Linux has won another battle against proprietary software with the decision yesterday of Bergen, Norway's second-largest city, to consolidate older Windows and Unix servers on Novell's Suse Linux Enterprise Server 8.

The deal was announced shortly after the German city of Munich finished a year-long decision-making process that will see 14,000 desktops switched from Windows to Linux, a move that some have called the "poster child" for desktop Linux.

Bergen's plan does not involve desktops and, thus, poses less of a potential threat to Microsoft. However, the shift will affect 50,000 users and is expected to deliver immediate cost savings by drastically reducing the complexity of the city's IT systems, according to Bergen's CTO, Ole Bjoern Tuftedal.

Linux is increasingly popular in enterprises, where many industry observers believe it will ultimately replace Unix. Unlike Unix, which traditionally was used on proprietary processors designed for a particular flavour of the operating system, Linux distributions are largely interchangeable and normally run on commodity hardware from Intel or AMD. Linux competes with Windows in the Unix-replacement market and has the potential to compete with Windows on business desktops, particularly for terminals running a fixed set of applications, such as in call centres.

Recent figures from IDC showed that Linux server unit shipments grew 46.4 percent in the first quarter of this year compared the same quarter last year, against 26.5 percent for Windows server shipments.

Novell, along with competitors such as IBM and HP, sees Linux as a way of allowing customers to standardise on a single low-cost, non-proprietary platform, migrating from a hodge-podge of systems to Linux-based clusters or mainframes. "You need one operating system to do that. What we have is an important initiative to help customers to add Linux to their infrastructure," said Novell EMEA president Richard Seibt in a recent intervew.

The Bergen arrangement will put these Linux arguments to the test. Initially, 20 Oracle database servers running on HP-UX, HP's version of Unix, will be replaced with around 10 Suse servers on Itanium-based HP Integrity servers. In a second phase, the city plans to consolidate more than 100 application servers used in schools around the city into a centralised set of 20 IBM eServer blades running Linux.

Once the database servers are shifted over - a move that will affect all the city administration's databases including those used for heath and welfare services - the city plans to standardise its network, mail and DHCP servers on Suse Linux Enterprise Server 8. Many are already running various versions of Linux, so standardisation should simplify things for the city's IT staff, resulting in a short-term payoff, Tuftedal said.

The city said keeping costs down was an important factor in its choice of Linux over Unix or Windows, something that will resonate with many enterprise customers. "In addition to the IT-based benefits from migration to Linux, we attain a business model that doesn't tie us to a single vendor's solution architecture," said Bergen's CIO, Janicke Runshaug Foss, in a statement.

The rollout is expected to be completed by the end of this year.