Yankee Group: Linux not superior to Unix, Windows

Switching to Linux does not give large enterprises a lower total cost of ownership (TCO) over Microsoft Corp.’s Windows Server 2003 and Unix, according to a survey by the Yankee Group.

The research firm polled IT administrators and C-level executives from 1,000 companies worldwide, 300 of which had 10,000 or more end users. The survey asked: “Does Linux live up to its hype? Does it deliver significantly better TCO and faster ROI than Windows and Unix?” Ninety per cent of the 300 firms with 10,000 or more end users said “switching from Windows to Linux would be prohibitively expensive, extremely complex and time-consuming and would not provide any tangible business gains,” according to the survey.

In fact, the Yankee Group estimates, that in enterprises with 5,000 users and up, a significant Linux deployment would be three to four times as expensive and could take three times as long as migrating to a newer version of Windows. A significant Linux deployment is defined as a company replacing between half and all of its servers.

“One of the things that was apparent was that when you strip away all the hype, all the server operating systems and platforms we have now have reached a level of maturity to the point where they do offer a very respectable level or reliability, scalability and performance. That’s whether you’re talking Linux, Unix or Windows,” said study author Laura DiDio, senior analyst, application infrastructure and software platforms at the Yankee Group in Boston. “Linux’s technical merits, while first-rate, are equivalent but not superior to Unix or Windows Server 2003.”

With each server operating system now roughly comparable, what really makes an operating system valuable is the level of support it gets from applications. Since applications do not support Linux at the same level as Windows (and even Unix), companies — especially those in health care and financial services verticals — are motivated to stick with what they already have.

“The real premium for the server operating system is going to be the applications that you run on them, particularly if you are in a specific vertical market where there are particular custom applications or vertical applications,” she said.

The level of application support for Windows makes it easier for a Windows user to move to a newer Windows platform than rip it out and replace it with Linux, DiDio said. Especially since a company would have to ensure all its applications run on Linux and possibly even rewrite all its custom applications for Linux.

Companies are also concerned about the level of services, support, product warranty and indemnification from their operating system vendor as well as the security, network management, cost of hardware and drivers for the operating system itself.

“The biggest chunk out of the IT budget for the software is going be in the ongoing and recurring maintenance costs,” DiDio said. “For example, IT salaries — which generally comprise 60 per cent of the budgets.”

Skilled Linux administrators demand a salary from 20 per cent to 30 per cent higher than their Unix and Windows counterparts, DiDio added, and Linux networks generally require 25 to 40 per cent more full-time specialists.

Also, while Microsoft users have complained in the past about the lack of security of Windows, DiDio said Linux users can expect similar headaches in years to come as Linux proliferates in the network, making it more of a target for malicious code writers. Additionally, she said, most viruses affecting Windows are passed through e-mail, meaning usually and individual has to open an attachment to activate the virus but this is not the case with Linux. So Linux virus are less easily detected at their point of entry.

As for support, companies like Red Hat Inc., Hewlett-Packard Co. and IBM Corp. are charging “premium prices for premium support,” DiDio said, adding that Red Hat now only provides support for its premium offering, its Red Hat Enterprise Linux (RHEL), which again adds to the TCO of Linux, decreasing its attractiveness as a free operating system.

Also, more companies surveyed are concerned about indemnification, 45 per cent up from eight per cent in 2003 are worried about being sued, while 55 per cent said it wasn’t a concern. DiDio said indemnification from companies like Novell Inc., Red Hat and HP include stipulations where users cannot modify the kernel or the indemnification is voided.

“One of the chief appeals of Linux is the ability to go in and modify the kernel, so if you do that, all bets are off, you’re not indemnified,” DiDio said, also reducing the appeal of Linux.

Other findings from the study include that only four per cent of the Unix customers in the study surveyed and 11 per cent of Windows customers surveyed intend to replace all their servers with Linux. Fifty-four per cent of Windows server users won’t touch their Windows servers while 25 per cent will migrate only a portion of their Windows servers to Linux for specialized application tasks.

The study also indicated that 74 per cent of Linux servers were being used as Web servers and the Linux workloads were 40 per cent to 60 per cent less compared to Unix and Windows servers.

Additionally, less than five per cent of respondents plan to replace their Windows desktops with Linux, 21 per cent plan to migrate some of the Windows desktops to Linux, while 15 per cent said they will add Linux desktops but not replace Windows. Fifty-seven per cent said they will keep their Windows desktops as they are.

However, this doesn’t mean that everyone should abandon Linux. In fact, the survey found lower TCOs for Linux over Unix and Windows in greenfield networking situations such as startups and small businesses with customized vertical applications.

DiDio said because of the higher costs of maintaining a Linux network, ideal candidates for Linux already have a highly technical staff that is capable of supporting its own applications and customizing its own software.

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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