Linux finds new Unix friends

Linux may help Unix vendors reclaim some of the space that Microsoft Corp. was encroaching upon, according to one analyst.

Vendors such as Sun, IBM and HP were present in full force at the recent LinuxWorld conference held in San Francisco, each with announcements of new offerings. Sun introduced a new Intel processor-based Linux server powered by its own version of Linux, Sun Linux. And IBM was on hand with a Solaris to Linux migration program, designed to help users move to its eServer platform.

Although the Unix vendors will be competing with each other, they are also competing with Windows, which has made inroads into the lower-end server space, said David Freund, an analyst at Illuminata in Nashua, N.H.

“RISC Unix has had problems on the low end. And the commodity servers have taken off in that space,” he said. As a result, both Linux and Windows have been doing well in that space.

So while the entrance of large Unix vendors into the Linux space will contribute to the open source operating system’s growing popularity, it isn’t likely to replace large RISC Unix machines soon. Linux will likely find role to play in applications at the edge, Freund said.

“A lot of the reliability, availability and scalability features in (Sun’s) Solaris may not be needed in the low end. When you’re buying low-end machines, you’re not looking for the greatest thing, you’re looking for something that’s just good enough,” he said.

One Unix user who’s been keeping his eye on Linux for a long time is Blair Dean, the president of the Calgary Unix Users Group.

The advantage of Linux is that it takes a very small investment, in comparison to commercial Unix boxes, to get started in it. Because the initial cost of using Linux is so small – you could load it on old hardware that is no longer in use – a lot of his colleagues began experimenting with it as a hobby and then realized that it was a production-quality operating system. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Linux is a threat to Unix, he said.

“I don’t think there’s any kind of Unix versus Linux,” he said. It’s more a matter of what does what best. Linux can’t compete with Unix when it comes to systems that require horsepower, he said. Although Dean recommends open source solutions when appropriate to his clients, the level of support and guaranteed uptime that comes with commercial Unix systems makes them worth the cost sometimes, he said.

A lot of companies are adopting Linux because it’s less expensive and universal, said Edward Broderick, a principal analyst at the Robert Frances Group (RFG) in New York. The group recently did a study which found that the total cost of ownership of a Linux platform was lower than with Unix platforms. In a comparison of the TCO of Linux, Sun’s Solaris and Microsoft’s Windows, RFG found that Linux was the least expensive platform to deploy and operate. Although some of the initial costs were higher with Linux, the ability to scale the OS horizontally without coughing up for additional licensing fees can yield significant cost savings over the long term, the study found.

However, Illuminata’s Freund warns that the TCO may not be lower for all businesses and that it has to be determined on a case-by-case basis. For example, if a company is migrating to Linux from Windows, then such costs as retraining might make the Linux move more expensive, whereas if a company decides to use Linux for a new project and it already has Unix or Linux expertise in-house, then Linux might be a good choice from a TCO standpoint.


LinuxWorld vendor announcements included:

Red Hat announced it will support Advanced Micro Device Inc.’s soon-to-be-released 64-bit processor architecture. Red Hat also released a beta version of its Linux distribution for corporate desktops, code-named Limbo.

Dell announced enterprise Linux services and Unix-to-Linux migration support

HP announced Servicecontrol Manager 3.0 for monitoring Linux servers.

Computer Associates International Inc. announced offerings for helping businesses better manage Linux Virtual Machines on IBM mainframes.