Power i Forecast: AIX

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IBM continues to gain share in the UNIX market, so what does the future hold for AIX running on Power?


IBM's revenue share of the UNIX market shot up in the fourth quarter of 2010 to about 50 percent, and the company reestablished itself as the world's leading provider of servers.


Both Gartner and IDC released their estimates last week of how the world's leading server providers fared during the last quarter of 2010. While the numbers from each differed, both put IBM at the top for overall server revenue as well as for UNIX server revenue. While some might argue that IBM has an advantage with its mainframe business, which helps its overall revenue figures, it's clear the company's UNIX-based server business is on the upswing. Below is a table we compiled showing the two analyst organizations' estimates of IBM's server ranking.





Position in server market share by revenue



Market share percentage

37.4 %

35.5 %

Server revenue growth

21.9 %

26 %

Market share gain

2 %

2.8 %

Market position in high-end servers



Market share of high-end servers

69.1 %


UNIX market position



UNIX market share

53.9 %


UNIX server revenue growth

12 %

9.9 %



While IDC and Gartner were crunching fourth-quarter vendor numbers, we were interviewing newly appointed IBM AIX Product Marketing Manager Bill Casey. While we spoke with Casey during the fourth quarter of last year and before the above numbers were released, it was clear he was very aware of the growth in IBM's UNIX server business and highly optimistic about the opportunity IBM faced when combining AIX onto the advanced Power 7 server hardware. Further advances in AIX 7.1, giving administrators more control over virtualization, security, and server clusters, were a fitting tribute to this year's 25th birthday celebration of AIX, first introduced in 1986 for the IBM 6150 RT workstation. (Read a history of AIX).


While our interview with Casey covers a broad range of topics, here is the segment in which he addresses where he believes the AIX operating system will be headed in the future.


Chris Smith, MC Press Online: AIX has been around for more than 20 years now.…


Bill Casey: Actually, 25 years, Chris.


MC Press Online: In AIX 6.1, you introduced some fairly advanced functionality that the OS didn't have before: workload partitions, role-based access control, enhanced security features, and live partition mobility, among others. Obviously, IBM is investing quite a bit in the platform, so where do you see AIX going in the next five years?


Casey: We are continuing to invest in the product going forward. Let me give you a little background about where we've been, because AIX is so tightly tied to the Power platform. The Power platform continues to see tremendous growth and increased share in the UNIX market. We plan on continuing that trend over the next five years and beyond.


Just to give you a little background, I am the AIX product marketing manager, and I just took this position last September, having come over from Tivoli. I had worked for Tivoli for four years, and prior to that I was with Power. I spent about eight years as the high-end offering manager—Power 4, 4+, 5, 5+, and 6—and then I went over to Tivoli. One of the key reasons I went to Tivoli was to make sure that IBM people were working closely together to bring the best platform to the marketplace. One of the biggest concerns I was hearing from customers was around their systems management capabilities, so I went over to Tivoli to try and work with those folks to bring some of their technologies to the Power platform and make it easier for customers to 1) purchase it, because that was an issue, and also 2) to see the benefits of it.


As you know, we now have three editions of AIX—Express, Standard, and Enterprise. The Enterprise version has some of the key Tivoli technologies included in the offering, and we've seen significant growth in adoption of AIX Enterprise since we announced it. In fact though, we were coming off a low base when we announced it, but we're seeing upwards of 700 percent increase in the adoption of AIX Enterprise—and it's all for the right reasons. Customers don't look at the platform just as hardware and an operating system. They look at the entire ecosystem that is all around it and try to manage their costs in the most effective way. That's why we're seeing such a tremendous adoption of AIX Enterprise in the market today.


MC Press Online: I believe live partition mobility is offered only in that version, and I would think that alone would be sufficient reason to buy the Enterprise edition, would it not?


Casey: A lot of it involves virtualization. I know people talk about VMware when talking about virtualization, but IBM has owned virtualization since the early days of the mainframe. However, with virtualization comes complexity. Customers were struggling with that, but I think we've pretty much got our arms around that now while at the same time getting the full benefit from our Power Systems. The proof is that customers are using virtualization, and even on the low-end systems they are all virtualizing those systems. The management of those virtualized environments is critical to keeping down the expense and to providing the full benefits of the IBM platform.


MC Press Online: That's ironic because in the early days of virtualization, the pitch was that it was going to simplify everything. Then after they got into it, they said, hmmm, this is kind of complicated.


Casey: Yes, no longer physical, right? When we first introduced APV (Advanced Power Virtualization), now PowerVM, if you look at how customers were using it then and how they are using it today, and the scalability of the systems we have now, customers today are creating logical partitions to an extent not in the realm of possibility just a few years ago. It's amazing what customers are doing.


MC Press Online: Are they trying to find the limits where it will break?


Casey: It's the same thing with utilization. We see that the mainframes were able to get up to 95 percent utilization. I was a salesman starting off at IBM, and I sold mainframes. I remember back in those days you started wetting your lips when you watched that utilization getting up to 80, 90, 95 percent because you knew you had an upgrade coming your way! But on the UNIX platform, folks were running perhaps 20 to 25 percent utilization. So I think that's a major trend in the market. In fact, it's already here. Customers are starting to realize the value—or lack of value—that they may have been getting from their systems in the past and are beginning to see what they can do with them now. We've got customers today who have hundreds of LPARs [logical partitions] on these systems. And you can imagine what it's like managing those environments and keeping everything straight. So that's a little background on myself and where we're going.


As I said, AIX has been around for 25 years, and it is the most stable, secure operating system platform on the market. There are studies out there how we compare to all the other OSes, and we constantly come out as number one. And we're going to continue to improve that as we go forward, but our focus is more on supporting the ecosystem, as I call it, around systems management and making it easier to secure your system and enhance its reliability. Enhancing the cluster-aware features of AIX is how we've made it much easier to manage clusters. Now we're providing an interface to PowerVM and working more closely to help customers better manage that.


We're seeing a huge increase in our revenue around our Power systems. We shipped upwards of 50 percent more cores in the second quarter last year than we ever have done. When you look at that in terms of capacity, you can just imagine the amount of capacity we're shipping with these newer systems with new cores which are so much more powerful. With the number of cores, and the fact that our offerings are priced per core, means we're seeing a tremendous growth around the AIX product line and not just with AIX but PowerVM and PowerHA as well as Systems Director. All are contributing a tremendous amount of revenue to the IBM Corporation, much more than we've ever done prior to now. Our story is that we are looking very good now and in the future.


MC Press Online: If someone has a Power Systems server, and they are running IBM i on it, and they add AIX, they already have a database with IBM i. It used to be that AIX was its own platform for scientific applications and that sort of thing. Today, are people adding AIX to IBM i servers, or are they running AIX by itself, and if so, what are they using for a database?


Casey: You will find some customers looking at the newer hardware platforms and saying, "This is ideal for running my IBM i and my AIX workloads." But I have to tell you, the vast majority are not doing that. They are still keeping those two worlds separate. So what we've seen, and it's similar to when I was the high-end offering manager, is they are typically using Oracle as their database. But DB2 at the high end was catching on very quickly when I was leaving. When I came back to Power in September, the DB2 team had done a phenomenal job with the product, which was starting to eat away into that Oracle market share. While Oracle was the dominant database a few years ago on the Power (AIX) platform, that is shrinking as DB2 is picking up much more of that market share. But [AIX and IBM i] customers are still in two separate worlds.


MC Press Online: And of course, Oracle continues to develop its products, so if you were an Oracle customer, you might continue to stay an Oracle customer?


Casey: We're actually seeing a lot of competitive win-backs on the Power platform, much more than we've ever seen before.


MC Press Online: Oracle traditionally was considered quite expensive by some people.


Casey: It is expensive, and if you look back in history, IBM DB2 was always considered the database for the mainframe, and Oracle had their claim to fame more on the UNIX platform, so I think that's just a heritage perception. But we're seeing a lot of change today. If you look at DB2's revenue, the mainframe is still far and away the number one source of revenue from DB2, but number two is the Power platform, and it's growing at a nice pace.


MC Press Online: How is the Oracle Exadata Database Machine affecting you folks at IBM? Any impact?


Casey: We have not seen any impact to date. I tend to talk to a lot of customers, and I really have not seen that Oracle offering come up in many situations. I think what we're seeing now is the Linux OS growing up, so we're starting to see more and more Linux. To be honest, HP and Sun made some decisions on their road map, especially their processor road map, which really hurt them. We've got what IBM calls the Migration Factory that basically is a marketing program to get customers off their systems—migrating their HP and Solaris applications over to AIX. We have seen significant increases in revenues coming from competitive migrations off the traditional HP and Sun platforms onto AIX. You're seeing a lot of our growth coming from there.


MC Press Online: Going back to your comments about IBM i and UNIX being different worlds, is this one computer running two operating systems despite the ability of the Power Systems server to run both? They're still keeping them separate?


Casey: That's what we're seeing in the market; they're keeping them separate. A lot of the IBM i customers don't have AIX in there today. They are sticking to the IBM i platform and not moving. You're seeing some very large customers combining the two systems onto a single platform—either migrating to AIX or migrating to IBM i—but that is happening only among larger customers.


MC Press Online: So the number crunchers are saying, "If we combine these, we can save X amount of money?"


Casey: Yes.


MC Press Online: But in the smaller shops, it's more an operational issue?


Casey: Well, you often may be talking about two different parts of the business. And sometimes you get into situations where people are…I don't want to say "competitive,"but each group wants to run things their own way.


MC Press Online: So there are territorial issues. Is that likely to change in the future, or is it going to remain two separate worlds?


Casey: To be honest, from a financial standpoint, it only makes sense for them to do that [consolidate]. If you look at the capacity of these systems now, the Power 7 is an ideal consolidation platform, even if you're talking about a Power 710.


I did an analysis.… There is a Tivoli application, Tivoli Network Performance Manager. Prior to last April, it ran only on Solaris, but we ported it to AIX. So obviously, we are looking at the opportunity to knock on the doors of those customers to convince them that the Power platform is the right move for the future. I used what is called the millennium tool. It's a consolidation tool, and we took over 100 Sun [processor] cores—I think it was 30-odd systems—and we were able to put everything on a Power 710. Let me tell you, I was away from Power for several years, and coming back and seeing what has transpired in just a few years—to me, it's simply astounding because I know where we were, and I know where we are today, and it's mind-blowing.


MC Press Online: I guess having everything on one server isn't so good if your system goes down, however.


Casey: You're absolutely right, and in that situation we recommend two servers!


MC Press Online: In true IBM fashion!


Casey: You'll see that even with high-end machines. The Power 795 [the largest Power Systems server to date] is a 256-way that most customers could sweep up their entire IT floor and put it on a single Power 795. But even we wouldn't recommend our customers do that, though we think our reliability is tremendous. There are alternatives in the marketplace, such as IBM Power Flex [a multisystem IBM Power 795 infrastructure offering designed to provide a highly resilient and flexible IT environment in support of large-scale server consolidation]. Power Flex allows the customer to bring in two or more Power 795s at a very attractive price point. It allows for failover from one server to the other. Each one is 'half loaded' with processors, but if anything were to happen, we allow the customer to failover to the other system and light up all the dark processors.


MC Press Online: It sounds like consolidation could be in everyone's future. Thanks for your thoughts today about AIX on Power, Bill, and best of luck with your new assignment.

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