Gauging Linux Momentum

Clearly, there is a major shift under way in terms of preferred computing platforms in the enterprise. The only question is whether Windows or Linux will be the beneficiary of that shift.

In its latest fiscal quarter, Microsoft re-ported that revenue for its Server and Tools division, which includes Windows Server, grew 7 percent to $3.47 billion. Microsoft attributed much of that growth in revenue to increased sales of SQL Server and System Center management software.

In contrast, Red Hat reported revenue of $166.2 million, which is an 18 percent increase over the same period a year ago. More importantly, the company said it picked up 40,000 new customers in its fiscal 2008 year.

Novell, meanwhile, reported $35 million in Linux platform revenue for its first quarter?a 24 percent growth year over year. There?s also been a fair amount of enthusiasm for a variety of other Linux distributions, including Ubuntu and Debian. Even so, the total number of Linux installations based on these numbers seems to be low compared with Microsoft?s Server division sales. But, as the economy continues to stagnate, the real question is whether Linux will gain more momentum than Microsoft on Intel and AMD processors.

In a recent Novell-sponsored survey of 300 IT executives worldwide, IDC says more than half of them plan to accelerate Linux adoption in 2009. Furthermore, more than 72 percent said they are actively evaluating or have already decided to increase their adoption of Linux on the server in 2009, while more than 68 percent made the same claim for the desktop.

The No. 1 motivation executives gave for migrating to Linux was related to budgets. In fact, more than 40 percent said they plan to deploy additional workloads on Linux over the next 12 to 24 months, and 49 percent indicated that Linux will be their primary server platform within five years.

To a large degree, these estimates reflect the popularity of Linux outside the United States. Nevertheless, there is a lot of movement away from traditional Unix systems running on RISC processors, and that is benefiting Linux. For example, Office Depot is in the middle of an extended consolidation effort that is anchored around migrating applications running on Unix and AS/400 systems to Linux systems based on Novell?s SUSE offering that runs on Hewlett-Packard (HP) servers, according to Tonya Peer, senior director of DBA and Information Architecture at the retailer.

Peerless Clothing, the parent company for brands such as Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren, has also been moving to SUSE Linux on HP servers as part of an effort to consolidate Unix servers from both HP and IBM. According to Joffrey Bienvenue, IS infrastructure and operations manager, Peerless has already saved more than $700,000 by consolidating its hardware footprint by as much as 90 percent.

Naturally, Microsoft can point to its fair share of Unix conversion wins as well. What will ultimately tip the balance between the two is which application environments will win the day. If the dominant application environment is SAP, Oracle or some other open-source application software, then Linux has a good chance to win that account. But if Microsoft is successful introducing SQL Server or any of its server applications into that account, then Windows Server usually gets pulled along.

The challenge going forward is that a lot of IT organizations are going to require both Linux and Windows server stacks. This situation sets the stage for a battle of supremacy that right now favors Microsoft. In most environments where Windows Server and Linux are running, Windows Server is the dominant platform because the Microsoft environment has better systems management tools, which it keeps extending to be able to manage Linux as a client.

In contrast, the Linux community has not focused as much on systems management tools that make Linux easier to run. And extending those tools out to a closed Windows environment is problematic. There are many third-party systems management tools that can be used to manage Windows and Linux as peers, but most IT organizations tend to use the tools that come with the operating system from the server vendor.

What this adds up to is that despite the Linux momentum, the open-source operating environment has a long way to go before it stops being the junior partner.