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After Helping Clients Navigate Challenging Times, the AIX World Moves Forward

IBM’s Carl Burnett, Nigel Griffiths, Petra Bührer, Maria Ward and Ann Detjen on how AIX has helped clients navigate the pandemic, and what’s next in the AIX roadmap

Gold and red gears and system monitoring lines against a dark green background

From the beginning, IBM AIX was touted for its reliability. That this characteristic has endured was never more evident than over the past year, as IBM clients relied upon the AIX OS and Power Systems hardware to manage their operations through a challenging time.
 
IBM's Carl Burnett, Distinguished Engineer, Power Systems software development, believes that AIX/Power platform proved itself in 2020.
 
"The pandemic stressed customer systems more than ever before. AIX and Power held up to those impacts and stresses, and IBM was there to help," he says. "We had customers whose transactions grew significantly—some were pushed to their limits—but we helped them grow their system capacity."
 
Within IBM's Lab Services division, this assistance included the establishment of a no-charge services program to assist Power Systems clients that were adversely impacted by the pandemic. Lab Services also enhanced its Power to Cloud rewards program so it could quickly fulfill requests from clients worldwide.

"Many AIX customers—particularly in healthcare, banking and retail—saw their application performance demands spike dramatically as customers shifted to online transactions," says IBM's Ann Detjen, worldwide Power Systems practice leader, IBM Lab Services for Systems. "One client said the acceleration of online shopping was like 'having Black Friday every day.' "

Lab Services itself transitioned to online delivery of its services last year. "Like everyone in the industry, the switch from on-site to online services delivery posed some initial challenges as far as providing VPN access, for example," Detjen adds. "But today Lab Services still delivers most of our engagements online. While we expect significant recovery in on-site services, in many cases, our clients are expressing a preference for a new, hybrid model of services delivery."
 
Nigel Griffiths, advanced technology support, IBM Power Systems U.K., acknowledged that over the last year, clients learned just how important it is to maintain their systems and keep current on not just hardware and software, but system and adapter firmware as well as commonly deployed tools like the Virtual Input/Output Server (VIOS). "It's very hard telling customers that the fixes that would have addressed their issue have been in every updated version over the past few years," he says. Luckily, IBM was able to assist many clients as they embraced dynamic LPAR and other key capabilities to grow their system resources and keep their systems up to date.
 
Elaborating upon these points, Petra Bührer, global sales leader, IBM Power Systems Germany, notes that numerous clients took advantage of IBM's Capacity on Demand (COD) and Power Enterprise Pools 2.0 offerings. COD allows clients to activate processor cores and memory units when additional resources are needed on their system. Enterprise Pools provides enhanced multi-system resource sharing and by-the-minute consumption of on-premises compute resources to clients that deploy and manage a private cloud infrastructure.
 
"AIX on Power clients were able to drive outstanding system utilizations—greater than 90% in some cases. They were also able to manage their environments remotely," Bührer says. "The reliability and resiliency of their systems gave our clients peace of mind."
 
Burnett adds: "During the pandemic our clients have gained an even greater appreciation for AIX and Power. I believe we've strengthened our customer loyalty."

Looking Ahead: The AIX Roadmap 

While helping AIX clients keep their businesses running during the pandemic, IBM also continued to deliver new and enhanced functionality. AIX 7.2 Technology Level (TL) 5 came out in November 2020. Key features include multi-queue N-Port IP virtualization (NPIV) and support for logical volume encryption.
 
What Burnett describes as NPIV scaling is the result of IBM transforming the control channel that existed between system LPARs and VIOS into a multi-lane architecture. He explains that this change, coupled with path reduction work and improvements in the serialization model, enable a much higher degree of I/O concurrency throughout the NPIV stack. Logical volume encryption provides an easier to administer model for encryption of data at rest based in AIX by leveraging in-core crypto hardware acceleration available in POWER8/9. Multiple key management and storage options are included. The IBM Power Systems Community blog has an introduction to this topic. See IBM's AIX documentation for an in-depth look.
 
Though these developments are significant for AIX clients, we now know that much more lies ahead. 2021 began with recognition of AIX's 35 anniversary and the acknowledgment that IBM's AIX roadmap now extends into the 2030s. Then in February, IBM released a statement of direction noting its intent to deliver a new version of the OS, AIX 7.3, by the end of this year. 

POWER10 and AIX 7.3 Capabilities 

With still months to go before an official announcement, IBM is unsurprisingly tight-lipped about specifics. However, key pieces of the puzzle are already in place.
 
"While we're not yet at a point where we can start discussing it publicly, I would say that 7.3 is the AIX version where we look forward to exploiting and optimizing the features of the next generation of the Power platform based on the POWER10 chip that was introduced last year at the Hot Chips conference," Burnett says.
 
IBM has also said it intends to maximize interoperability for clients as they transition to the new OS and new processors. POWER10 is expected to support each of the AIX 7 releases: 7.3, 7.2 and 7.1, while AIX 7.3 is expected to support POWER8, POWER9 and POWER10.
 
Of course, POWER10 and AIX 7.3 are the most enticing combination. "There are interesting new instructions in POWER10 we are looking to exploit," Burnett says. "We're also doing work in the area of continuous computing, including a major new capability around our Live Update technology on the platform. There are interesting capabilities around security and hybrid cloud. We're exploring deep integration opportunities to get the most from POWER10 with AIX 7.3."
 
New and enhanced capabilities in the area of machine learning and inferencing are also expected with the coming release. IBM's Maria Ward, AIX Product Manager, Power Systems, says that AIX developers and product management teams are working with their IBM counterparts in AI development to determine how to further exploit AI workloads. 
 
“AIX runs some of the worlds’ most mission-critical, data-intensive workloads for businesses around the world. Businesses today are looking for ways to infuse AI directly into their workstream and leverage their vast amounts of data to unlock valuable insights using AI,” notes Ward. “By colocating transactional workloads running on AIX with existing AI models, business can gain valuable insights from the data they already have residing on their Power Systems without having to move the data off of the system.”
 
Finally, IBM plans to offer an open beta to allow registered clients to test AIX 7.3 on their existing Power Systems hardware. Ward says that the initial 7.3 images will be available about 8-10 weeks prior to the GA. Details about registration are forthcoming. For more information or to request access, send an email to [email protected].  

‘Among the Most Reliable and Highly Available OSes in the Industry’ 

At its inception in 1986, AIX was a UNIX workstation-based OS—a desk-side system, in essence—that ran on a single uni-processor computer. Today, AIX runs on enterprise grade hardware that powers critical workloads for major businesses and organizations around the world.
 
That's hardly news, but that remarkable transformation is still worth noting. And IBM and AIX clients can look forward to more.
 
"AIX is among the most reliable and highly available operating systems in the industry," says Burnett. "Our clients trust AIX and know that it will keep their workloads up and running, and available."
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