Exclusive: Oil giant buys Linux supercomputer

The open source operating system makes more inroads into big business

Western GeCo, the UK-based oil industry services giant recently formed from the merger of Schlumberger's Geco-Prakla and Baker Hughes' Western Geophysical, is to adopt a Linux-based supercomputer cluster for operations like ocean floor surveys, ZDNet UK has learned.

IBM recently signed Western GeCo up for a 513-node cluster based on dual-processor computers, according to Andy Hoiles, IBM's Linux business manager for the northern Europe, Middle East and Africa region. The deal is an example of Linux's increasing use in major corporations for business-critical applications.

Linux is the most visible software sold under the open source business model, in which developers must make the source code they create freely available. It has made rapid gains in the server market, in which it competes with Microsoft's Windows 2000 and Sun's Solaris operating systems. However, until relatively recently Linux was not able to handle large, mission critical systems and was rare in large enterprises.

The Western GeCo installation will be comparable in scope to a 1,024-node Linux cluster recently bought by Shell and a mainframe system installed by Danish ISP Telia that runs Linux in a virtual machine. It is also important that the Western GeCo cluster will be running mission-critical applications, such as mapping the ocean floor in real time based on satellite information from ocean-going vessels. Such projects will convince other big companies that there is nothing to be afraid of in adopting Linux, Hoiles said.

"Before, there were a number of inhibitors, companies were uncomfortable with Linux because it was open source," Hoiles said. "They wanted to know, 'Who do I turn to if something goes wrong?'"

Since IBM and other large companies have integrated Linux into their services divisions, however, IBM has been approached by many businesses who want to install Linux, Hoiles said.

IBM has committed to spending $1bn on Linux this year.

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