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Unilever will adopt Linux for its IT systems in all 80 countries where it operates. The company made its announcement at the LinuxWorld Conference & Expo in New York.
"We believe it will deliver all of our computing needs in the eight- to 10-year timeframe," said Unilever chief technology officer Colin Hope-Murray. "We want to be able to cookie-cut our systems and deliver them around the world."
At present, the company runs systems with the HP-UX, AIX and Tru64 versions of Unix. Unilever will make the migration from Unix to Linux to simplify and standardise its IT architecture, as well as duplicate the lower operational costs and increased performance already seen using Linux for Web servers, e-mail servers, proxy servers and firewall applications.
So far, the company has no cost-savings numbers to release, but Hope-Murray said anecdotal evidence bolsters its expectations. "Every time we put in Linux, we are amazed and surprised at its speed and the reliability with which we can run it.
"It's not really a leap of faith," he added, noting that Unilever's two largest IT suppliers, Hewlett-Packard and IBM, are committed to Linux and are ready to help with the project. "If our partners weren't committed to it, we wouldn't be doing it."
Unilever hoped to do internal testing with Linux versions based on the upcoming 2.6 kernel by the end of this year. It is also applying for membership in the non-profit Open Source Development in the US, which was created to encourage the development of enterprise data-centre and telecommunications applications for Linux. Unilever would be the first private company to join the group.
Desktop computers throughout Unilever will remain Windows-based, although the company will monitor the possibility of Linux on the desktop in the future.
Aberdeen Group analyst Bill Claybrook said Unilever would benefit by having a deep past with Unix, which is the model for Linux, and by having partners like IBM and HP.
"If they buy the stuff from IBM and HP, there's not really a big risk. They're going to get service and support."
Unilever's very public embrace of Linux could motivate software companies still looking in from the outside. "As soon as the software gets onto Linux, it's going to run," Claybrook said. "As long as there's money to be made, [the independent software suppliers] will be over."