IBM Previews i5/OS V6R1, Due in 2008
July 24, 2007 Timothy Prickett Morgan
Well, the mystery about the naming and timing of the next release of the i5/OS operating system is over as of today. Last year, IBM hinted that it might come out some time this year, and there were even rumors in late 2006 that indicated IBM might ship what was tentatively called V5R5 in March 2007–perhaps on existing Power5+ machines, perhaps on a new line of Power6 servers.
As it turns out, the forthcoming System i operating system will be called i5/OS V6R1, in keeping with the naming convention used for IBM’s AIX Unix variant and the Power6 platform. And you won’t see i5/OS V6R1 until 2008, which is when IBM is expected to revamp the System i product line with Power6-based servers. The word on the street before the Systems and Technology Group reorganization last week, which created the Power Systems division and the Business Systems division out of two pieces of the former System i division, was that the revamped server line would come in February or March 2008. Many people expected to see an i5/OS launch before that–perhaps in September with the first Power6-based server with a System i label. This machine is also being launched today, however, and not running i5/OS V6R1, but a tweaked version of i5/OS V5R4 that allows it to run on Power6 hardware. (IBM rejiggered AIX 5.3 to run on the System p variant of this machine back in May because AIX 6.1, due maybe in October, is also running late.)
It is unclear if the STG reorganization last week or some other event has changed the timing on the delivery of i5/OS V6R1. What is clear is that the Power Systems division has responsibility for the continuing development of i5/OS, the same key people who worked for the System i division in developing the i5/OS software stack work for Power Systems, and Mark Shearer, who used to be in charge of the System i division, is executive who is responsible for the development of i5/OS. (Technically speaking, Shearer’s title is senior vice president and business line executive of Power Systems.)
IBM is not saying a lot about exactly what is inside of i5/OS V6R1, but clearly there will be features to take advantage of the stuff inside the Power6 chip itself, such as improved virtualization, the decimal math unit, and the VMX vector co-processors that are all woven into the chip.
Craig Johnson, a product manager in the Power Systems group who has had that title for a number of different System i functions, said that IBM was working on adding integrated encryption capabilities to i5/OS with the V6R1 release. Specifically, IBM will have native encryption for data stored on disk arrays as well as encryption for data being archived on tape or virtual tape drives (which usually are a mix of disk and tape). Such integrated encryption is a must-have in the modern data center. Too many companies–including IBM itself–have had their archival data lost or stolen, and some companies have even had production data stolen because it was not properly encrypted. With such a heavy emphasis on the financial and insurance industries and a good footing in small and regional banks and retailing, IBM cannot let the i5/OS platform fall prey to such negligence or hacking because of a lack of native encryption.
IBM is not, by the way, breaking out i5/OS security extensions as a separate set of products, as it is doing with AIX 6.1 in creating what it calls Trusted AIX. (See IBM Opens Up Beta for Future AIX 6 for more on what IBM’s AIX team is cooking up for AIX 6.1.)
The Virtualization Engine hypervisor that gets tweaked with i5/OS V6R1 will have what IBM calls hosted storage for i5/OS partitions, something that it can do today with AIX and Linux partitions on the System i machine. With i5/OS V5R4, a logical partition needs to have its own dedicated disk adapter, so if you want a dozen partitions on a machine, you need a dozen controllers. This can be very expensive. With hosted storage, you create a primary i5/OS partition, and then host partitions can share the I/O devices in the primary partition.
Johnson also said that IBM will be giving customers a sneak peek at improvements in cross-site mirroring, part of the collection of high availability clustering technologies that Big Blue has pulled into OS/400 and i5/OS over the years. (The exact nature of these improvements is not clear at this point.) IBM is also adding support for new Fibre Channel adapters into i5/OS V6R1, and has committed to increased performance in storage area networks that feed into System i servers and improved interoperability of System i machines with SANs.
IBM is also cooking up a new 64-bit Java virtual machine for i5/OS V6R1, which will also have performance improvements specifically geared toward data access on i5/OS. Last year, IBM switched away from using the Rochester lab’s own 64-bit JVM implementation to the same 32-bit JVM used inside AIX, which had significant performance benefits on many Java applications. Now, AIX 6.1 and i5/OS V6R1 seem to be moving ahead together with a 64-bit JVM. Johnson said that IBM is developing this JVM internally, and it is not using one from Sun Microsystems or BEA Systems, which also have well-regarded JVM implementations. IBM did not say this, but it could, in theory, be moving JVMs into the PASE AIX runtime environment inside i5/OS. IBM did this years ago for the TCP/IP stack, did it again more recently when bringing a “native” PHP engine to i5/OS, and will do again today as it puts the open source MySQL database inside PASE as well.
i5/OS V6R1 will also see IBM’s Systems Director tools supplant i5/OS Navigator as the tool systems administrators use to manage System i boxes. IBM has been pretty clear that it wants its entire server portfolio to be using a consistent set of management tools, which makes it easier to train administrators across IBM’s vast customer base. Johnson says that there will be a variant of the future System Director tool for i5/OS that does all of the rudimentary things specific to the System i platform, and then a larger (and presumably more expensive) System Director multiplatform edition that can span multiple machines and architectures.
The future i5/OS release will also have an integrated Web services development environment, but exactly what that means, IBM has not said yet. IBM will also introduce today the MySQL relational database running in PASE. i5/OS shops will be able to run the free MySQL Community Edition or the commercially supported MySQL Enterprise Edition inside PASE. Over the long haul, IBM and MySQL plan to work together so the MySQL database, which supports a number of different back-end database engines already, can use DB2/400 as the storage engine when running on a System i platform. IBM and MySQL have not said when this capability will come to market, but it is a fair guess that they are working hard to get it into i5/OS V6R1 when it ships in 2008.