TCO study favours Windows over Linux

A recent IDC survey found that in certain cases, such as print and file serving, Windows 2000 is less expensive to run than Linux.

The study, commissioned by Microsoft, suggested that the Windows 2000 operating system has a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) than Linux. Four out of the five workloads dissected were more economical to run on a Windows 2000 system over a five-year span than Linux, according to IDC. The four areas were network infrastructure, print serving, file serving and security applications. Linux came out on top for Web serving. Many of the savings were found in staffing, the report said.

However some people feel this report may be a bit premature. Paula Hunter, general manager for UnitedLinux in Wakefield, Mass., said the evolution of Linux in the enterprise is still fairly young.

There are not a lot of numbers available that Hunter would call relevant. “To have relevant numbers, people need to have the system in place for a fixed period of time – a year or two. We’re still very early on in the adoption curve for Linux, so the data is sketchy at best.”

Robert Brockway, a professional systems administrator in Australia, agreed. He said Linux adoption is already widespread, but that adoption has mostly been at the peripheral edges.

“Many organizations might have a Linux mail server, news server or DNS server, but the database with their important company information is probably on a Solaris machine,” Brockway said, adding that this is starting to change

An independent report produced in a few years would paint a different picture of the value of Linux versus Microsoft operating systems, according to Brockway.

He also invited anyone to install Windows 2000 and Red Hat 8 on the same machine. “I will guarantee that the Red Hat will be significantly quicker.”

In terms of training expenses, Evan Leibovitch, president and chairperson for Brampton, Ont.-based Linux Professional Institute, said there are going to be training and staffing costs for any upgrade or implementation.

According to Leibovitch, there may be a one-time cost for making the transition to Linux, but savings can still be realized for years.

He said the TCO survey was Microsoft’s last gasp as a way to combat Linux. “This is one of the last battlegrounds.”

Hunter noted that if a staff already exists and already knows Windows, then yes, there could be additional staffing and training fees to bring in a Linux system, but she added that a large percentage of enterprise accounts that UnitedLinux speaks to have Unix expertise and it is not much of a jump from Unix to Linux.

Peter Houston, senior director of the Windows server product management group for Microsoft, said Windows shops will see significant costs if they retrain their administrators to use Unix, and the IDC TCO study shows that, once these people are retrained, they will spend more time maintaining their Linux servers than they would have spent on similar Windows servers.

“Linux skills may become more plentiful, but we still believe that Windows is fundamentally easier to deploy, use and manage,” Houston said.

Al Gillen, research director for IDC’s system software group, said Linux requires more care and feeding. “The amount of manpower required to run a particular (Linux) environment is going to be higher.”

Brockway countered that a widely recognized problem with Microsoft operating systems is that the details of a problem are often hidden from the user or administrator.

He said it is true that an inexperienced Unix administrator could take time to solve a problem, but that is true of any modern operating system.

Houston did not shed any light on Microsoft’s plans with regard to offering a Linux product, instead noting that Microsoft recognizes that some of its customers are using Linux, and it is committed to making sure that Windows interoperates well with Linux. It has Services for Unix 3.0, which provides a number of Linux interoperability capabilities.