AIX at first glance

Recently I set up an AIX 5.1 on a RS/6000 box. Now, after some time working with the OS, I’d like to share my first impressions and features that distinguishes it from Linux.

FYI: Do not try to run AIX on x86, it won’t work. And it have never done. Only PowerPC and POWER RISC architectures.

System Management Services

The very first thing which may surprise you when you start a PowerPC system is absence of BIOS. PowerPC uses SMS which is an acronym for System Management Services. You enter SMS by pressing F2 during server startup. However, SMS implements same features as conventional server’s BIOS. Like configuring boot sequence, performing simple diagnostics, etc.

AIX default shell

AIX uses KornShell (ksh) by default. Bourne shell (bsh) is also available. But do not confuse it with Bourne-again shell (bash). It was developed two ears earlier (1989) than AIX 5.1 (2001), but wasn’t included. What’s interesting about ksh is that by default it works in vi editing mode. It means that initially you work in an input mode and enter commands by typing and hitting return as usual. Type ESC to enter control mode. For example type CTRL+V in control mode and you will find your ksh version. Mine is M-11/16/88f. If you type backslash (\) in control mode you will complete a file path. ksh88 shortcoming is that it doesn’t support commands completion.

System Management Interface Tool

AIX operating system is configured using the System Management Interface Tool (SMIT). It’s an equivalent of YaST in SuSE, redhat-config-* tools in Red Hat or Windows Control Panel. SMIT is very thorough configuration tool. For example, user add page consists of forty fields! SMIT has several handy functional keys. For instance, F5 sets field to the default value, using F9 you can temporarily invoke command shell, F4 generates a list if field implies it, like list of packages available to install from particular directory. Apart from that, SMIT has weird field hints: ‘-‘ says that field is numerical, ‘+’ means a list, ‘/’ is a path. Everything you do in SMIT is logged in /smit.log.

Web-based System Manager

On top of that, AIX has Web-based System Manager (WebSM) which lets you monitor your system and manage devices, backups, processes and virtually everything in your operating system. You can do that either from inside operating system itself or through standalone client which is available for Windows and Linux. To manage your AIX host via WebSM you need to have equal Manager and Remote Client versions.  To satisfy that you can download Windows version of Web-based System Manager Remote Client right from the AIX host using SCP or FTP from /usr/websm/pc_client/setup.exe. WebSM Client for AIX 5 is incompatible with Windows 7.

 

Object Data Manager

Feature which is unique to AIX is Object Data Manager (ODM) database, which maintains device configuration. ODM consists of Predefined Configuration Database (PCD) and Customized Configuration Database (CCD). Predefined Configuration Database keeps information on supported devices which means devices for which AIX has drivers and Customized Configuration Database hold information of devices which are currently connected to the system. Data in ODM is stored in terms of objects and their attributes. Access to ODM is implemented via special API. User can manage ODM by calling odmshow, odmadd, odmchange and odmdelete utilities. Additionally, AIX uses location codes to identify devices. Location code is effectively a path from a motherboard to a device. For example, location code of a SCSI device is in the form AB-CD-EF-G,H. Here AB is a bus type, CD – slot or adapter number, EF – connector ID, G – Control Unit Address of SCSI Device, H – Logical Unit Address of SCSI Device. I have two SCSI hard drives hdisk0 and hdisk1. For hdisk0 location code is 04-C0-00-5,0. Here 04 means PCI bus (00 – CPU bus, 01 – ISA bus, 05 – PCMCIA bus), C0 – integrated SCSI controller (A0 -ISA bus, B0 – secondary PCI bus), 00 – SCSI bus number, 5 – SCSI ID, 0 – LUN.

Logical Volume Manager

Did you know that LVM was implemented in AIX ten years earlier (1989) than in Linux (1998)? In fact, after AIX version of LVM was developed, its license was bought by HP. And only after that Heinz Mauelshagen developed Linux version with commands similar to the HP version. Windows Server platform still doesn’t have anything similar AFAIK.

Journaling File System

Another AIX achievement is JFS file system which is journaling by design. First JFS version was implemented in 1990 in AIX 3.1 Do you remeber when ext3 was developed? I believe somewhere in 2001. Journaling NTFS v3 was implemented in 2000 with Windows Server 2000. JFS file system in AIX 4.2 supported 64GB file size (it was 1996). With introduction of JFS2 in 2001, AIX 5 began to support 1TB files. Maximum file size for FAT32 was 4GB. All these facts are explainable. AIX was developed far earlier than Linux and Windows. But it’s still interesting how features firstly introduced in AIX (and other flavors of UNIX) migrate to younger OSes.

Full system recovery

Unlike Linux, AIX allows you to create full volume group backups with all logical volumes. Even in present times in Linux you work with antique tar, gzip, cpio and dd (or duplicity and bacula if you want something more sophisticated). In 2001 AIX already had savevg for backing up non-rootvg volume groups and mksysb which lets you backup rootvg along with system related data. mksysb creates installable image for full system recovery. I find these tools invaluable. I do not know of Linux alternative.

User/group administration

Additionally, AIX has several handy user administration features. For example, a user group can be either administrative or standard. If it’s administrative, then only root can add/remove users from it. If it’s standard, it means that ordinary users can administer that group. Feature I sometimes lack in Linux. Groups are configured in /etc/security/group and look like the following:

system:
admin = true

jradmin:
admin = false
adms = pac,xander

Here system is an administrative group and jradmin is standard. admin field identifies group type and adms contains the list of group administartors (pac an xander). Also, in AIX you can assign portions of root authority to non-root users. There are several predefined roles, like ManageAllUsers, ManageShutdown, ManageBackupRestore, etc, defined in /etc/security/roles. Roles consist of a number of authorizations, which is a set of particular tasks that user can perform. For example, ManageAllUsers role consists of the following authorizations: UserAudit, ListAuditClasses, UserAdmin, RoleAdmin, PasswdAdmin, GroupAdmin. You can create your own roles from these authorizations. In AIX 5 Role-Based Access Control (RBAC) is rather primitive and restricted, but it’s better than nothing.

Error logging

And the last thing I’d like to talk about is error logging. In Linux logging is performed by syslogd, AIX has the same daemon. However, AIX error logging facility is augmented by errdemon. It is started as part of system initialization and continuously monitors /dev/error. When information is read from /dev/error errdemon checks its Error Record Template Repository /var/adm/ras/errtmplt and if it has any additional info on this error, demon writes this information into /var/adm/ras/errlog. Log is in binary format. To read it run errpt command:

errpt -a -s 0519000012

This will show you detailed information on log entries starting from 19th of May 2012 00:00 a.m.

Conclusion

My first experience working with AIX (even with such an outdated version) makes me think of it as a sophisticated and very well written operating system. Many major features were developed in AIX much earlier than in Linux and Windows and I believe it’s still true for modern AIX releases. It becomes obvious why Unix is the primary choice for many big organizations with strong IT infrastructure.

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2 Responses to “AIX at first glance”

  1. William Fitzpatrick Says:

    AIX 5.3 Websm remote client for windows will work on Windows 7.
    On the setup.exe right click properties / compatibility and select Windows 2000 as compatibility mode. After setup is complete go to the bin folder and do the same thing for all 4 of the executables. It will work without any problems.

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