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September 24, 1998


By CBR Staff Writer

Despite some fairly loud protests both internally and from its sucker fish, IBM Corp has pushed the button and is porting its AIX Unix to the 64-bit Merced chip to be used on future generations of its Intel-based NetFinity PC servers. AIX-on- Merced will be announced – quietly we think – within 60 days, and IBM will position the work as a joint endeavour of AIX OEMs – Compagnie des Machines Bull SA, Hitachi Ltd and whoever else it can press gang – together with the nodding support of Intel Corp. IBM’s NetFinity Intel server group has been crying out to be treated as a grown-up enterprise system for months. It is currently being fitted with technology from the high-end RS/6000 SP parallel servers (CI No 3,501) and in getting AIX, general manager of IBM server brands Bill Zeitler seems to have acquiesced to its demand. The decision to port AIX to Intel’s 64- bit IA-64 architecture, made only recently, follows months of speculation (CI No 3,414), though even a few weeks ago Big Blue insisted it had not yet cast the plan in stone (CI No 3,480). Received wisdom from even generally supportive sections of the analyst community is that Zeitler’s heading for four servers and a funeral, and that he would have been better off OEMing say Solaris x86 from Sun Microsystems Inc and scooping up those applications rather than having its AIX-on-PowerPC ISVs jump through the Merced hoop. They say IBM’s likely to end up having to pay for a good deal of this not insignificant migration work given AIX’s big-endian byte-ordering and Infinity’s use of Intel’s little-endian chips. The same analysts say the server consolidation trend means users are going to replace distributed RS/6000 or AS/400 servers for Windows NT, not more Unix, which they’ll leave to handle back-end tasks. By the time NT is enterprise-hardened, say 2002, there will be no other place for commodity Unix they postulate. That’s why IBM should be focused on creating the industry’s leading NT platforms (it should have bought Dell Computer Inc a long time ago they figure), not muddying the waters with AIX, especially now that a copper-based GHz PowerPC is set to make AIX fly. After all what kind of a message is AIX-on-Intel going to send to the PowerPC world?

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