IBM moves to speed up release of AIX test code

IBM is changing how it develops and releases AIX, saying that it wants to give users and independent software vendors a bigger role in influencing the development of the Unix operating system.

As part of the effort, AIX users will have access to new operating system features as early as a year in advance of a version upgrade. Until now, they would typically see a beta release three or four months in advance of the formal shipment. But IBM Friday said that it intends to make some of the new features planned for AIX 5.4, which is due in 2007, available for testing beginning in next year's first quarter.

"Instead of a big-bang release, what we're trying to do is give customers access to the code early," said Karl Freund, vice president of IBM's pSeries server line. The goal is to not only get new features into the hands of independent software vendors and users more quickly, but to also get early feedback on some of the concepts that the company is considering adding to the operating systems, he said.

'Open community'

IBM is calling its approach an "open community development model," and it's establishing an AIX Collaboration Center in Austin as the focal point for the effort. The company said it plans to spend US$200 million on hardware and development support for the center over the next two years.

What IBM is proposing "makes a lot of sense ... if it works," said AIX user Kenneth Ebbe, assistant to the CIO at the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

"What they set up to do with it, and what they actually do with it, can be two different things," said Ebbe, who is a former president of the IBM-oriented Share user group. "But it sounds like they are trying to get the end users involved as quickly as possible and as broadly as possible."

Dan Olds, an analyst at Gabriel Consulting Group said IBM's collaboration may benefit independent software vendors. The quicker a developer can understand how the operating system handles functions such as virtualization, "the better the ISVs' applications are going to be," Olds said.

Freund said the initial set of AIX 5.4 features due for early testing next quarter will include some of the workload management technology that IBM gained through its June acquisition of Meiosys.

IBM isn't following the lead of Sun Microsystems Inc. and making AIX open-source, as Sun did earlier this year with its Solaris operating system. Freund ruled out open-source as an option and said he thinks open-source products tend to mimic advances made in proprietary ones. For instance, he said IBM worked to include AIX's dynamic logical partitioning technology in Novell Inc.'s SUSE Linux Enterprise Server 9 software.

But there's a pressing business reason for making the move to a more community-oriented development model, Freund said. Unix servers are under such pressure from commodity Windows and Linux systems, he said, that vendors such as IBM have to accelerate access to their innovations "in order for us to continue to drive successful growth."

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