UNIX – Dead Or Alive?

Richard Fichera
Vice President, Principal Analyst
October 26, 2011

There has been a lot of ill-considered press coverage about the “death” of UNIX and coverage of the wholesale migration of UNIX workloads to LINUX, some of which (the latter, not the former) I have contributed to. But to set the record straight, the extinction of UNIX is not going to happen in our lifetime.

While UNIX revenues are not growing at any major clip, it appears as if they have actually had a slight uptick over the past year, probably due to a surge by IBM, and seem to be nicely stuck around the $18 – 20B level annual range. But what is important is the “why,” not the exact dollar figure.

UNIX on proprietary RISC architectures will stay around for several reasons that primarily revolve around their being the only close alternative to mainframes in regards to specific high-end operational characteristics:

  • Performance – If you need the biggest single-system SMP OS image, UNIX is still the only realistic commercial alternative other than mainframes.
  • Isolated bulletproof partitionability – If you want to run workload on dynamically scalable and electrically isolated partitions with the option to move workloads between them while running, then UNIX is your answer.
  • Near-ultimate availability – If you are looking for the highest levels of reliability and availability ex mainframes and custom FT systems, UNIX is the answer. It still possesses slight availability advantages, especially if you factor in the more robust online maintenance capabilities of the leading UNIX OS variants.

So given that UNIX is not glamorous but is still a solid presence in the IT landscape, what does the future hold? I expect that the leading vendors will continue to enhance their offerings of both hardware and software, with an emphasis on making several of the operations strengths of UNIX even stronger:

  • Improved scalability – With the improvement in underlying hardware and the growing demands of the IT world, I expect to see UNIX vendors concentrate on improving the scalability of the OS scheduling to accommodate massive numbers of threads and cores.
  • Better online maintenance and availability – In a nutshell, reducing the number of scenarios where the system must be rebooted for maintenance, including hardware and software.
  • Improved partitioning – Continual improvements in proprietary VM and partitioning capabilities allowing I&O groups to choose between software-based abstractions such as full VMs, containers, and fully isolated hardware partitions.
  • Continual improvements in systems management tools – Integrating the virtualization abstractions of the underlying hardware and OS with the management tools will give opportunities for increased differentiation as vendors strive to make their environments both easier to manage and more flexible.

My expectation is that we will see the following general direction from the major system vendors:

  • Oracle will introduce new OS capabilities to go with its T4 and future M-series as a follow-on to Solaris 11 Express.
  • IBM will continue to enhance AIX, with a high probability of a major new release with future POWER 8 CPU.
  • HP will enhance its systems and HP-UX with the introduction of the anticipated Poulson Itanium CPU next year as it attempts to hang on to its installed base, and will invest significant resources in migrating HP-UX customers to its x86 systems running Linux.  A lower probability is that they will eventually port HP-UX to an x86 platform.

What are your plans for continued UNIX use in your organization?


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