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The Great Debate: AIX Versus Linux

AIX Vs. Linux

In computing circles that I’m involved with, the debate rages on: AIX versus Linux. Administrators wonder, “Why would anyone want to keep running an OS that’s supported by one single vendor? Why wouldn’t you want to move everything to the shiniest and newest operating system and get away from ‘legacy’ enterprise computing?”

The odds are high that most AIX administrators have used both AIX and Linux and are well versed in both. Those that have a background in both OSs are better able to have informed discussions about the pros and cons of the environments compared to someone that has never used AIX, but that certainly doesn’t stop them from having an opinion.

Similar debates have raged on for years within the mainframe community. I’ve lost track of the number of times someone has declared the mainframe to be dead every time a new technology comes along. But when you look at the volume of critical transactions that still happen on the mainframe, it’s hard to believe that it’s going away any time soon.

AIX Advantages

The AIX debate is a little bit trickier. In many cases, it’s easy to port away from AIX and run on Linux or Windows. I may be a dying breed, but I still think that AIX is the premier UNIX flavor that is available today, chiefly because the hardware and OS have been coupled together to provide enterprise level reliability, availability and serviceability.

This isn’t an OS that’s running in a legacy or maintenance mode. The latest version of AIX, 7.2 TL0 was released in December of 2015, and AIX 7.2 TL1 was released in November of 2016. One of the highlights with TL1 is the ability to install service packs and technology levels without rebooting. The platform prioritizes high levels of uptime for critical workloads, and is well-suited for environments where downtime costs real money and reliability is a must.

For example, instead of bolting on a software-based hypervisor, POWER systems natively have hypervisors built into the hardware. By using VIOS and AIX together with the POWER hardware, you have an integrated stack that comes from one company. If something goes wrong, it’s much easier to get help from that single vendor. I’m not opposed to running Linux workloads; I just think that AIX is a more mature and robust OS. If given the opportunity to run Linux, I would consider POWER as a candidate to run my Linux workloads.

Breaking Down the Differences

It was interesting to replay the presentation that Andrew Wojnarek made to the Philadelphia Linux User Group on April 11. It’s nice to see that I’m not the only one who thinks that there are real advantages to the AIX environment.

Wojnarek supports a large fleet of machines—roughly half AIX and half Linux—and he says he has a pretty good feel for what it is like to administer both environments. He goes through the basics of AIX and why you would run it. Some of his arguments in favor of AIX include things like standardization—i.e., you can run the same OS on small servers and huge enterprise servers. Compare that to the subtle differences you will find between Redhat, SUSE, Debian, Ubuntu, etc.

He reminds us that when we are working with AIX we are in a ‘walled garden.’ He points out that there’s a standard way doing things with standard tools and commands. He talks about the built-in Logical Volume Manager, and the ability that we have with JFS2 to both increase and decrease the size of filesystems while they are online, which can be problematic with other filesystems on Linux depending on the type of filesystem that you are running. He talks about mksysb, the built-in tool to make backups that can be used to restore your server, either to the same hardware you took the backup from or to other hardware in your environment.

Rob McNelly is a Senior AIX Solutions Architect for Meridian IT Inc. and a technical editor for IBM Systems Magazine. He is a former administrator for IBM. Rob can be reached at rob.mcnelly@gmail.com.



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The Great Debate: AIX Versus Linux

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