought like a religious war between Unix and OS/400 zealots.
Mission Critical Apps
Johnson says IBM is also supporting Unix applications that customers are about to deploy. "We have numerous iSeries customers that are deploying a Unix application for the first time. Instead of buying their first Unix server, they put AIX on the i5 along with their i5/OS applications and run them both on the same system."
After a year in the marketplace, the uptake for AIX on the iSeries is also being driven by business applications and by software vendors with databases like the Unix variant of DB2 or Oracle. This leads to AIX on the iSeries for organizations that have not have Unix in the mix, but are now finding supply chain, customer relationship management, and data warehousing applications that run on AIX rather than OS/400. Because Unix is universally popular for deploying new applications, IBM has determined there are great opportunities to run them on the iSeries in a partition.
Bill Hammond, product strategy director at Lakeview Technology, says his overview of Lakeview's iSeries-centric high availability customers supports this thinking. "We are seeing an increasing number of customers looking at this idea of AIX on the iSeries. It's at the larger accounts rather than the small to midsize business level. People are seriously looking at this as they are looking at 2006. They are doing cost-analysis work."
"You have to separate big customers from big machines when you talk about the market this presently appeals to," Johnson says. "A very large customer might have 100 iSeries and 100 Unix servers, and they are not going to take out 100 Unix servers and put them on iSeries. The quantity is too high. The power is too high. So I wouldn't say that customers like this are where we are having success or where we are targeting. It's a notch down, where they might have three or five or ten Unix servers," he says. "They might bring all or some of them onto iSeries. It depends on decisions like only replacing the Unix servers in one data center, where multiple data centers exist."
Lakeview hears about AIX on the iSeries when it involves a critical application that is often running on a platform other than OS/400. "They are trying to reduce their total cost of ownership," Hammond says. "As an example, we typically see one critical app running on one Unix server. That app is being brought to the iSeries. The iSeries has always tended to have a bunch of stuff going on because of the integrated nature of the database. Multiple workloads on the iSeries have always been a unique piece of that market. When we see an application being moved over to the iSeries, it is usually a real specific app, like a supply chain app. And the companies are taking a look at what that means with regard to upgrading their iSeries with more memory and more storage."
Eighteen Months Equals Hundreds of Partitions
When it comes to identifying the number of organizations actually running AIX on the iSeries, the story gets a little muddy. It's difficult to pin down, but our guess at IT Jungle is that a few percent of the i5s sold to date (maybe 1 to 2 percent of the 40,000 to 45,000 units IBM will ship between May 2004 and December 2006) have AIX running on them. No one that I talked with for this article doubted such an estimate. IBM's Johnson said the number of AIX partitions is "in the hundreds."
Naturally, customers have to be aware of AIX on the iSeries and the potential it has. And the sales channel needs to be knowledgeable about AIX, too. Partners need to be able to install it and manage it and support it. Whenever you introduce something new there is an ecosystem around it that needs to be in place, and within the first year there is only so much that can get ramped up. The second year will reveal more. Johnson says the ecosystem that is built around AIX on the iSeries is better and there is more capacity to support it. Another factor is logical partitioning is not something that many OS/400 shops are familiar with yet. In many instances, the capabilities provided in the Power5 boxes are yet to be discovered. IBM still has work to do to educate and train users to get the most out of their machines.
Bringing new customers and new workloads to the iSeries is not the only worthwhile point to make about AIX on iSeries, according to Tony Madden, senior vice president of sales at Avnet, one of IBM's major resellers and business partners.
"What offering Unix apps on the iSeries does," Madden explains, "is stop the door from closing with a customer that may otherwise be leaving the iSeries. I don't know that AIX on the iSeries pushes sales, but the fact that it's there prevents the iSeries from immediately being eliminated from competition like it did four or five years ago. It doesn't force companies to look at alternatives. It makes the iSeries viable and vibrant. It makes people look for more things they can bring onto the iSeries."
From Madden's perspective, what was happening with the old OS/400-centric AS/400 and the popularity of Unix in the late 1990s was giving people not only a reason to look for a Unix server, but to look for a whole new infrastructure. And many times, when it came to new infrastructure, a Windows platform was being considered because most companies had to have Microsoft in the picture somewhere anyway.
"The iSeries will never be a box that will attract hordes and hordes of new customers," Madden says. "But I do think we will grow our installed base. And I do think we will pick up new customers because we are refocused on the applications."
"We think this program is successful because our customers asked us to do it and we were able to deliver," Johnson says. "We have seen a significant number of them implemented." IBM has 30 case studies on the iSeries Web site. "And a significant number more are being considered and in the planning stages. We view it as a successful first year and as an important addition to our infrastructure simplification portfolio."