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Some Ideas for Expanding the Power Systems/AIX Universe

“Hey, I heard you missed us, we’re back”Van Halen, 1984

It’s a new year, and many changes are on the horizon. My AIXchange blog will remain on the website, and all of my previous work, going back to the early 2000s, is archived on—but moving forward, I’ll be writing regularly on AIX, IBM Power Systems hardware and related topics for TechChannel, producing new articles and passing on what I know. I’m also on Twitter (@robmcnelly).

In 2019 I received the IBM Power Champion Lifetime Achievement award. You may not realize it, but as part of that elite group, us lifetime achievers have massive pull. IBM doesn’t do anything without consulting us. So I recently drew up a list of things IBM should explore to grow the POWER community and skills in general.

Disclaimer: I have no pull and no one asked me to do this. Of course being an IBM Champion is a great honor, but I was just joking. What has actually happened is, based on many discussions with lots of smart people inside and outside of IBM, I’ve formed some ideas. Certainly some of these items may be more practical or feasible than others, and there may be perfectly valid reasons why certain things will never happen. But if the items on this list become reality, I believe our community would benefit. Feel free to circulate this information, and share your thoughts with me on this or any other topics you’d like to see me explore.

1) IBM should explicitly state that AIX can be used for non-commercial personal use. The reality is that we already have access to AIX in our everyday jobs, so why not be clear about what can be done with it? With or without official word, I imagine IBM lawyers have better things to do than go after people who play with AIX in their basements. Still, it’d be nice to see that written down—and if it already is, it should be more prominently stated.

I can take this further: Why not find cost-effective ways for hobbyists or students to access older POWER7 or POWER8 hardware as it comes off lease or reaches end of life? And what about a low-cost SAN option to connect everything? Throw in a virtual HMC image while we’re at it. Sure, I understand that this is no small amount of hardware to keep in one’s basement, but in an industry where so many are at or nearing retirement age, it seems short-sighted to not help people who want to spend their off-hours trying to get better at what they do. Let’s make it easier. Let’s dream a bit.

2) Provide free or very low-cost access to cloud instances. Like other tech giants, IBM is a cloud provider. Letting potential customers try out your interface and log into your systems seems like a good way to get further established in a highly competitive marketplace. Users could report bugs or usability issues to IBM, which would be better than having actual paying customers find and report them. Allowing greater access means greater mainstream familiarity with the product, which would come in handy when IBM pitches to clients that are considering cloud. If admins already know and like using the interface, that could spur more customers migrate to Power Systems.

And it wouldn’t take much CPU, memory and disk for IBM to make these instances available. Just limit individuals to a small percentage of a CPU, and many users could effectively share the same hardware. Imagine how much the ecosystem could grow if people could simply log into the systems and learn. Think how easy it is to download and use various Linux distributions. Shouldn’t it be at least that easy to run AIX on Power hardware?

IBM does have its Cloud Free offering, but why not allow access to hobbyists and students without making them provide billing and payment information? The idea of clicking the wrong button fills me with dread.

Again, there may be valid reasons for this, but it’s my dream, and I’m dreaming big.

3) Make it easier to access the educational resources available through the IBM Academic Initiative. I get it: I can find a local school, partner with faculty, and gain access to the materials that way. Schools are also provided with system access for their students, the whole program is a fantastic idea. But the model of making me find a school first seems backwards. Why not provide me with the educational resources and systems in advance? That way, when I approach faculty at a local community college or high school, I’ll have a solid understanding of the materials, and they’ll have a good idea of the course content that I’m offering them.

4) Develop a low-cost, entry-level desktop system. To truly be proficient with Power Systems hardware, users would need, at the very least, access to and control of a virtual HMC and one system that could accommodate the creation of LPARs. Of course POWER9 desktop offerings are already available, but they’re fairly pricey and run Linux on Power (not AIX) out of the box. (Although I have seen AIX working via QEMU.)

But imagine if desktop hardware costs were more in line with what you’d spend on an Intel or AMD PC. Why is this important? Think about what made you a tech guru. Did you only study articles or Redbooks? I doubt it. Having hands-on access to systems allows AIX pros to practice critical tasks associated with operating system firmware, the HMC, VIOS, Live Partition Mobility, and much more. With fewer employers providing training or test boxes, people need opportunities to hone their skills and build confidence. You only need to run rm –rf * as root once to understand why you should never, ever do this. There’s simply no substitute for the learning experience that non-production environments provide.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad there’s a manufacturer selling fully open POWER9 hobbyist hardware, and I understand why that’s more expensive to build than other chipsets. We’re talking about massive differences in manufacturing scale. Still, I wish there was something more affordable. Either create the hardware within IBM or partner with another manufacturer, but do it. Just imagine what could be accomplished with something like this.

A final thing: Nigel Griffiths has a couple of new presentations. One is a POWER10 preview from the Power Virtual User Group (VUG) technical webinar series. Watch the replay and download the slides. Also watch the replay from his presentation on what’s new in AIX.