Will the real Linux users please stand?

To what extent are Fortune 500 companies already using Linux? US open source champions Oracle, IBM and VA Linux have differing opinions

That Linux has appeal among Internet service providers and application hosting firms is a given. But just how much of a hold Linux already has established among Fortune 500 companies continues to be up for debate.

If you believe Oracle, the self-proclaimed king of the enterprise Linux realm, Linux is already well entrenched in corporate America. But other Linux backers, such as IBM and VA Linux Systems, are more conservative in their claims as to where Linux is installed today -- and by whom -- and where it might be installed tomorrow.

Linux is experiencing massive growth in the server sector.

IDC released new server operating system data earlier this week that showed Linux running a close second to Microsoft's NT Server, in terms of number of units shipped on new systems in 1999.

IDC pegged NT at 36 percent of the 5.7 million server OSes shipped on new platforms, Linux at 24 percent and Novell NetWare at 19 percent.

Exactly where Linux is being installed is not quite as clear, however. In an installation study on Linux in January, IDC found that 42 percent of Linux systems were running as Web servers, and 24 percent as Web infrastructure (messaging, file and print, cacheing and proxy serving) platforms.

Only about ten percent of Linux servers were running "enterprise-class" applications, such as commercial databases, according to IDC.

The bottom line: "Linux use is still in its infancy. Linux is largely a platform for Web infrastructure and for VARs [value-added resellers] and ISPs in the small-business space," said Dan Kusnetzky, IDC's vice president for software research.

"Eventually, we'll see it [Linux] showing up inside large corporations, but mostly at the departmental and file/print serving level."

IBM, which is offering Linux in a variety of ways on all of its server platforms, is seeing similar demand patterns, said Andy Wachs, IBM's brand manager for Unix/Linux.

"We are seeing some serious demand for Linux from corporations, but that demand is still mostly in web serving and file and print," said Wachs.

"Corporate interest is increasing, as evidenced by things like our providing Linux on the S/390 [mainframe]. Within the next year, we expect to see some significant deployments in this [corporate] space."

Linux system vendor VA Linux Systems chief executive Larry Augustin painted a similar picture.

"The traditional Fortune 500 non-technology business is a future customer for us. Most of our time right now is spent with technology companies who are implementing Internet strategies," he said.

But Oracle, for its part, believes the time is now when it comes to corporate Linux deployments.

"We believe Linux is ready for the data centre. It's not just a low-end development platform and a platform for small-business use," said Bob Shimp, senior director of Internet platform marketing at Oracle.

"This enterprise demand is a fairly new trend," Shimp admitted. "In the last three to four months, we've really seen an uptick in acceptance among Fortune 500 accounts. It's time to push hard at the data centre."

Earlier this year, Oracle made Linux a "tier-1" operating system, in terms of the level of support it provides for the platform.

On Wednesday, the company announced it was making available this month its complete family of Oracle Internet Application Server products (Enterprise, Standard and Wireless) available on Linux.

As evidence of corporate interest, Shimp cited "very significant results" among the Oracle customer base -- in terms of downloads of free developer-only versions of its 8i database platform in the past month. He said developers downloaded 285,000 copies of Oracle 8i for Linux, four times the number of copies of 8i for Windows they downloaded.

So, is Oracle just ahead of the curve?

IDC's Kusnetzky noted that not every chief information officer is up-to-speed as to which operating systems his or her company is deploying at all times.

And one rogue Linux server located in a Fortune 500 company's office in the hinterlands of the US still can be counted, technically, as proof of a Fortune 500 Linux deployment, Kusnetzky added.

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