IBM AIX 6 virtualization catches up to Sun Solaris, HP-UX

The new Unix operating system from IBM will start an open beta this summer, complete with new workload partitioning capabilities.

IBM this summer will start an open beta program for AIX 6, the newest iteration of its Unix operating system that should be generally available by the end of the year.

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Big Blue is boasting that AIX v6.1 will have upgraded virtualization, security and application performance features. In particular, it is highlighting a new virtualization feature called Workload Partitions, or WPARs, that gives applications logical security and administrative isolation from one another while still running on the same instance of AIX.

With WPARs, IT managers can keep the number of AIX operating system instances to a minimum while still allowing them to consolidate application workloads onto one server, IBM claims.

Tony Iams, vice president and senior analyst at Ideas International, said that IBM AIX already featured hardware and firmware virtualization on its Power processor with LPARs, dynamic LPARs and now, with Live Partition Mobility on Power6 . WPARs takes it one step further into application and operating system virtualization.

"IBM stood out because it had one solution," Iams said. "It had dynamic LPARs. Now it's introducing WPARs and admitting that the one-size-fits-all approach from before is not really optimal."

WPARs differ significantly from Live Partition Mobility in that Live Partition Mobility is a feature of Power6 processors. As such, it can be used on operating systems other than AIX 6, such as Linux or earlier AIX versions. Meanwhile, WPARs is a feature of AIX 6 specifically, but it can run on older Power5 or Power5+ systems, for example.

The WPAR feature is drawing a lot of comparisons to Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Solaris Containers feature, although Iams said that in general, IBM isn't just mimicking Solaris.

"They've definitely looked at what Sun had, but not just Sun," Iams said. "SWsoft's Virtuozzo (on Linux and Windows) has gotten a lot of traction, as well. I think it's simplistic to say they copied Sun. They looked at the market and said that this is something that some customers care about."

Iams said he hadn't yet dived deep into a comparison between AIX, HP-UX and Solaris -- including their virtualization features -- but plans to do that this summer. Hewlett-Packard Co. (HP) has similar operating-system level virtualization technologies on HP-UX with vPARs and nPARs.

Iams added that IBM will try to tie the virtualization features of AIX 6 into the rest of its virtualization products, particularly management software, like IBM Systems Director.

And though virtualization is headlining the new release, there are other features in AIX 6 to look forward to:

AIX 6 security

AIX 6 has new security features, such as improving file encryption and allowing access into the operating system to be more granular:

  • Role-based access controls, allowing IT administrators to create several strata of access into AIX. "You don't have to have one mass root account that gives administrators all power," Iams said. "You can have limited administrative roles that can do certain classes of operations."
  • An encrypting file system that protects data that's managed by AIX at the file system level. Iams said HP-UX has already had that for about a year.
  • An option to install default security options on AIX 6 that IBM said can help IT administrators control the security configuration of each system.

Other AIX 6 features

Other features IBM is promoting as part of AIX 6 include:

  • Concurrent AIX kernel update, which gives IT managers the ability to deliver upgrades to the operating system kernel without having to take down the system or reboot. Iams warned that "you have to be very, very careful about doing this."
  • Dynamic tracing with probevue, a way to track performance problems within an application or the operating system. It's analogous to Sun's much-touted Solaris DTrace, short for dynamic tracing.

Iams said that the three major Unix operating systems -- AIX, Solaris and HP-UX -- are "leapfrogging" each other, meaning that each new release tends to catch up with the others and add more features.

"The message here is that Unix is still evolving," he said. "It's not standing still and going into maintenance mode."

Let us know what you think about the story; e-mail: Mark Fontecchio, News Writer.

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