AIX celebrates 20th anniversary and forges ahead alongside Linux

Hot skills: IBM's proprietary Unix dominates in terms of servers sold

What is it?

This January saw the 20th anniversary of the release of AIX, IBM's proprietary Unix. HP may lead the market for high-end enterprise Unix, but IBM dominates in terms of servers sold. Having committed to Linux much earlier than its Unix rivals, HP and Sun, IBM is much further forward in supporting coexistence with the open source upstart. The "L" in AIX 5L stands for Linux affinity.

In late 2005, a survey of nearly 200 corporate Unix users by Gabriel Consulting Group gave IBM a supplier preference index of 105, with HP at 85 and Sun Microsystems at 80. Unix was seen as having superior system management, virtualisation and partitioning, but AIX was ahead in every other category, including quality, technology, features and the future. AIX's fortunes improved with the introduction of the PowerPC4 and 5, although according to the latest figures from IDC, its growth is slowing.

Where did it originate?

Introduced in 1986, AIX was based on Unix System V Release 3. Originally AIX stood for Advanced IBM Unix. Officially it is now Advanced Interactive eXecutive, although no one is concerned about what the letters stand for. According to IBM, AIX was the first 64-bit Unix to comply with the Unix 98 standard established by industry consortium The Open Group, which promotes integrated information within and between enterprises based on open standards and global interoperability.

What is it for?

While HP leads in high-end Unix and Sun is strongest in the low to mid-range, IBM spans everything from entry-level servers to PowerPC-based supercomputers. As part of the convergence of IBM's different ranges around core technologies, it ships both 32-bit and 64-bit Java 2 software development kits for AIX.

AIX is shipped with The Open Group's Common Desktop Environment as the default, but as part of Linux affinity the Gnome and KDE desktops are also available.

What makes it special?

AIX's micro-partitioning enables partitions as small as one-tenth of a processor, with increments of one-hundredth. The Service Update Management Assistant enables most routine tasks, such as downloading maintenance updates, to be automated. AIX 5L has the most advanced Linux capabilities of the three Unix leaders, especially the ability to run Linux applications in a native AIX 5L environment. The AIX Toolbox for Linux Applications, a compendium of open source tools, is supplied free.

How difficult is it to master?

A four-day AIX Basics classroom course costs £1,400. Or, if you have the confidence and discipline you can do the self-study version for £300. The five system admin courses add up to nearly £8,000 (excluding VAT).

What systems does it run on?

IBM p5, pSeries, i5 and RS/6000 servers; IntelliStation Power and RS/6000 workstations.

What is coming up?

IBM's concentration on Linux has raised some worries about the future of AIX. Forrester Group says "current traction for AIX adoption is strong" citing, virtualisation, and reliability, availability and serviceability features. More features from z-Series mainframes will be migrated to AIX on PowerPC5.


IBM's Developerworks is a good place to start if you do not have thousands to spend. The Java software development kits and other open source tools can be downloaded free. Information about IBM's online and UK classroom training offerings can be found on their website.

Rates of pay

AIX systems administrators can expect to earn between £27,000 and £42,000, depending on breadth of skills and experience.

Read more on Operating systems software