IBM unveils midrange servers, Linux-friendly AIX

SAN FRANCISCO -- IBM Corp. backed up its billion-dollar support of the open-source Linux operating system Monday when the company unveiled AIX 5L, Version 5.1, a new version of its high-end OS (operating system) with added Linux support.

Big Blue complemented its release of the AIX 5L Unix OS with the introduction of two new midrange Unix servers billed by IBM as competitors to Sun Microsystems Inc.'s server line.

AIX 5L comes with several new tools for installing and working with Linux applications. Users will now have access to new APIs (application programming interfaces) and header files that let a variety of Linux software run on AIX with a relatively simple recompilation. IBM also put out an AIX Toolbox for Linux, which combines more than 200 tools and applications for uniting the two OSes.

IBM additionally built new features into the AIX WorkLoad Manager that give users more options for remote management of servers and for tracking system resources accurately.

One beta tester of AIX 5L found the new Linux support the most appealing feature in the OS upgrade.

"It seemed to make it much easier to port open-source code," said Steve Kellogg, director of the Advanced Information Technologies Center at Penn State University. "That was the key addition as far as we are concerned. It is not so much new technology as it is bringing the Linux flavor into AIX."

Kellogg works with both AIX and Sun's Solaris Unix OS and said that while both have their good points, he prefers to use AIX when possible. With the added support for Linux applications, he can now bring more of the software he was using with Solaris over to the AIX platform, making the IBM OS an even more accessible choice.

"AIX has a great file system that has sold itself to us many times over," Kellogg said.

Kellogg prefers the file management utilities available with AIX. IBM's version of Unix makes it easy to expand file systems and move them to different disks, according to Kellogg. Solaris tends to fragment its file systems when running a number of transactions, he said.

AIX 5L, Version 5.1 should be available on May 4 with no added charge for the Toolbox for Linux applications, according to an IBM spokesman. It will run on IBM e-Server pSeries and RS/6000 servers, including the new pSeries servers also released Monday.

IBM battles with Sun on both the OS and server fronts and touted its latest p620 and p660 servers as less expensive alternatives to Sun's midrange line.

The Unix systems take advantage of some of IBM's latest chip technologies, including Silicon-on-Insulator (SOI) and the use of copper wiring. SOI allows microprocessors to run faster while producing less heat than traditional aluminum chips. IBM champions its copper chips as having improved conductivity over aluminum products.

The two servers are the first in IBM's midrange line to have both SOI and copper technology. The servers also come with the company's Chipkill system for reducing the number of memory failures. Chipkill makes it possible to take an inoperative memory chip "off-line" while the server continues to run.

One customer decided to go with IBM's new server offering less because of the company's latest and greatest technology than because IBM offered better support than rival Sun.

"Sun did not demonstrate to us in the early stages that these are two companies in a war over market share," said Ben DeYoung, chief operating officer at MDoffices Inc.

IBM answered technical questions from the medical start-up quickly and helped the company get its product to market faster than it appeared Sun would do, DeYoung said.

The p660 starts at US$20,995 and the p620 starts at $16,995, with worldwide availability.

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