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Linux Boosting

As vendors increase support for Linux, more IT execs are taking a closer look at the open-source operating system
Pfizer Inc., a $32.2 billion pharmaceutical company, has no plans to move its Unix applications to Linux. "It's the same reason that most other companies aren't. They have apps running on a platform that they're comfortable with, and they're not real interested in changing it," says Wesley Busdiecker, a senior systems analyst at Pfizer, in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Those are familiar arguments, and some vendors hope to address not only today's concerns about security, reliability, management, and support, but how Linux might underpin next-generation technologies. Sun says it's addressing current concerns by offering its own version of Linux, so customers have a single source for hardware, operating-system, and software support. Storage vendor Veritas Software Corp. has disclosed plans to ship a Linux version of its clustering software to give Linux customers high-availability systems that switch over to another server in a cluster when one server fails. And HP will help companies better access Linux system-administration tools for fault monitoring, configuration, and workload management when it ships Servicecontrol Manager 3.0 in November.

HP last week also unveiled Secure Linux 2.0, which is priced at $600 per server and exploits features of Intel's Itanium line of processors-co-developed by HP-that let the CPU perform high-speed cryptographic calculations and protect certain instructions from unauthorized users. Those features could help customers build more secure applications that run across wide area networks-important for emerging areas such as delivering computing power as an on-demand service, says Rich DeMillo, HP's chief technology officer.

Web services, which are catching on as a way of integrating disparate applications inside a company and forging business-to-business links, are working their way into the Linux world. IBM hopes to port WebSphere to Red Hat Linux Advanced Server during the second half of the year, and BEA Systems Inc. has already ported its WebLogic app server to the operating system, so the many applications written for these app servers will be able to run in Linux environments. Because WebSphere and WebLogic support Java 2 Enterprise Edition, porting those application servers to Red Hat also means that J2EE applications, including Web-services applications, also will run in Linux environments.

A glaring shortcoming still remains, though: enterprise application support for Linux. In some respects, it's a chicken-and-egg situation-some vendors are willing to create Linux packages but not until there's proven customer demand. Business-intelligence application vendor Cognos Inc., for instance, offers its software in a variety of Unix flavors, and it wouldn't be hard to port its products to Linux. "But we're not actually seeing demand now," CEO Ron Zambonini says. "We're going for big companies, with huge investments in Sun and IBM" Unix. There must be a great return-on-investment for such companies to change operating systems, he says.

SAP also says pickup is slow among technology buyers. It started supporting Linux in 1999 when it added the operating system to the SAP Kernel software framework that underlies all of its products and to its flagship R/3 enterprise resource planning software, and it's adopting Linux internally, with the goal of running Linux on 30% to 40% of its own development servers within the next two years. Nevertheless, among SAP's customers, "the overall number of Linux installations is still pretty small," says Manfred Stein, product manager for SAP Linux Lab and Unix Platforms, accounting for only about 800, or less than 2%, of the 40,000 to 50,000 SAP installations worldwide.

Like many others, Warren Young, CTO of Neurome Inc., is keeping an eye on developments. The biotech company in La Jolla, Calif., stores data in Oracle9i on an IBM p690 Unix system. "We haven't paid much attention to Oracle on Linux," Young says, but adds he'd be receptive to using both Oracle apps and database tools-if the vendor can prove its proficiency on Linux. Though Linux still has much to prove, with friends like these, it may get there soon. -with Robin Gareiss, Jennifer Maselli, John Rendleman, Aaron Ricadela, Rick Whiting, and Jennifer Zaino

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