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Stephen Shankland

Staff Writer, CNET

Hewlett-Packard is working to take Linux into several new areas of the server market, including 64-processor servers, the company is expected to announce Wednesday, on the eve of a major Linux trade show.

The company said in January that it supported Linux on 16-processor Integrity Itanium servers. Now through a program called BigTux, HP is working to build support for 64-processor Integrity Superdome models into the two prevailing versions of Linux sold today from Red Hat and Novell, said Martin Fink, HP’s vice president of Linux. Fink is expected to give a keynote address next week at the LinuxWorld Conference and Expo in Boston.

Silicon Graphics Inc. already sells Linux servers that have a single copy of Linux running on as many as 2,048 processors, in extreme cases. Doing so requires a specialized variation of mainstream Linux; SGI distributes a modified version of Red Hat’s Linux called the SGI Advanced Linux Environment.

Linux, which is booming in popularity, is functionally similar to Unix but instead runs chiefly on mainstream servers using x86 processors such as Intel’s Xeon and Advanced Micro Devices’ Opteron. Linux also competes with Microsoft’s Windows.

HP is vying with IBM and Dell for customers attracted to Linux, which unlike proprietary operating systems such as Windows is created by a large group of developers who may freely share and modify the software’s underlying source code. The fourth major power of the server market, Sun Microsystems, supports Linux but steers customers instead to Solaris, which is on the cusp of a transition from proprietary to open-source software.

On the business front, HP has expanded its Linux Reference Architecture program to simplify software choices with prepackaged combinations for various tasks. The program now encompasses HP’s thin blade server product line, and HP sells services to install and configure Linux Reference Architecture systems.

Also Wednesday, HP is expected to announce that its OpenView management software can now be used to monitor and control several open-source server programs, Fink said. Those programs that can be controlled now include the MySQL database and the JBoss and Tomcat Java server software packages.

HP is also expanding its Linux Elite partnership program to try to coax resellers and other businesses into helping HP sell its Linux products. The program is already running in North America and Europe, but HP is expanding it to Asia and Latin America, Fink said.

Fink also highlighted HP’s support for Xen software, which makes a single server look like many. The open-source Xen software, backed by a start-up called XenWorks, competes with established but proprietary software from EMC’s VMware subsidiary.