Hot skills: AIX 6.1

Thinking of working with IBM's Unix operating system? Get the facts here.

What is it?

AIX (Advanced Interactive Executive) is a series of proprietary operating systems based on Unix sold by IBM.

AIX celebrated its 21st birthday last year. However, it has been six years since the last major version of AIX, and so far as advancing Unix goes, Sun Microsystems has been making the running with its Solaris operating system.

AIX 6.1, which was released in November last year, closes the gap, with features that will be instantly recognisable to anyone familiar with recent developments in Solaris.

IBM says it has increased its share of the Unix server market since AIX 5, but the three dominant Unix suppliers - Sun, IBM and Hewlett-Packard - have fairly equal shares of the market. All three versions of Unix conform to the standards set by the Open Group's Single Unix Specification and can run on other "qualified" hardware, though not necessarily with the full range of features provided by their own implementations.

AIX Version 6.1 provides new virtualisation capabilities, workload partitions - which are similar to Solaris Containers - and a dynamic tracing facility, Probevue, which corresponds to Sun's DTrace. Security has been hardened, and there is a "trusted" AIX for government and other high-security users.

For the first time, instead of distributing the beta of AIX among a few dozen favoured users, IBM put it out as an open beta. Participants got a chance to familiarise themselves with 6.1 six months before its release.

Where did it originate?

AIX was introduced in 1986, based on AT&T System V and the BSD versions of Unix. AIX 5L was introduced in 2001, the "L" signifying support for Linux applications.

What's it for?

Workload partitions enable multiple virtual AIX 6.1 environments to be created within a single AIX 6.1 instance. Earlier logical partitions required an instance of AIX for each partition.

Each workload partition can have its own "root" administrator, network addresses, file systems and security. Each shares a regulated portion of processing and I/O resources, but it is isolated from the processes and users in other partitions.

This cuts down the number of AIX instances needing to be licensed and managed IBM is also pitching it as a "green" innovation, since it reduces server numbers.

AIX 6.1 also introduces role-based access control, adds encryption to the file system, and extends the Security Expert, which provides a template-based way of managing security settings, including a Sarbanes-Oxley conformance template.

IBM supplies an open source toolbox to enable Linux applications to be recompiled and run under native AIX 6.1.

What makes it special?

Workload partitions can be administered either individually or globally. For example, patches applied to the global instance will be "inherited" by all partitions.

Workload partitions can be moved from one system to another without restarting the application when systems are shut down for routine maintenance, or when balancing workloads dynamically.

How difficult is it to master?

A five-day course and three months' experience, plus a test, will get you AIX Basic Operations certification.

What systems does it run on?

Although broadly binary-compatible with earlier versions of AIX, some new features are only available when AIX 6.1 is running on IBM's Power6 processors.

What's coming up?

AIX 7 is promised for 2010.


Many independent IT training providers offer AIX training. Online training resources are available from IBM's training website and Developerworks site.

Rates of pay

AIX systems administrators earn between £30,000 and £40,000. Higher rates are available to those also able to work with other flavours of Unix and Linux.

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