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10 Things to Love About AIX

Rob McNelly lists 10 things he really appreciates—and yes, loves—about AIX.

Silhouettes of guitarists and a drummer, with the letters "AIX" on bass drum

Image by Mark Allen Miller

If you’ve had access to a television at any point since 1997, you’re probably familiar with the instrumental theme to the long-running animated series, “King of the Hill.” The music is performed by The Refreshments, a band from Tempe, Arizona.

I watched the band attract larger followings and perform in well-known venues. Then came the record deal and radio airplay.

Of course, things change. In the case of The Refreshments, the band broke up. In the case of yours truly, live music and late nights eventually lost their appeal. Recently though, I was able to attend an unofficial reunion show consisting of three of the original members, plus the lead singer from one of the groups that would morph into The Refreshments.

The musicians and the audience were older, wiser and certainly grayer, but we were all transported. It’s not that I’d forgotten about those tunes and those days—I still break out my old CDs from time to time—but that night I realized I’d taken them for granted.

AIX: What's Not to Love?

In a similar vein, I think we, as AIX* professionals, can take our favorite OS for granted. While the OS can do so much, the job in front of us is our focus. We have systems to maintain, so many of us keep to a narrow set of tasks and operations. We’re aware of this whole wider world of AIX features and function, but we may not take time to really think about it.

So think about it now: What do you love about AIX? For me, it’s the system management interface tool (SMIT). I also love the ease of importing and exporting volume groups and the simplicity of managing disks and filesystems.

I love the thought that went into the naming of commands and the way the whole system works together. Gathering performance data and tuning system performance are straightforward processes. Mirroring, unmirroring and migrating disks is a breeze.

Naturally, I love all of the new stuff, but I also love that you can count on things to stay the same: Years-old Korn shell scripts continue to work on the newest versions of the OS, and upgrades allow you to preserve settings and configurations, saving you from having to rebuild LPARs from scratch.

Many of my favorite things about AIX fly under the radar; functionality that many admins and developers might get to utilize only infrequently. Of course, some notable new developments are also helpful. So I put it all together in this quick list of things I really appreciate—and yes, love—about AIX.

1-AIX will run on POWER nodes in Nutanix clusters

Unveiled last year, Nutanix is a converged system that utilizes software-defined storage and networking, eliminating the need to manage an external SAN. If your organization already uses or is considering using Nutanix clusters for your x86 environment, you can use the same hypervisor and virtualization stack for your AIX and POWER* environment. There’s no need to learn the HMC or the VIO server, simplifying systems management for existing Nutanix clients as well as those who are new to running AIX. Once you learn how to perform an operation on one type of cluster, you’ll be able to do it on the other.

2-Live Kernel updates

AIX Live Update allows you to update your kernel without downtime. As it becomes possible to patch more parts of the OS without rebooting, this will allow for on-the-fly updates and less disruptive change windows. When coupled with nondisruptive firmware updates for POWER hardware, you can maintain system security without affecting services and end users. Of course, this must be deployed carefully. Progress still needs to be made in this arena, but you can expect that more AIX and firmware updates will be performed this way.

3-Upgrade on the fly

The alt_disk_install and alt_disk_migration methods greatly simplify the entire upgrade process. If anything goes wrong once you’re up and running on the newer versions of code, you can back out by changing your boot device and rebooting to your original disk. It’s that easy because you’re leaving the original disk alone while confining changes to your cloned root disk. Why waste time and run risks related to bad backups? No one wants to restore an OS after an upgrade gone bad.

4-The AIX toolbox for Linux

This collection of open-source and GNU software benefits from more frequent updates. The environment of choice for many Linux* application developers, these tools are packaged in RPM format and can be downloaded and run without needing to compile. This allows you to run familiar open-source tools and programs on your AIX servers. You can also use YUM to automate the download process and set up prerequisites.

5-AIX, IBM i and Linux can run on the same POWER frame

We all understand this, but take a moment to really think about the flexibility this provides. From one base of reliable, powerful hardware, you can choose the OS that makes the most sense for your application needs. Although I like to run AIX where I can, it’s reassuring to know that I can still stick with POWER to run Linux- or IBM i-specific workloads.

6-The hypervisor and virtualization technologies

Of course, these aren’t actually components of the OS—their heritage comes from the IBM mainframe—but it’s all part of the platform. The hardware/virtualization combo is unquestionably one of the best things about working on AIX. Virtualization is baked into the hardware; it’s not a bolted-on afterthought that consumes CPU and memory like you find on other hardware platforms. And because the company that built your hardware also built your virtualization layer and OS, you can expect IBM to troubleshoot the whole stack should you encounter issues. There’s no need to waste time chasing multiple vendors, trying to get someone to actually own your problem.

7-It’s a very forgiving platform

AIX and IBM Power Systems* hardware provide the flexibility to add physical memory and CPU as needed. This allows you to plan for the future and pay as you go. You can upgrade your machine with no outages. You can mix virtualized and dedicated adapters, as well as make virtual machine configuration changes on the fly. You can set up enterprise pools and share resources across physical frames. Adding and removing memory, CPU and adapters is seamless and simple. The same OS will run on the smallest to the biggest systems. Migration is a breeze: Bring in your new server and use Live Partition Mobility to move your workloads while they are running with no downtime. And it's easy to adjust your resources if needed.

8-AIX has the capability to become a NIM server

Using a network installation manager (NIM) server allows you to back up, restore and upgrade your system over the network from a central location. You can use it to boot your machines into maintenance mode, and under the covers for other operations when managing AIX servers.

9-Boot from USB

I still encounter a fair number of clients who are unaware of this capability. The VIO server and AIX OS can be booted and installed from flash drives. In addition to being much faster than more traditional boot options, booting from USB completely eliminates the need for physical media like DVDs and DVD drives. This is especially useful when setting up an environment where a NIM server isn’t already installed.

10-The system responds to problems before they become outages

The OS has an error-logging facility that diagnoses issues and helps predict problems that could arise on the system. When coupled with hardware location codes, this makes it simple to determine which disk or piece of hardware to replace. When you set up call home, a problem ticket is generated with IBM, and in many instances, a part will be shipped or a client engineer will get dispatched before you even realize there’s an issue. The system helps keep itself highly available.

Make Your own List

That’s my list. I’m willing to bet you could make your own, and I suggest you do so. I expect you’ll end up with an even greater appreciation for everything AIX has to offer. Comment on this post online with your list of aspects you love about AIX.
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