IBM prepares RS/6000, AIX upgrades

IBM Corp. this fall plans to offer an upgraded version of its RS/6000 server coupled with an enhanced release of its AIX operating system that together provide record-breaking World Wide Web server performance, the company claims.

During recent benchmark testing conducted by IBM, the company's RS/6000 S80 Enterprise Server equipped with 12 processors and a pre-release version of AIX 4.3.3 broke the record for the maximum number of Hypertext Transport Protocol operations per second, displacing the former leader—a Hewlett-Packard Co. 9000 N-Class server—with 40,161 HTTP operations per second, according to IBM.

The new 64-bit RS/6000 S80 will succeed the S70 model and comes in configurations offering from 12 to 24 reduced instruction-set computing PowerPC and Power3 microprocessors. The RS/6000 line of servers has been designed for a broad range of uses, including high-end workstations, sophisticated enterprise resource planning (ERP), electronic commerce and technical computing applications.

While not a major version upgrade, the release of AIX 4.3.3 offers several enhancements that IBM officials and industry analysts agree have helped boost overall system performance while running Web-based applications. For example, IBM has shifted control of the memory cache directly to the operating system kernel—the foundation of the operating system that provides memory management, basic hardware interaction, security and other capabilities—allowing users to access Web pages that are stored there without having to initiate the server application, thus improving user response time.

In addition, the new version of AIX allows up to 2G of cache memory to be created on RS/6000 servers, significantly increasing the number of Web pages that can be stored. The new S80 configured with the new version of AIX is expected to be up to three times faster than its predecessor, IBM officials said.

Version 4.3.3 is the first version of AIX to be directly influenced by Project Monterey, a cooperative research and development effort between IBM, Intel Corp., The Santa Cruz Operation Inc. (SCO) and Sequent Computer Systems Inc. aimed at developing a standards-based Unix system product line capable of running on Intel IA-32, Intel IA-64, and IBM Power processor platforms. IBM will use SCO's UnixWare 7 as its key Unix system on today's IA-32 environments, and SCO and IBM will jointly develop a Unix system for IA-64 platforms.

Jim Beesley, launch manager for AIX marketing at IBM, characterized the enhancements to AIX as kernel changes that enhance the operating system's scalability. In particular, Beesley said IBM focused on a significant number of changes to AIX's process and network bandwidth management. "This [version] represents a doubling in our scalability," increasing real memory support from 32M to 64M and doubling the support of 12 processors to 24 processors, Beesley said. "We've accommodated the new hardware and tuned it with an emphasis on [the type of] server demands that are becoming important to our customers."

Joyce Becknell, director of Unix systems at the Boston-based information technology consulting firm Aberdeen Group, said that while the upgrades are not "huge," they go a long way toward focusing AIX and the RS/6000 platform on workload management—the area where most of the competition is in the market today. "IBM is really focusing on transaction processing by concentrating on the cache and the operating system's kernel," Becknell said.

"IBM realized that server loads are changing and they change a lot on the fly," particularly as more and more organizations move their business processes to the Web and launch large-scale ERP initiatives, Becknell said. In this environment "you need an operating system that is very sensitive to the changing demands being placed on system resources."

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