June 3, 2002

Linux on the IBM pSeries: Administrators still want their AIX

Author: JT Smith

- By Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols -

Even inside IBM it's hard to find anyone who's really that excited about bringing Linux to the pSeries, a.k.a. the RS/6000 line. You don't need to be a computer scientist to know why: AIX, the native pSeries operating system, is a top-of-the-line Unix.
Dan Powers, IBM's v.p. of Linux Solutions, claims "AIX is the fastest growing Unix operating system in the world," as he compares it to HP-UX and Solaris. Of course, he continues, "but Linux is the fastest growing operating system in the world."

That said, even he admits that there are "an entire class of applications that are best served by AIX, Solaris, and HP-UX because they scale up to 32 processors easily."

Goodness knows, the pSeries customers aren't unhappy. Powers explains: "We continue to do very well with AIX and pSeries apps."

But, even so, Powers says that "we've decided to give AIX a Linux affinity." He notes that "as a technology preview on our Regatta (pSeries 690) systems you can run AIX or Linux in up to 16 Lpars (logical partitions)." That's nice, but you can run many more instances of Linux on an iSeries or zSeries.

While Red Hat, SuSE, and Turbolinux have pSeries Linux in their offerings, even these IBM Linux partners show little enthusiasm for Linux on the pSeries. Mike Hampton, Red Hat's v.p. of business development, comes right out and says that he hasn't seen much interest in pSeries. "A high-end xSeries (Intel-based) box running Red Hat Linux is pretty close to a low-end pSeries box," he notes. Frankly, it's "tough rationalizing buying Red Hat for pSeries."

The analysts agree. The best reason Stacey Quandt, Giga Information Group's Open Source analyst, can come up with for someone wanting to run Linux on the pSeries is that some vertical businesses might find that it scales well up to the mid-sized pSeries boxes. That's not a big market.

Bill Claybrook, the Aberdeen Group's research director for Linux and Unix, is even less excited. "I don't know that IBM has sold any Linux on the pSeries. With the cost of Power-based hardware being higher than IA-32, I just don't see the market." Looking at the broader picture of processors, he says that while there was demand for Linux on the Alpha RISC style chip, there is none for the Power architecture. So he thinks that Linux on the pSeries is a "very small, tiny market," and it will be "hard to get it rolling so long as IA-32 keeps getting blazing fast."

Claybrook also believes that another problem with this port of Linux is that ISVs have shown little interest in porting their applications to Linux on the pSeries. Indeed, Big Blue Smoke, a Sun-sponsored anti-IBM site, jokes that you can look for as long as you like on IBM's AIX site, but you won't find any list of Linux applications that run on the pSeries. Joke or not, Sun's right. You can find, however, an AIX toolkit for porting Linux applications to AIX.

One suspects that pSeries users find this toolkit more interesting than Linux itself. And the resellers and integrators? As one anonymous D.C.-area integrator says, "I like Linux. I'll use on Intel boxes around my RS/6000, but put it on the RS/6000? There's just no reason."

The other IBM partners we spoke to agreed, which sums it up nicely. Linux works well across the rest of IBM's product line, but on the pSeries, with AIX in place, few people inside or outside of IBM can find a reason to run it.

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