IBM hedges its bets with Unix for Intel

AIX 5L (the 'L' stands for Linux) to ship in October - just in case Intel's IA-64 takes off

It's anyone's guess whether Intel's upcoming super-processors, the 64-bit parts known as IA-64, will begin to make headway against the RISC-based chips that have traditionally dominated the high-end Unix market. But IBM isn't waiting around to find out.

Instead the Big Blue is pushing ahead with its Unix project called AIX 5L (formerly codenamed Monterrey) -- one of the few Unix flavours that will definitely be available for IA-64 chips when they begin to appear this autumn. (The other big Unix-on-IA-64 contender is Hewlett Packard's, and several Linux distributions have also been announced.)

At the server conference Forum 2000 Tuesday, co-hosted by IBM's AIX 5L partner Santa Cruz Operation (SCO), a senior IBM executive touted the operating system's benefits before a crowd of resellers from around the world. First of all, he said, it will be available -- unlike the Solaris-on-IA-64 from Sun Microsystems, which a SCO executive called "a non-event in the industry".

"AIX 5L is real, it is going to ship in October," said Tilak Agerwala, IBM vice president for Unix marketing and product management. IBM is in the midst of the third beta-testing operation now, he said. "It will all come together at the same time IA-64 is generally available."

IBM and SCO are also hoping to cash in on Linux fever with AIX 5L, as Agerwala made clear. "The 'L' stands for Linux," he said. "AIX 5L will have the strongest, best Linux affinity on the planet. We see Linux as the standard operating environment around the Internet."

The Linux aspect is key because IA-64 is primarily aimed at Internet and e-commerce servers, and Linux is a widely-used server operating system.

For any company besides Microsoft, Linux's lack of despotic central control means an opportunity to continue as a power in the operating systems market, Agerwala said. "The new world of computing is going to be all about distributed development architecture, and what is going to take us into this new world is standards not controlled by any one company. We will be a part of that," he said.

Agerwala took the opportunity to make a further dig at Sun. "Solaris on SPARC is not going to take us into this new world of computing. It hasn't and it won't," he said. SPARC is one of the RISC chips Intel is attacking with IA-64.

IBM already sells Unix for IA-32 and RISC systems. Despite its power in the consumer PC market, where it is the dominant player, Intel has not yet become a significant force in the high-end server market.

Several vendors are displaying IA-64 prototypes at Forum 2000, including Compaq with its "Blazer" machine.

Forum 2000, in Santa Cruz, continues through Wednesday.

See Chips Central for daily hardware news, including an interactive timeline of AMD and Intel's upcoming product launches.

Take me to the Linux Lounge

What do you think? Tell the Mailroom. And read what others have said.