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Linux sweeping Unix aside at Unilever

The multinational company that sells everything from Dove soap to Ben & Jerry's ice cream plans to move all its servers to Linux in coming years.

SAN FRANCISCO--Some have doubted whether Linux can grow up to fill the shoes of Unix, but at least one major customer has faith that it will: Unilever.

A multinational company that sells everything from Dove soap to Ben & Jerry's ice cream, Unilever plans to move all its servers to Linux in coming years, said Peter Blackmore, executive vice president of Hewlett-Packard's Enterprise Systems Group, in a keynote address Tuesday at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo.

In a videotaped testimonial, the head of Unilever's global infrastructure organization backed up Blackmore's assertion. "By 2006 or 2007, we will cease buying any Unix systems at all, and all our focus will be in the Linux area," Martin Armitage said.

Linux made its entry into mainstream computing as an operating system for lower-end servers that run comparatively nonessential tasks such as sharing files and managing print jobs. It then spread to other server tasks, including e-mail and Web site hosting. Now it's encroaching into higher-end jobs such as running SAP sales and inventory databases that are simultaneously used by large numbers of people.

Unilever expects Linux to handle SAP software that supports 20,000 to 30,000 users, Armitage said.

Linux is one of three high-profile operating systems at Hewlett-Packard, along with its HP-UX version of Unix and Microsoft's Windows. All three can run simultaneously on HP's Itanium processor-based Integrity line of servers. However, most of Linux today runs not on Itanium systems but on lower-end, lower-priced Xeon-based servers such as HP's ProLiant server line.

As expected, Blackmore announced several software changes that are designed to make Linux systems easier to manage. Among those improvements is a Linux version of the ProLiant Essentials software for setting up large numbers of servers quickly and a Linux version of the OpenView management console software. HP also released a Linux version of OpenView's GlancePlus software for monitoring system performance.

Palo Alto, Calif.-based HP also released Linux versions of some of its OpenCall software, which telecommunications companies use. In January, it released its core OpenCall software package, which handles the SS7 switching software that's used to connect phone calls. Now it's also selling voice recognition software that can understand when a person speaks the numbers of a pass code rather than punching the numbers into a phone.

HP now uses more than 3,500 Linux servers, Blackmore said. For supporting customers, it has 5,000 Linux services personnel in 600 support offices in 120 countries, Blackmore said.