Proprietary Unix Continues to Fall

by Ostatic Staff - Dec. 08, 2013

Analysts at International Data Corporation (IDC) posted a press release Wednesday highlighting the rapid decline of IBM's AIX and P-Series hardware. Along side the drop in proprietary Unix systems is an associated rise in sales of X86 servers running Linux. IBM has clearly identified this as a long term trend, investing $1 billion dollars in Linux development on Power systems. With the reported 20% drop in sales, the writing my finally be on the wall for AIX.

I've had the dubious pleasure of administering both AIX and Linux systems for the past several years, and if I could pick and choose, I would take the flexibility and ease of use of Linux and the stability of Power. In my experience, AIX is difficult to set up, and difficult to change after it is set up, but once it is up and running it just runs. A properly configured AIX server can run for years without intervention, but when that time for modification comes, which it always does, prepare for a long hard slog. By contrast, Linux has become exponentially easier to manage over the years, thanks to the contributions of thousands of developers and sysadmins, as well as the contributions of big name corporations. As reported by Infoworld:

The Linux server market is solidly on the rise as a percentage of total server sales up to 28 percent of total revenue so any investment that can improve market share is going to be worthwhile, even as the lion's share of Linux servers continues to be commodity x86 hardware.

Intel and AMD hardware has also grown by leaps and bounds, narrowing the performance gap with Power. I'm always a bit surprised when I hear that 10GB ethernet comes standard on a new blade, or that 256 GB of RAM is not considered unusual, or that it is considered the normal course of business to order a few servers with 16 cores each. Intel servers are nearly as powerful as IBM's Power, and normally cost much less. To businesses interested in escaping "consultingware" and IBM's vendor lock in, open source software running on industry standard x86 hardware is becoming increasingly attractive. However, IBM has lowered the prices of Power systems to remain competitive.

It is telling that IBM chose to invest in Linux on Power instead of AIX. IBM could have chosen to modernize AIX and provide better interoperability with common open source tools. While IBM claims that AIX is still important, the continuing drop in Power sales along with the Linux investment is beginning to tell a different story.

IBM may not be able to turn things around for AIX, but they could prolong its life indefinitely. It would be interesting to see how the market would react if AIX was released as open source.