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Linux continues to dominate data centers. IBM wants more of that action to take place on its hardware.

The computer giant on Tuesday plans to pledge that it will spend $1 billion over four or five years on Linux and related open-source technologies for use on its Power line of server systems, which is based on the internally developed chip technology of the same name.

IBM has long been one of the biggest backers of Linux. It made another celebrated $1 billion pledge in 2000 to support the technology as it was beginning to gain a foothold in businesses.

Since then, Linux has become the mainstay operating system for many servers–particularly those used in computer rooms operated by big Web companies like Google. Most of those machines are x86 servers, which take their name from the underlying chip design sold by Intel and Advanced Micro DevicesAMD +0.26%.

IBM, though it sells such machines, also adapted Linux for use on its mainframes and its Power servers. The latter historically used IBM’s variant of the Unix operating system.

Power servers tend to be good at heavy-duty computing jobs, such as running large databases. But sales of hardware running Unix are contracting, where Linux-based machines are spreading.

“We continue to take share in Unix, but it’s just not growing as fast as Linux,” says Brad McCredie, an IBM vice president of Power development who also holds the title of fellow.

Linux helped popularize the open-source model, based on letting users and others view and modify the underlying instructions used to create a program. The software is often available in free versions, which is quite a draw for companies that buy servers by the thousands.

Another attraction is that Linux has spawned a range of add-on programs that can generally be used on Power-based machines after an automatic step called recompiling, McCredie says. “Once you get to an open software stack there is innovation taking place that people do covet,” he says.

Where will the $1 billion go? To a large extent, on facilities and personnel to help Power users move to Linux. One new center in Montpellier, France, will be set up for that purpose, McCredie says.


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