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IBM expands Linux push on servers

The company offers the open-source operating system on more of its Unix servers, as it cuts prices and boosts performance through faster chips.

IBM on Tuesday announced an expansion of its sales of Linux on server hardware.

The company said it is now selling Linux on its entire pSeries line of Unix servers, has cut the product line's prices, and is bringing faster 1.9GHz Power4+ chips to the top-end p690 model.

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Until now, Big Blue has offered Linux only on a handful of lower-end pSeries machines, which more often run IBM's version of Unix, called AIX. Now IBM will sell SuSE Linux Enterprise Server (SLES) 8 or Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL) 3 on all the pSeries systems, the company said. IBM arranges for the Linux companies themselves to deliver the software to customers.

Linux runs on many different processors, including Intel's Itanium and Hitachi's SH, but it's most widely used on Intel-compatible x86 chips such as Pentium and Xeon. IBM is trying hard to spread Linux to its Power-based servers, a company initiative that now has its own profit and loss accounting.

Price cuts range for the previous top-end machine with a 1.7GHz Power4+ range from 12 percent to 15 percent, according to IBM. Prices for the p690 with 1.5GHz processors were cut, 12 percent to 16 percent, and prices for the 16-processor p670 with 1.5GHz processors were cut 9 percent to 14 percent.

The latest p690 system also can accommodate twice as much memory--as much as 1 terabyte, roughly 4,000 times the amount in a typical PC.

The moves come in the midst of a highly competitive Unix server market in which IBM has been gradually gaining share at the expense of No. 1 Sun Microsystems and No. 2 Hewlett-Packard. Sun and HP have just introduced new top-end servers, though: the Sun Fire E25K using Sun's UltraSparc IV chips and the SuperDome using HP's PA-8800.

IBM's p690 recently returned to the top spot in a server speed test for keeping track of simulated inventory transactions. HP Superdomes using Intel's Itanium processor have led the list for most of the last year, and Intel's head of server processors, Mike Fister, said last week that he expects an Intel-based system will reclaim the lead soon.