Unisys has made Linux available on all its ES7000 servers - a move it claims leapfrogs enterprise server competitors Sun Microsystems, Hewlett-Packard and IBM.
Unisys said it will work with Novell and Red Hat to provide customers - mainly business, government and scientific - with services and support.
The company also announced a dynamic partitioning capability on Linux for Intel-based servers - another claimed first. This links the power of Unisys ES7000 enterprise servers with Linux, providing an alternative to expensive, proprietary Risc-based systems.
"Our enterprise customers are demanding industrial-strength Linux solutions and we are responding in a revolutionary way," said Unisys president and chief operating officer Joe McGrath.
"Four years ago, Unisys was the first to enter the high-end Windows market. Now it is time to shake up the Unix/Risc market. By offering customers a bold, new legitimate choice in the Unix/Risc space, Unisys is positioned to be an enterprise Linux market leader."
Dynamic partitioning is the ability to shift processing power to the applications that need it, as they need it, with no human intervention.
The company described it as a critical function for organisations running complex and demanding workloads so that if an application suddenly experiences a spike in demand, the ES7000 with Linux will automatically allocate additional processing power to that application. When usage goes back to normal, so does the amount of processing power assigned to that application.
Unisys said its engineers have drawn on their mainframe and enterprise computing experience to bring what was previously only available to users of expensive proprietary systems to standard Intel-based servers, for the first time.
However, IBM does deliver similar if not identical technology. For example, IBM's iServer series allows dynamic resource allocation, including under Linux as well as AIX and OS/400.
In a recent interview, Microsoft server software chief Bob Muglia described the technology as "interesting", saying Microsoft was not yet able to deliver such technology. This is despite the fact Microsoft was reported as concluding an agreement with Unisys back in 1999 to develop dynamic partitioning.
In addition, Unisys said it has optimised its Server Sentinel software, which allows IT managers to manage both Windows and Linux environments from one screen - which Unisys claimed industry analysts said was unique.
Unisys is also developing several other enhancements to the Sentinel offering including Application Sentinel, Database Sentinel and Security Sentinel.
"The entrance of Unisys into the Linux market is a great endorsement of the Linux platform," said Hal Bennett, vice-president of business development of Linux supplier Novell.
"Combining the scalability and performance power of Novell's SuSE Linux Enterprise Server with Unisys deep experience in mission critical computing gives customers a compelling new option for deploying Linux at the core of the enterprise."
According to analyst Gartner, Linux is a potential life-saver for Unisys. It has a small share of the mid-range server market - it was seventh in 2003, said Gartner - but is the only sizable player without its own proprietary Unix user base to protect, unlike major rivals Sun, HP and IBM.
The company is clearly banking on Linux, along with Windows Server, as a key lifeline to the future and, in a growing server market, looks likely to survive.
Manek Dubash writes for Techworld.com