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AIX Turns 20

Users, developers and business partners reflect on AIX two decades after its inception.

In 1986, I was in seventh grade and thinking about ways to print banners and greeting cards from my classroom's Apple IIe computer. At IBM, a team of engineers and developers were putting the finishing touches on a commercial UNIX* OS.

What began as a research project for Carnegie Mellon in the early 1980s--called the Advanced Function Workstation--evolved into IBM's UNIX OS, AIX*. "Early on, the UNIX world was in a different camp," says IBM's Dennis Busch, who was on the original AIX development team. "When IBM got into UNIX computing, it was a turning point in the fact that up until that time, there was always that question of legitimacy. And to some degree, from a requirements standpoint, IBM drove UNIX operating systems to be more commercial, more available."

With proper testing and breakthrough development, the AIX OS took shape. "We tried to pull everything together, so we had efforts to get application programmers to put their applications on the UNIX platform," Busch says. "We realized you couldn't just put a workstation out there with no applications. We worked hard at getting applications, databases and network connectivity out there."

"Breakthrough" still describes the AIX 5L* OS today with its flexibility, virtualization capabilities and security features. To celebrate the OS's 20th birthday, IBM* Systems Magazine, Open Systems edition invited IBMers and industry partners to reflect on the AIX OS--how it started, where it's been and where it's heading.

Dennis Busch, original AIX team member, IBM

"I started working on what was the predecessor of the AIX OS back in 1983. IBM was really looking at developing a more high-function engineering workstation. Glenn Henry took the basis for the Carnegie Mellon research project, the Advanced Function Workstation prototype work, and said, 'We need to turn this into a commercial project/product.' Interactive Systems did our first port to the RTPC which ultimately was the hardware platform we went out on. And that was how we started the AIX OS; we turned it into a real product. "The AIX team really spearheaded our overall activity in dealing with the POSIX standards work, and we ultimately joined a group of UNIX standards people working in X/Open. We had to play in a bigger field of open systems.

"It started out as a single-user workstation with a single processor chip and has evolved into a very broad family of products that are essentially servers now that have multiuser, multiprocessor capabilities. We've taken a lot of the value proposition that IBM always had and translated that into a UNIX project."

Shiv Dutta, ISV global pSeries solutions enablement, IBM
"When I started using the AIX OS, I was an IBM customer. I still remember we were looking to move from a proprietary OS-based computing environment to what was then called an open-systems environment. IBM was steadily making inroads into UNIX computing.

"Early on, UNIX OSs thrived mainly among university crowds; they didn't have much constituency in the industrial world. Businesses steeped in the mainframe world didn't have much trust in the new kid on the block. Needless to say, over the years, the AIX customer base has increased by leaps and bounds.

"The AIX OS has never stopped empowering users and developers with flexible, reliable and powerful tools to interoperate smoothly across different IT environments. By all accounts, an OS that was already quite powerful has attained industrial-strength status. The enhancements in the area of RAS (reliability, availability and serviceability), improvements in both the scope and capability to interoperate with many applications and devices, and its compliance with several industry standards put the AIX OS in its own class."

Tom Farwell, technical editor, IBM Systems Magazine, Open Systems edition
"From a user's perspective, the AIX OS has evolved in numerous ways: from 32- to 64-bit kernel; from a native JFS file system to ability to have multiple file systems, including JFS2 and GPFS. What hasn't changed is its rock-solid stability and ease of administration. One reason the AIX OS has emerged as a leader is because AIX, coupled with seriously high-tech pSeries* hardware, has been a powerhouse in both the benchmarking world and massive-computing world.

"As history has shown, it hasn't been easy going for other UNIX vendors to survive. How much money are companies willing to invest in a particular vendor if there is uncertainty of the vendor's long-term survival?

"I think it's interesting to see IBM's direction to meld mainframe-inspired technology into the latest versions of the AIX OS. Furthermore, it appears that as long as IBM puts a fiscal priority on AIX, it should continue to exist as a UNIX leader for quite some time."

Karl Freund, vice president, pSeries offering management, IBM
"Initially, UNIX OSs were all about workstations. IBM saw opportunities when UNIX OSs moved onto servers. With the growth of servers, IBM saw the opportunity to take the AIX OS to a new level of functionality that would bring a lot of the mainframe experience we've had over the last 40 years. It's been a long journey, but it literally started back in the mid '90s when IBM decided to do that.

"The AIX OS has matured and gone from a dark horse in a three-horse race to a clear leader in that race. A lot of it's due to the great price/performance of the Power Architecture* platform, but also the functionality and robustness of the AIX OS. We see AIX becoming more prevalent in new industries. We see it increasing its ability to provide high-availability environments with multiple applications per server and all the management tools required to do that efficiently. As you virtualize these resources, you're able to get more efficiency out of the hardware on the network and datacenter."

Muditha Karunatileka, executive vice president of sales, Sirius Computer Solutions, Inc.
"AIX has always been a robust OS by including an integrated file system, Logical Volume Manager and systems-management utilities. In the last five years, IBM has made significant strides in the performance and functionality of the AIX OS with features such as logical partitioning, I/O virtualization, Micro-Partitioning*, and simultaneous multithreading. It has invested a significant amount of money to make sure that AIX is a leading UNIX OS. And the new POWER* hardware has been critical to the AIX OS's success.

" The continued technology leadership of IBM, competitive price performance and significant strides in acquiring ISV support have captured the attention of customers and allowed them to experience the advantage of the flexibility and efficiency of the AIX OS."

Jaqui Lynch, technical editor, IBM Systems Magazine, Open Systems edition and senior systems engineer, Mainline Information Systems
"Over the last five years, AIX technology has matured and emerged as an industry-leading platform known for stability, performance, flexibility and ease of management. With features like virtualization and integration with the Linux OS, AIX stands apart from other platforms. Without a doubt, the most powerful and impacting advancements include virtualization, Micro-Partitioning, numerous performance enhancements and the ability to have the Linux and AIX OSs coexist on the same platform. The AIX OS and the System p5* hardware deliver mainframe-inspired technology with industrial-strength UNIX reliability, availability and security features.

"The AIX OS has moved beyond meeting customers' demands. It's setting the industry standard of what a long-term product roadmap is and how a solution evolves with business requirements."

Kumar Nallapati, director AIX development, IBM
"The AIX OS has come a long way in terms of features as well as the availability, security and newer virtualization technologies designed to reduce the total cost of ownership. Fundamentally, the AIX OS has kept up the processor enhancements, going into the POWER processor family of AIX.

"We exploited simultaneous multithreading; we exploited the Micro-Partitioning technology that our systems offer; and the AIX OS allows the dynamic assignment of resources with the partition. Earlier, AIX versions essentially were limited in terms of usage in certain customer segments. The trend has changed from using it in smaller environments for simple tasks to huge enterprise applications that involve databases, Web applications, Web-serving applications and scientific computing.

"We're working on many features that will allow AIX to continue being a leadership OS for a long time. We've set out a roadmap to take the AIX OS ahead of where the industry is currently."

William Sandve, original AIX team member, IBM
"I joined the AIX team in about 1983 as technical assistant to the initial AIX Programming Center Manager, Glenn Henry. After about a year, I became a development manager in the base OS area. The AIX OS was a unique, new combination of UNIX-industry technologies (ATT System 5.2.2, BSD 4.3, et cetera), support for emerging open-systems du jour and de facto standards, and IBM enhancements (such as a robust journaling file system, Logical Volume Manager, enhanced error logging and reliability features, et cetera). Thus, the AIX OS offered the advantages of new technologies provided in a UNIX OS, the availability of increased numbers of applications written to industry-standard interfaces, and the robustness of new IBM technology enhancements and serviceability.

"Over the years, I've seen steady growth and acceptance of a more varied mix of high- and low-end customers across commercial and technical segments who literally 'bet their business' on the reliability, functionality and performance of the combination of AIX and pSeries server solutions."

Susan Schreitmueller, senior certified IT specialist, IBM
"In the 15 years I've been working with the AIX OS, I've experienced it at its finest and, well, in the growing-pains stages. AIX has grown into a robust, production-ready platform with just enough of the sense of management and ease of use it gets from the mainframe influence that IBM brings to the table. With a mature file system and volume management that comes complete with the product, to mainframe-inspired workload management, AIX has earned its spot as a leading UNIX OS.

"Many customers first explore the AIX OS to gain the reliability gained from the pSeries hardware and then become addicted to how easy tasks are. An administrator who starts on the AIX OS will rarely want to regress to command line and memorizing flags for infrequent tasks, which they'd have to do on other platforms.

"The AIX OS's posture of 'add in' rather than 'add on' products allows users to capitalize on features that come with the operating system while driving down total cost of ownership."

Satya Sharma, chief UNIX architect, IBM
"In the space of a decade, we've gone from a uniprocessor OS to a 128-way SMP OS. Others are unable to match the performance of AIX and Power Architecture. We're clearly the OS with momentum. The major differentiating factors are that the AIX OS is optimized for the POWER hardware, scalability/performance and dynamic reconfiguration capabilities. These are the two areas in which the OS advancements have taken place recently. In the reliability and availability areas, I expect significant innovation in the coming years. We also plan to extend virtualization to be a multiserver functionality."

J. Scott Sims, program director, AIX marketing, IBM
"We see customers who have been running Solaris or HP-UX migrating over to the AIX OS. That's happening for several reasons. One is certainly the sheer performance that we've been able to demonstrate with AIX and POWER5* technology. Another reason is the stability of the AIX roadmap. The fact that we have a stable and consistent track record of offering a new release every two to three years and providing interim updates between the major releases of the AIX OS means customers are better able to plan their upgrade and migration activities. We've aligned AIX OS future development plans around the IBM Systems Agenda for virtualization, openness and collaboration."

Mark Waldrep, president, Datatrend Technologies, Inc.
"In the 1980s, IBM made a commitment to its developers, partners and the end-user community to develop a leading UNIX OS. As an early AIX-era developer, Datatrend saw the promise IBM made in future roadmap plans for the OS. And looking back, IBM kept its promises and exceeded our expectations in adding feature content, advanced functions and management tools.

"The collaboration IBM Austin has had with developers, end users, partners and the pSeries (RS/6000*) brand has yielded a leading open solution in the industry. IBM Austin has reached out in a grassroots effort to seek input from users, developers and partners--all with the goal to monitor real-world needs and influence priority development setting for future releases of the AIX OS."

An extra thank you to William Sandve and Dennis Busch for their historical input and efforts. Jim Utsler, senior writer for IBM Systems Magazine, also contributed to this article.