Linux catches on at coal power plants

RWE Innogy, a power company in the United Kingdom, is moving systems that control its coal-fired power plants to open-source Linux.

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RWE Innogy, a power company in the United Kingdom, has begun moving systems that control its coal-fired power plants to Linux.

The company has started using software called Performux sold by Verano, which specializes in programs used to operate industrial facilities such as factories or natural gas pipelines.

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Verano has sold this SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition) software for years, but focused on a product called RTAP (Real-Time Applications Platform) that's equivalent to Performux but runs on various versions of Unix. Now, the company is encouraging customers to switch to the Linux product.

The move at Innogy and Verano indicates not only the growing popularity of Linux but also that much of its growth is likely to come at the expense of Unix, the proprietary operating system after which open-source Linux is modeled.

Innogy has begun using Linux and Performux to help operate 10 coal-fired power stations at three sites, Verano said this week. Performux is used on the control center workstations people use to monitor and direct the plants, but the core system servers still use Unix and RTAP, said Lori Dustin, Verano's vice president of marketing.

Innogy plans to move its servers to Linux and Performux gradually, Dustin said, using servers with either Intel's Xeon or Itanium processors. In making the switch, it's not alone, she added.

"We expect most of our installed base to migrate to Linux," she said. "It's going to be 'client first' and 'server second.'"

Mansfield, Mass.-based Verano also offers a version of its software for Windows, but about 95 percent of its 220 customers use Unix today, Dustin said.

Verano is steering customers toward Linux by offering a 60 percent discount on some software license costs, compared with the Unix product, Dustin said. The discount means that a customer with an annual support contract would get a deep discount on future software--such as a Performux update scheduled for release next spring.

Verano also sells security software called Industrial Defender that monitors systems for attacks or other unauthorized activity. The system requires security extensions called Security-Enhanced Linux that were written at the behest of the U.S. government's National Security Agency.

All Verano's Linux software uses Red Hat Enterprise Linux as a foundation, Dustin said.