When users buy operating systems, they have more in mind than security and cost, according to Web hosting company Rackspace.
Rackspace is a leading Web hosting company which, with about half of its enterprise customers using Linux and the other half using Windows, surveyed its users to find out why they chose one operating system over the other.
What Rackspace Managed Hosting Ltd. found was that enterprises, despite the time spent in talking about security issues and cost analysis, do not consider security and cost as major factors in their operating system decisions.
The Web hosting company, based in San Antonio, Texas, supports large corporate Web sites on both SLES (SuSE Linux Enterprise Server) and RHEL (Red Hat Enterprise Linux).
Rackspace manages more than 13,000 servers, with an approximately fifty-fifty Linux and Windows split.
On the Windows side, Rackspace supports both Windows 2000 and Windows Server 2003. The company was also recently named by Microsoft Corp. as its 2005 hosting service provider of the year.
The company also runs its internal systems on both Windows and Linux and claims to have deep technical expertise in both.
It is the companys position that both Windows and Linux can do most anything, but that not all operating systems are equal for all tasks or all companies.
While 92 percent of Rackspaces Linux customers and 60 percent of Rackspaces Windows customers said they feel that Microsofts operating systems are more vulnerable to security threats, Microsoft remains the fastest growing part of Rackspaces business.
The users also said they feel that custom applications, internal processes and people are what really make an environment insecure, rather than either operating system out of the box.
Users also dont consider cost to be a major issue, the survey said.
Indeed, while only 50 percent of Windows customer respondents perceive Microsoft to have a lower TCO (total cost of ownership) and 77 percent of Linux customers perceive Linux to have a lower TCO, customers see overall costs being mainly driven by the available developer talent pool and project scale and scope.
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In fact, Rackspace has found that the price of operating system licenses is essentially the same with Linux and Microsoft, the company said.
In the end, however, the company found that Windows ends up costing about 20 percent more because of additional software costs and the need for additional hardware to support the same number of applications.
Rackspaces customers also found that Microsoft provides a more linear cost as the application scales, whereas the cost of Linux-based systems tends to be less predictable as the system becomes larger and more complex and as expensive proprietary software is put on top of a Linux foundation.
So, if its not security and its not cost, what does drive an enterprises buying decision?
In the Rackspace customer survey, operating system selection was driven largely by available developer talent and individual application requirements.
Enterprises, in short, make operating system decisions based on middleware, database and programmer availability considerations.
Thus, Rackspace found that its clients continue to choose Windows, despite it being more expensive and less secure, because of accessible developer talent and availability of integrated tools.
The buying decision itself was driven at a relatively low level. Application developers and IT departments are still making the operating system choice.
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Only 24 percent of customer survey respondents indicated that executive management drove the operating system decision.
The research projects primary methodology was an e-mail survey, using Clicktools software.
The survey was sent to 1,978 of Rackspaces largest U.S. customers.
Of the customers who responded to the survey, 59.5 percent run the Linux operating system at Rackspace, while 39.5 percent run a Microsoft operating system with Rackspace.
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Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols is editor at large for Ziff Davis Enterprise. Prior to becoming a technology journalist, Vaughan-Nichols worked at NASA and the Department of Defense on numerous major technological projects. Since then, he's focused on covering the technology and business issues that make a real difference to the people in the industry.