Linux Community Questions x86 Server Numbers

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2007-10-31 Print this article Print

Pundits say it is impossible to count all of the Linux servers in the market today.

The Linux community is questioning research that suggests the open-source operating system is losing market share to Windows on preinstalled x86 servers, saying that Linux is undercounted in those kinds of studies. An analysis of IDC Quarterly Server Tracker figures for the past six quarters showed that Linux growth started to falter and reverse its positive course relative to both Windows Server and the market as a whole over that period.
The annual rate at which Linux was growing in the x86 server space fell to a negative 4 percent growth in calendar year 2006, while Windows Server outpaced the total growth rate in that market by more than 4 percent in 2006, the figures showed.
Read more here about Linux losing market share to Windows Server. But some, like Amanda McPherson, marketing director for the Linux Foundation in San Francisco, said it is impossible to count all of the Linux servers in the market today. "Some people buy bare servers and install Linux on them, while others are recycling old Unix or Windows servers and installing Linux on them. In addition, there has been huge Linux growth on architectures other than x86, including mainframes, IBM [System p] and others," she told eWEEK. The figures also failed to consider the impact virtualization is having on server shipments, as customers are using virtualization to optimize boxes they had already bought. "Since Linux is considered the better platform for virtualization, this impacts its numbers even more," McPherson said. "I dont think customers are complaining that they are getting more out of the investments they have already made." On the issue of whether the slowdown in Linux x86 growth was due to the fact that it has already picked off all the low-hanging Unix fruit, McPherson said there is no empirical data that the Linux Foundation could find to justify this. Steven Vaughan-Nichols questions whether Linux is really losing market share to Windows. Click here to read more. But Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry, in San Francisco, acknowledged that it might well be true that Unix migrations are easing off, and that the easiest migrations have already happened. But there is still a lot of opportunity for Unix migrations, and there will be for a while, he said. "There are various other things that are also happening in the market, such as the use of Linux on older machines, virtualization and Linux in appliances," he said. "So, the software side doesnt necessarily track with the hardware side for Linux. Our understanding is that even IDC continues to see growth in the Linux software business—both in terms of paid and unpaid Linux—and Novells Linux business is growing, regardless of the broader trend." Con Zymaris, CEO of open-source firm Cybersource, in Melbourne, Australia, also believes that it is impossible to estimate the number of Linux systems in existence, and that any figures that try to do so will likely be inaccurate. Microsoft claims open source violates 235 of its patents. Read more here. "They do not, they cannot, capture the great majority of Linux servers deployed in production. Our company is but one data point here: Our staff has been involved in over 1,000 Linux deployments in the past 15 years, of which only a dozen would appear on the radar of research companies like the IDC," Zymaris said. Also, Dell, the worlds biggest x86 server vendor, recently said that Linux server shipments are growing faster than Windows, while Linux also owns the burgeoning Web 2.0 market, he said. "When a firm like Google builds all its solutions on Linux, you know there are literally millions of additional Linux systems out there hidden from view," Zymaris said. "You can pretty much take it for granted that almost every x86 server which ships nowadays without a preinstalled Windows operating system is destined for Linux or its open-source brethren, BSD Unix. All of these should also be added to the Linux tally." With regard to the phenomenal Linux growth rates of years past, the Linux Foundations McPherson pointed to the fact that the Linux server market is now a $7.7 billion business and that it is hard to grow big markets like that at 30 percent a year indefinitely, especially when the overall server market has slowed in recent years. "But make no mistake: Were not Pollyannas," she said. "Microsoft is doing very well. They have a huge incumbent position. They have unbelievable resources they put toward marketing, and they have kept interoperability information propriety, such as in file and print, to hinder competition." Can Windows and open source learn to play nice? Find out here. Linuxs success against such a well-placed, well-stocked competitor has been "phenomenal so far, but we all certainly need to keep up the innovation if we want to continue to put pressure on them," McPherson said. "Microsoft will only increase its offensive against Linux, especially as Linux and OpenOffice threaten its two cash cows. We are prepared for that and are confident that, over time, customers want the freedom of choice that only open source can provide." Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest open-source news, reviews and analysis.
Peter Galli has been a financial/technology reporter for 12 years at leading publications in South Africa, the UK and the US. He has been Investment Editor of South Africa's Business Day Newspaper, the sister publication of the Financial Times of London.

He was also Group Financial Communications Manager for First National Bank, the second largest banking group in South Africa before moving on to become Executive News Editor of Business Report, the largest daily financial newspaper in South Africa, owned by the global Independent Newspapers group.

He was responsible for a national reporting team of 20 based in four bureaus. He also edited and contributed to its weekly technology page, and launched a financial and technology radio service supplying daily news bulletins to the national broadcaster, the South African Broadcasting Corporation, which were then distributed to some 50 radio stations across the country.

He was then transferred to San Francisco as Business Report's U.S. Correspondent to cover Silicon Valley, trade and finance between the US, Europe and emerging markets like South Africa. After serving that role for more than two years, he joined eWeek as a Senior Editor, covering software platforms in August 2000.

He has comprehensively covered Microsoft and its Windows and .Net platforms, as well as the many legal challenges it has faced. He has also focused on Sun Microsystems and its Solaris operating environment, Java and Unix offerings. He covers developments in the open source community, particularly around the Linux kernel and the effects it will have on the enterprise.

He has written extensively about new products for the Linux and Unix platforms, the development of open standards and critically looked at the potential Linux has to offer an alternative operating system and platform to Windows, .Net and Unix-based solutions like Solaris.

His interviews with senior industry executives include Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Linus Torvalds, the original developer of the Linux operating system, Sun CEO Scot McNealy, and Bill Zeitler, a senior vice president at IBM.

For numerous examples of his writing you can search under his name at the eWEEK Website at


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