Linux on IBM Power - Viable alternative to AIX

IBM Linux logo-stylised.png

What do Facebook, Amazon and Google have in common? They all run on Linux and the open-source software project is the largest of its kind in the world.  

In this article I examine the growing popularity of Linux at the expense of UNIX and also look at ‘Linux on Power’, IBM’s offering as an alternative to AIX on Power Systems servers (in which I go into more depth with my next article).

Why Linux over UNIX?

According to IDC, adoption of Linux is growing faster than any other operating system in terms of percentage growth of revenue and new subscriptions. Deployments have grown to include a variety of workloads but particularly in new deployments of mission-critical applications. Providers of applications see Linux as a platform that is essential to support and proactively promote deployment and most major ISVs support Linux as a deployment vehicle.

Two of the major advantages of using Linux are the range of hardware architecture it runs on and the number of competitive Linux distributions. Some customers will use elements both types of distribution, a commercially-supported one such as Red Hat, Debian or SUSE and free open source resources.

Accelerating trend away from UNIX

A significant portion of the business application workloads that have moved to Linux have come from Unix migrations. Given the integration of the Kernel-based Virtual Machine (KVM), growth of Linux virtual machine deployments will likely accelerate. Combining Linux with a strong virtualisation infrastructure will lead to an environment better suited to manage more critical commercial workloads.

Unix and Linux shops often have a common heritage and given the transferability of skills from Unix to Linux, it is a natural expansion for an IT shop to make the move. To keep up with the trend, more administrators are being trained on Linux. Add to that the portability of applications from one environment to the other, with every major ISV with a Linux version of their software, and migration increasingly makes good business sense.

IDC sums it all up well: “Linux has already established a solid position in the industry and can be expected to expand its footprint within all workload types. The shift in workloads to favour business-oriented applications will continue. In fact, the magnitude of the shift on a percentage basis is likely to be outstripped by the growth of Linux itself during the current period of platform investment that the industry is experiencing.”

Why move from AIX on IBM Power to Linux? 

The answer really lies in IBM’s own strategic direction – the more it invests in Linux the more IBM enhances performance of the OS on its own hardware. Many new workloads, in areas of innovation such as mobile, analytics and social business, are being developed on Linux and IBM is at the forefront of these developments.

In 2001 first IBM released Linux on Power, extending the OS to the Power Systems platform. The highly-functional PowerVM virtualisation layer for Power Systems architecture now enables a single box be partitioned into multiple machines running different OSs and mixed workloads. 

IBM announced Linux-only servers with POWER7 and has continued this offering with POWER8, demonstrating its on-going commitment to the OS. Early in 2014 the company backed up its original $1 billion investment in Linux by pledging the same amount again to help fund innovation.

IBM now leads in overall Linux-based server revenue earnings. While x86 deployments continue apace, it is on the Power Systems range that real progress has been made.