I have always liked Operating Systems. They make computers become something usable and something you can actually interact with to do things Vs what they are in reality which is just a bunch of electronic parts shoved together in some pretty box.
While growing up I have been exposed to the Home Computer boom which was at its height during the 80s with iconic members like the Commodore 64 and some Z80 Clones like the HT-1080Z which were available at high schools during 1983 – 1986 my infancy in Hungary (see the links on the bottom and the image below).
I do still remember the first time somewhere around the late ’87-’88 when I first had the opportunity to touch one HT-1080Z and play with in a high school where my father worked at that time and He took me one early morning with him.
The HT-1080Z was built by Hiradastechnika Szovetkezet after purchasing the license for the Hong Kong based EACA company’s Video Genie computer which looks identical to the HT-1080Z. The Video Genie version sold in North American was called the PMC-80.
The Video Genie itself was considered a TRS-80 Model I clone although the two had hardware and software differences.
I saw Commodore’s Basic, MS DOS and later on and some Novell Netware, Windows 3.1, OS/2 , BeOS, Linux, Mac OS, BSD then FreeBSD as I grew older.
It was during that time I have seen once a Pegasos motherboard/system running Amiga OS with true multitasking and multimedia which was very unique and not affordable to me at all and to this day I have never forgot the experience or the way it made me smile 🙂
But I have only heard about but never had any experience or exposure to z/OS, z/VM from IBM or UNIX of any kind (HP-UX, Solaris, AIX ) They were all very mystical and unreachable for me while I was a kid and even later when I was in my way through adulthood.
When eventually I became an IT Professional I though I would get exposure to all of these systems I have lusted after to know more about for years and years but the sad truth is that I have never had any well not at my jobs.
With the advent of virtualization and cloud computing these things are somewhat changing now but still it is not easy and most of the time not free to tinker around with these systems even just for your own amusement or educational reasons to pick some new or old knowledge up.
Big companies like IBM (AIX and z/OS) and HP (with HP-UX or OpenVMS) are not on the forefront to accommodate homelabbers ( hobbyist) with ways to run these systems for free for non-profit and home use in their home labs. There are some options open to partners and developers through business contracts for huge amounts of money per year which I’m sure no single individual can spare ( the realms of 5 – 10 thousands of euros).
Shows this nothing better than after many years of successful running HP is discontinuing the OpenVMS hobbyist license for individuals on the 31st of December 2021. It will mark an end of an era.
AIX (Advanced Interactive eXecutive) is a series of proprietary Unix operating systems developed and sold by IBM for several of its computer platforms. Originally released for the IBM RT PC RISC workstation, AIX now supports or has supported a wide variety of hardware platforms, including the IBM RS/6000 series and later POWER and PowerPC-based systems, IBM System i, System/370 mainframes, PS/2 personal computers, and the Apple Network Server.
AIX is based on UNIX System V with 4.3BSD-compatible extensions. It is one of four commercial operating systems that have versions certified to The Open Group’s UNIX 03 standard (the others being macOS, HP-UX and eulerOS).
The AIX family of operating systems debuted in 1986, became the standard operating system for the RS/6000 series on its launch in 1990, and is still actively developed by IBM. It is currently supported on IBM Power Systems alongside IBM i and Linux.
AIX was the first operating system to have a journaling file system, and IBM has continuously enhanced the software with features such as processor, disk and network virtualization, dynamic hardware resource allocation (including fractional processor units), and reliability engineering ported from its mainframe designs
As we saw on the episode of UNIX on this podcast Unix started life at AT&T’s Bell Labs research center in the early 1970s, running on DEC minicomputers. By 1976, the operating system was in use at various academic institutions, including Princeton, where Tom Lyon and others ported it to the S/370, to run as a guest OS under VM/370. This port would later grow out to become UTS a mainframe Unix offering by IBM’s competitor Amdahl Corporation. IBM’s own involvement in Unix can be dated to 1979, when it assisted Bell Labs in doing its own Unix port to the 370 (to be used as a build host for the 5ESS switch’s software). In the process, IBM made modifications to the TSS/370 hypervisor to better support Unix.
It took until 1985 for IBM to offer its own Unix on the S/370 platform, IX/370, which was developed by Interactive Systems Corporation and intended by IBM to compete with Amdahl UTS. The operating system offered special facilities for interoperating with PC/IX, Interactive/IBM’s version of Unix for IBM PC compatible hardware, and was licensed at $10,000 per sixteen concurrent users
AIX version 1
AIX Version 1, introduced in 1986 for the IBM RT PC workstation, was based on UNIX System V Releases 1 and 2. In developing AIX, IBM and Interactive Systems Corporation (whom IBM contracted) also incorporated source code from 4.2 and 4.3 BSD UNIX.
The IBM RT PC Workstation
The IBM RT PC (RISC Technology Personal Computer) is a family of workstation computers from IBM introduced in 1986.
These were the first commercial computers from IBM that were based on a reduced instruction set computer (RISC) architecture. The RT PC used IBM’s proprietary ROMP microprocessor, which commercialized technologies pioneered by IBM Research’s 801 experimental minicomputer (the 801 was the first RISC). The RT PC ran three operating systems: AIX, the Academic Operating System (AOS), or Pick.
The RT PC’s performance was relatively poor compared to other contemporary workstations and it had little commercial success as a result; IBM responded by introducing the RISC System/6000 workstations in 1990, which used a new IBM-proprietary RISC processor, the POWER1. All RT PC models were discontinued by May 1991.
The primary operating system for the RT was AIX version 2. Much of the AIX v2 kernel was written in a variant of the PL/I programming language the PL/8, which proved troublesome during the migration to AIX v3. AIX v2 included full TCP/IP networking support, as well as SNA, and two networking file systems: NFS, licensed from Sun Microsystems, and IBM Distributed Services (DS). DS had the distinction of being built on top of SNA, and thereby being fully compatible with DS on the IBM midrange AS/400 and mainframe systems. For the graphical user interfaces, AIX v2 came with the X10R3 and later the X10R4 and X11 releases of the X Window System from MIT, together with the Athena widget set. Compilers for C and Fortran programming languages were available.
Some RT PCs were also shipped with the Academic Operating System (AOS), an IBM port of 4.3BSD Unix to the RT PC. It was offered as an alternative to AIX, the usual RT PC operating system, to US universities eligible for an IBM educational discount. AOS added a few extra features to 4.3BSD, notably NFS, and an almost ANSI C-compliant C compiler. A later version of AOS existed that was derived from 4.3BSD-Reno, but it was not widely distributed.
The RT forced an important stepping-stone in the development of the X Window System, when a group at Brown University ported X version 9 to the system. Problems with reading unaligned data on the RT forced an incompatible protocol change, leading to version 10 in late 1985.
IBM PS/2 series
AIX PS/2 (also known as AIX/386) was developed by Locus Computing Corporation under contract to IBM. AIX PS/2, first released in October 1988, ran on IBM PS/2 personal computers with Intel 386 and compatible processors.AIX PS/2 1.3 AIXwindows Desktop
The product was announced in September 1988 with a baseline tag price of $595, although some utilities like uucp were included in a separate Extension package priced at $250. nroff and troff for AIX were also sold separately in a Text Formatting System package priced at $200. The TCP/IP stack for AIX PS/2 retailed for another $300. The X Window package was priced at $195, and featured a graphical environment called the AIXwindows Desktop, based on IXI’s X.desktop. The C and FORTRAN compilers each had a price tag of $275. Locus also made available their DOS Merge virtual machine environment for AIX, which could run MS DOS 3.3 applications inside AIX; DOS Merge was sold separately for another $250. IBM also offered a $150 AIX PS/2 DOS Server Program, which provided file server and print server services for client computers running PC DOS 3.3.
The last version of PS/2 AIX is 1.3. It was released in 1992 and announced to add support for non-IBM (non-microchannel) computers as well. Support for PS/2 AIX ended in March 1995.
AIX version 3 and 4
Among other variants, IBM later produced AIX Version 3 (also known as AIX/6000), based on System V Release 3, for their POWER-based RS/6000 platform. Since 1990, AIX has served as the primary operating system for the RS/6000 series (later renamed IBM eServer pSeries, then IBM System p, and now IBM Power Systems). AIX Version 4, introduced in 1994, added symmetric multiprocessing with the introduction of the first RS/6000 SMP servers and continued to evolve through the 1990s, culminating with AIX 4.3.3 in 1999. Version 4.1, in a slightly modified form, was also the standard operating system for the Apple Network Server systems sold by Apple Computer to complement the Macintosh line.
RISC System/6000 (RS/6000)
The RISC System/6000 (RS/6000), is a family of RISC-based Unix servers, workstations and supercomputers made by IBM in the 1990s. The RS/6000 family replaced the IBM RT PC computer platform in February 1990 and was the first computer line to see the use of IBM’s POWER and PowerPC based microprocessors. In October 2000, the RS/6000 brand was retired for POWER-based servers and replaced by the eServer pSeries. Workstations continued under the RS/6000 brand until 2002, when new POWER-based workstations were released under the IntelliStation POWER brand.
AIX version 5
AIX 5L 5.1, May 4, 2001
AIX 5.1 on POWER4 architecture made a leap forward towards future virtualization on IBM Power
- 64 bit kernel installed but not enabled by default
- Ability to run Logical Partitions on POWER4. A logical partition (LPAR) is a subset of a computer’s hardware resources, virtualized as a separate computer. In effect, a physical machine can be partitioned into multiple logical partitions, each hosting a separate instance of an operating system
- JFS2 file system up to 1 TB file system with 1 TB file size support
- Reliable Scalable Cluster Technology
- Linux Compatible program interface
- Workload Manager GUI and functional upgrades
AIX 5L 5.2, October 18, 2002
AIX 5.2 brought even more enhancements:
- Dynamic logical partitioning for processors, memory, and I/O o Dynamic Capacity Upgrade on Demand Enhancements to Scalability and Workload Manager
- Enhancements to Enterprise Storage Management
- Cluster Systems Management for monitoring and administering multiple machines (both AIX and Linux) from a single point of control
- Advanced RAS features
- Additional security features and enhancements
- Network enhancements including Mobile IPv6, SNMP V3, and upgrade to BIND V9
- APIs from the latest C language and single UNIX specification standards
AIX 5L 5.3, August 13, 2004
The enhancements which came with AIX 5L 5.3 combined with POWER5 series enabled an advanced Power virtualization platform which is still in use today on Power Systems (in a form of PowerVM)
- Micro-partitioning support for a single processor being shared by up to 10 logical partitions
- Virtual SCSI disks that allow partitions to access storage without requiring a physical storage adapter
- Virtual networking: Virtual Ethernet provides high-speed connections between partitions; Shared Ethernet Adapter provides connectivity between internal and external VLANs.
- NFS v4
AIX version 6 and newer
AIX 6 was announced in May 2007, and it ran as an open beta from June 2007 until the general availability (GA) of AIX 6.1 on November 9, 2007. Major new features in AIX 6.1 included full role-based access control, workload partitions (which enable application mobility), enhanced security (Addition of AES encryption type for NFS v3 and v4), and Live Partition Mobility on the POWER6 hardware.
AIX 7.1 was announced in April 2010, and an open beta ran until general availability of AIX 7.1 in September 2010. Several new features, including better scalability, enhanced clustering and management capabilities were added. AIX 7.1 includes a new built-in clustering capability called Cluster Aware AIX. AIX is able to organize multiple LPARs through the multipath communications channel to neighboring CPUs, enabling very high-speed communication between processors. This enables multi-terabyte memory address range and page table access to support global petabyte shared memory space for AIX POWER7 clusters so that software developers can program a cluster as if it were a single system, without using message passing (i.e. semaphore-controlled Inter-process Communication). AIX administrators can use this new capability to cluster a pool of AIX nodes. By default, AIX V7.1 pins kernel memory and includes support to allow applications to pin their kernel stack. Pinning kernel memory and the kernel stack for applications with real-time requirements can provide performance improvements by ensuring that the kernel memory and kernel stack for an application is not paged out.
AIX 7.2 was announced in October 2015, and released in December 2015. AIX 7.2 principal feature is the Live Kernel Update capability which allows OS fixes to replace the entire AIX kernel with no impact to applications, by live migrating workloads to a temporary surrogate AIX OS partition while the original OS partition is patched. AIX 7.2 was also restructured to remove obsolete components. The networking component, bos.net.tcp.client was repackaged to allow additional installation flexibility. Unlike AIX 7.1, AIX 7.2 is only supported on systems based on POWER7 or later processors.
AIX 7.3 is due to be released in Q4 of 2021
More about AIX
The default shell was Bourne shell up to AIX version 3 and was changed in AIX version 4.
The default graphical user interface is CDE – Common Desktop Environment.
As part of the Linux Affinity introduced in AIX version 5 and thanks to the AIX Toolbox for Linux Applications a certain set of open source tools kind of a core set of some of the most common tools like development tools and libraries are available in rpm package form like Curl, Samba and PostreSql tools, sed, mutt.
I left a link in the show notes so You can check for yourself if Your favourite tool is included or not.
SMIT – System Management Interface Tool
SMIT is the System Management Interface Tool for AIX. It allows a user to navigate a menu hierarchy of commands, rather than using the command line. Invocation is typically achieved with the command
smit. Experienced system administrators make use of the
F6 function key which generates the command line that SMIT will invoke to complete it. SMIT also generates a log of commands that are performed in the
smit.script file. The
smit.script file automatically records the commands with the command flags and parameters used. The
smit.script file can be used as an executable shell script to rerun system configuration tasks. SMIT also creates the
smit.log file, which contains additional detailed information that can be used by programmers in extending the SMIT system.
smitty refer to the same program, though
smitty invokes the text-based version, while
smit will invoke an X Window System based interface if possible; however, if
smit determines that X Window System capabilities are not present, it will present the text-based version instead of failing. Determination of X Window System capabilities is typically performed by checking for the existence of the
Object Data Manager (ODM)
Object Data Manager (ODM) is a database of system information integrated into AIX analogous to the registry in Microsoft Windows. A good understanding of the ODM is essential for managing AIX systems.
Data managed in ODM is stored and maintained as objects with associated attributes. Interaction with ODM is possible via application programming interface (API) library for programs, and command-line utilities such us odmshow, odmget, odmadd, odmchange and odmdelete for shell scripts and users. SMIT and its associated AIX commands can also be used to query and modify information in the ODM.
Example of information stored in the ODM database are:
- Network configuration
- Logical volume management configuration
- Installed software information
- Information for logical devices or software drivers
- List of all AIX supported devices
- Physical hardware devices installed and their configuration
- Menus, screens and commands that SMIT uses
My experience with AIX
Zero, Null, Nothing. – AIX Community is much smaller in size than for example Linux and it reminds me more of a secret society with a lot of Secrecy. For a newcomer it is pretty much impossible to get any exposure to it or any experience with it and sometimes even harder to find someone who is willing to help you to start your journey with AIX.
People who helped me from the AIX Community and to whom I am grateful for their support
I want to give special thanks to Andrey Klyachkin from power-devops.com who helped me to get up and running with a small AIX server on the cloud in a matter of hours. Andrey has a vast experience in AIX administration and he is a very pleasant person to talk to.
Please check out his website at power-devops.com (link in the show notes) as he most probably be able to answer your questions regarding AIX operating system and using devops tools on it.
AIX Community and Literature
There are some articles on the web about AIX and some great sites too like http://aix4admins.blogspot.com/ You can also go to reddit at /r/aix but I found it to be mostly for people who has already experience with AIX and have all the required access to the tools and utilities required.
I have to say that because of the size of the AIX Community and the slightly reserved nature of most of its members I came across it is not a very easy task for a newcomer to get acquintance with AIX Operating System and be up and running in no time and as easy as it might be with other distributions like Linux.
I was particularly unlucky as I came across a used AIX server on a secondhand website here in Spain two times from two different sellers but both of them went AWOL on me after we have agreed on the price and a local pickup. 🙁
Therefore up until this day I have stayed without owning a physical Power Architecture Server to run AIX 7.1 or 7.2 on my own in my homelab. (( I am not giving up just yet ))
While there are limited amount of literature out there about AIX in a form of books when compared to Linux, AIX well IBM has something up its sleeve which might give them the upper hand.
IBM Redbooks. IBM Redbooks content is designed to help you learn, adopt and deploy solutions. Their offerings include brief documents, books and videos. And best of all — they’re available at no charge.
While IBM Redbooks aren’t meant to replace IBM manuals or the IBM Knowledge Center. Instead, they offer practical technical information that’s not covered in product manuals.
One of the advantages of IBM Redbooks publications is that you can start learning anytime, anywhere. Redbooks are available for immediate download in PDF and EPUB format, and on-demand printing is available for those who want to read a hard copy.
IBM Redbooks cover IBM and Red Hat solutions as well as third-party and open-source technologies. You can learn about OpenShift on IBM Z and Power, open source IT operations management, security features in IBM Z and LinuxONE, cloud object storage, SAP HANA on Power Systems, agile integration, and so much more than just the AIX Operating System.
I linked one in particular regarding AIX 5L which can come handy to start to learn more about AIX and build upon as you progress further later on.
Get Your Hands on IBM AIX
While there are not really *free* ways to get your hands on AIX there are cloud solutions if you have and wish to spend money and try out AIX.
One of the cheapest and best combination would be to sign up for IBM Cloud account upgrade it to a Pay-As-You-Go Tier and use the welcome voucher 200$ (expires in 1 month) to run an AIX virtual machine until your money runs out with Skytap on IBM Cloud (also available on the Azure Marketplace) or Power Systems Virtual Server offering from IBM Cloud.
I recommend that you apply Skytap‘s welcome voucher which is valid for 90 days worth of 500$ to run AIX Virtual Machines for another 3 months after the initial IBM voucher of 200$ rans out using the Power Systems Virtual Server offering. (( I can not confirm if this is something You can do ,,applying the 500$ voucher of Skytap after the 1 month 200$ credit rans out from IBM Cloud ))
Both solutions runs your AIX Operating System as a full virtual machine on an IBM Power Server.
Estimated Price with Power Systems Virtual Server on IBM Cloud
Estimated Price for a shared Scale Out (S922) HW running shared 0.25 vcpu (1 physical core equals 4 vcpus on this HW) with 2GB of Ram and 20GB of Tier 3 Storage for Frankfurt 1 DC Region estimates before taxes and/or any discounts at 44.56 Euros per month.
If you plan to use the VM let’s say 5-6 hours in total per week then in a month your cost will be very little as per these estimates ( around 3-5 euros perhaps)
Estimated Price for third party solution from Skytap on IBM Cloud
Estimated usage cost in EMEA Region which is applicable for me for 1x Power based VM for 5 hours per week x 4 = 20 hours a month runtime with 2GB Ram and10GB Storage with 1x CPU set to Entitled Capacity of 0.05 capped/can not go over would be charged around:
Skytap Cloud Power RAM: 20hrs x 2GB x $0.065 = $2.60
Skytap Cloud Storage (persistent): 730 hrs x 10GB x $0.00011 = $0.80
Total: $3.40 per month (i guess its before taxes)
This is very affordable if You want to learn about AIX and when You have some limited time to tinker with it and You do not require it to run 24/7 as most of us hobbyst/homelabbers do not.
Both Skytap’s on IBM Cloud offer and IBM’s Own Power Systems Virtual Server are priced similarly but Skytap seems to have more options to modify / interact with Your Virtual Machine ( boot from a supplied iso you upload to your assets and do an upgrade for example)
Another option is to purchase some older Power architecture hardware from sites like ebay but I tell you they are not cheap. Most of the time they come wiped without any OS Install discs and even tough You can try to contact IBM representative to obtain install discs for your ,,new” server via its model/serial number it is not always easy without having an actual support contract but your mileage may vary on this.
Also as much as I understood some features come either baked in or not ( activated or not) on your hardware from the factory so its always worth checking out what physical and SW entitlements your server is equipped with. I have limited knowledge here as I do not own any Power architecture server myself.
This path can be interested to some how want to learn and explore features of AIX which can only be explored on bare metal Vs a Cloud virtual machine like IBM AIX’s PowerVM (formerly known as Advanced Power Virtualization) which is a form of para virtualization technique. As far as I can see the server has to come with this enabled from the factory and there is 3 separate editions of it (IBM PowerVM Express/Standard/Enterprise) and it is one of the features I would look for and make sure it exists on the server I am ready to purchase.
PowerVM is available on POWER6 and higher servers.
With the advent of Cloud infrastructure it has become easier to get experience with technologies previously unavailable or reserved just to a selected few like IBM’s AIX Unix.
You do not have to purchase expensive hardware and worry about electricity cost and noise if You can make a few compromises coming from the nature of Virtual Machines Vs Physical Hardware.
The running costs of a small Unix server with AIX on the cloud is more affordable than it ever was.
However I still believe that it is necessary that companies like IBM gets rid of old habits and opens towards the community of enthusiasts or hobbyist/homelabbers whom are willing to learn and experiment with Operating Systems like AIX or z/OS in their free time for their own benefit and perhaps to others benefit such as their employer without hurting corporate profits or business intentions in the process.
When corporations like IBM turn themselves away from these insignificant customers who can not afford the license fees and support contracts big enterprises do, what they tend to forget that some of these individuals might be the future C-level or mid-level decision makers.
When the day comes from 12 days or 12 years from now and they need to make a professional recommendation to a platform or a product to implement at their workplace they might not choose your product if they do not know it exists or they have never had any experience with it.
One thing I know for sure is for me to professionally recommend something it has to fit into the below requirements:
- to know and be familiar with the tool or solution
- to have a good experience with the brand or corporation who’s offering it
- to know that it exists (tool , solution , operating system, etc.)
- to be fit for the requirements
While solution X might tick off 1 out of 4 requirements on my list it is certainly not enough.Not even close.
Let alone if I am not even familiar with it or never had the chance to be exposed to that technology or solution. Now imagine if I even had a bad customer experience with it.
Hobbyst, Homelabbers are no way considered free-riders or someone who eats away corporate profits in my understanding. They are willing to take the thier time for free to use and familiarize themselves with a product or solution of company X. not just for their benefit but perhaps one day for a corporation’s or client’s benefit in the not so distant future. They might or might not be the next C-level decision makers but perhaps the one’s the C-level executive turns to for their opinion and knowledge after a sales representative made its pitch at them.
And seriously what damage a guy with a 42U rack and some used hardware can do from his basement running anything no matter how mission critical that piece of software is being it z/OS or AIX or OpenVMS or HP-UX?
Rule of thumb:
Treat me like I was the C-level executive You wish to present your sales pitch tomorrow.
Andrey Klyachkin’s power-devops.com website
AIX for System Administrators
Practical Guide to AIX (and PowerVM, PowerHA, PowerVC, HMC, DevOps …)
HT-1080Z School Computer
IBM AIX PS/2 1.3 for Intel i386 in Virtual Box
Skytap 500$ welcome voucher valid for 90 days for new IBM Cloud users
IBM Power and AIX
IBM Redbooks – Example AIX 5L
AIX 5L release notes
AIX Toolbox for Liux Applications
Open Software Foundation
AIX & Qemu ( for the ones who would like to have some fun )
( in my opinion somewhat working and slow performance compared to the VM offerings in the cloud I have explored but nevertheless can be a fun experiment or spend time activity)
Andrey Klyachkin – Install AIX 7.2 in Qemu