Study Finds Windows Cheaper Than Linux

By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2002-12-02

Study Finds Windows Cheaper Than Linux

A Microsoft-sponsored White Paper from research group International Data Corp., which compares the total cost of ownership of Microsofts Windows 2000 and Linux server environments across five enterprise computing workload situations at 104 companies, found that Windows 2000 offered a lower five-year total cost in four of the five selected workloads.

The paper, which Microsoft last week released to some customers, partners and media, is titled "Windows 2000 Versus Linux in Enterprise Computing: An Assessment of Business Value for Selected Workloads."

It found that in four workloads—network infrastructure, print serving, file serving, and security applications—the Windows 2000 server solution cost between 11 percent and 22 percent less than a Linux solution over a five-year period.

For the fifth workload, Web serving, Linux had a cost advantage of 6 percent compared with the Windows 2000 server over the five-year period, the IDC said.

The cost advantages of the Windows 2000 solution were driven primarily by the "significantly lower" costs for IT staffing, which is normally the largest single component of IT costs.

"The study confirms that low initial software acquisition costs are only one factor, not the deciding one, in determining the five-year total cost of ownership for the two operating environments," IDC analysts Jean Bozman, Al Gillen, Charles Kolodgy, Dan Kusnetzky, Randy Perry and David Shiang said in their opinion.

The study compared the five-year TCO of Windows 2000 server environments with Linux server environments from multiple Linux vendors at some 100 different North American companies.

"The TCO metrics are described in terms of five-year costs for 100 users. IDCs TCO methodology … takes into account the costs of acquiring and supporting the hardware and software required for each of these specific workloads. Costs are broken out into six categories: hardware, software, staffing, downtime, IT staff training, and outsourcing costs," the white paper says.

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The IDC analysts also said those IT professionals considering the broader strategic deployment of Linux within their IT environments should examine all aspects of the cost associated with Linux server systems.

"Many drivers of cost need to be uncovered in such an examination and evaluation, and the risk/return trade-offs of Linux versus Windows may not be as obvious as they appear at first glance," they said.

A Microsoft spokesman said the studys findings underscored its belief that the long-term cost advantages were the "result of customer-centric, scenario-based design, rigorous engineering and thorough testing."

While the spokesman confirmed that the Redmond, Wash., software firm had completely sponsored the White Paper, he said the IDC had controlled the methodology, data and findings. IDC analyst Al Gillen agreed, telling eWEEK that the firm undertook a lot of custom research for individual companies and customers.

In this case, Microsoft selected the basic infrastructure they wanted studied based on the area in which Linux seemed most challenging to them. But Microsoft had no say over the methodology used, companies interviewed and the results found, he said.

"We stand by the results of this study, which simply evaluated the performance of five common workloads on Windows 2000 and a number of Linux server environments, including Red Hat, SuSE and Turbolinux, at 104 companies. The results are merely what we found was the case for that group of customers using these workloads," he said.

The results are also "not a blowout win for Microsoft by any stretch of the imagination. I think they pretty much show that Linux simply needs better manageability, and the Linux vendors have recognized this and are actively working on it," Gillen said.

Mark de Visser, a vice president at Red Hat, Inc. in Raleigh, N.C., said the study was largely valid. Red Hat has worked with the IDC itself in the past and has used the same type of methodology to establish the differences in cost between Unix and Linux. But Red Hat did have some some qualifications about the study.

"It does not state which Linux server operating system [the] Windows 2000 server, which is Microsofts enterprise server offering, was compared with, so its hard to see exactly whats being compared.

"The research was also undertaken in the summer of 2001, so the data is more than a year old. These two points are relevant as the study points to the differing people and management costs of the two operating systems, which is something weve been doing a lot of work to address over the past year," he said.

It was also unusual for the study to take a five-year TCO view; most studies of this nature have looked at a three-year period, he said, adding that by taking a five-year period the upfront investment was depreciated at a slower rate, which lowered the cost and benefited Microsoft.

Also, as the Windows and Linux products were relatively new when the study was done, the data was extrapolated over five years and did not take into account product upgrades and price increases, as Microsoft has done for some customers with its controversial Licensing 6 and Software Assurance schemes this year. "The study does not take that into account, so these are the weaknesses of this kind of study," De Visser said.

The research findings did not surprise Red Hat, which is basing its strategies on similar feedback and has recently introduced a new certification, the Red Hat Certified Technician, which will put a large number of qualified people in the market going forward, but not at the same high level as the Red Hat Certified Engineer.

Red Hat has also made significant investments in the management of Linux, with some 750,000 systems being administered through its Red Hat Network. It has also recently acquired systems management software firm NOCpulse, which shows the direction in which the company is moving and which also helps lower the cost of ownership, De Visser said.

"But this is good stuff as we have shown that Unix to Linux migrations involve cost savings of as much as 80 percent, so there is still good incentive for Unix users to move to an Intel platform, on either Windows or Linux.

"The cost of a transition from Unix to Windows is far higher than for Unix to Linux. Our focus has always been on driving migrations from Unix, not Windows, so the study actually validates what we are doing and our focus," he said.

An engineer in Tokyo, Japan, who declined to be named, told eWEEK that the IDC used numbers for the study showing Windows 2000 against Linux with the same number of system maintainers for Linux as for Windows, which he felt was totally wrong. "Systems per administrator in Windows range from 10 to 15 systems while systems per administrator for Linux range from 15 to 25.

"As for Windows outperforming Linux, that bit is very funny as Samba has been well documented to outperform Windows for file and print serving for five years running. To me, this report is pure fiction as its parameters were controlled by Microsoft and the Linux distributions tested against Windows 2000 were not even specified," he said.

A systems administrator in Reading, Pa., who requested anonymity, also felt the study was biased in Microsofts favor. "While I would only compare Linux to the quality of Windows 98 right now, I am optimistic that the wave is coming and Microsoft needs to be doing more than just bashing the competition with meaningless research reports," he said.

The IDC paper said Linux is widely regarded as "free" because there is little to no cost associated with software acquisition, adding that the "waves" of Linux adoption in recent years have brought increasing reliability and support to the overall Linux environment.

"However, they have not yet succeeded in lowering the TCO for Linux servers, which require more custom software and hands-on management than comparable Windows 2000 servers, on average, according to the findings of this study. This finding may be surprising because many people apparently believe that because acquiring Linux involves minimal out-of-pocket expense, it is therefore less costly overall," the paper says.

(Editors note: This story has been updated since its original posting to include comments from Red Hat Inc. officials.)

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