A recent SG Cowen survey of more than 500 North American IT users found that more than 80 percent of respondents were currently using Linux and that more than half planned to increase their use of the open source operating system within the next two years.

The survey, which also found a growing interest in other open source software, in areas such as application servers, e-mail and database systems, concluded that Linux will change the landscape in corporate data centres as it steals workload share away from both Unix and Windows systems.

But the report’s authors noted that hurdles remained for Linux, including the possibility that the market could fragment, as the Unix market did, with commercial vendors adding middleware, services and support to differentiate their Linux offerings.

“Such risks are essentially non existent in the Microsoft Windows environment and may provide the same competitive advantage for Windows against Linux as it has had all along against Unix,” the report said.

Nevertheless, Linux will continue to make inroads in corporate adoption, especially in the upcoming year. “Linux is likely to gain share of [application and database tier workloads] faster than any other platform, including Windows,” the report said. “The percent of sites planning to increase workloads is higher for Linux than any other operating system, as was the percent of organizations planning to adopt Linux for the first time.”

According to the survey that queried 527 businesses across a range of industries in November, 65 percent of respondents planned to increase their use of Linux, with 80 percent of those planning to do so in the next one or two years. More than 70 percent of current Linux sites planned to increase reliance on Linux and 29 percent planned to deploy Linux for the first time.

The main reasons for turning toward Linux were reliability, scalability and lower cost, the survey found. Reasons for not deploying Linux centered on concerns regarding application availability and service and support.

The report pointed out that overall Linux deployments were still modest in big corporations, though, and that Windows will continue to dominate as the server OS of choice.

“The most direct victim [of the adoption of Linux] is Unix, which is seeing planned reductions in workload that are directly correlated with gains by Linux,” the report says. “While Unix workload trends are negative among all users, they are even worse among those sites planning to increase their reliance on Linux. This doesn’t suggest that Linux is a more potent competitive threat to Unix than Windows is, but rather that the combination of Windows and Linux is certainly worse for Unix than Windows is alone.”

This is particularly bad news for Sun, which failed to embrace Linux early on as competitors such as IBM, HP and Dell have done, the report notes. Sun now offers its entire stack on both Solaris and Linux, however.

Other findings from the survey were that: of those respondents using Linux, 72 percent run it on servers and 15 percent use it on the desktop and that among users of commercial Linux, Red Hat dominated with 86 percent of those sites.