A new report on Linux released this week by Forrester Research has found that global enterprises are increasingly turning to cheap Intel-based Linux servers to run a variety of datacenter applications and, in the process, are replacing both Microsoft Windows and proprietary Unix platforms.
The report, which is based on a small sample of North American enterprise respondents, is titled "The Linux Tipping Point" and was authored by Forrester principal analyst Ted Schadler along with researchers Charles Rutstein, Laura Koetzle, Angela Tseng and Frank Pandolfe.
The report says that three powerful forces will cause Linux to tip in 2003 and sweep new Unix installs out of the datacenter on all but the data tier by 2007. These forces are Unix reliability at Intel prices, falling technology barriers, and commercial support from high-tech giants. "Proprietary Unix on RISC will all but disappear by 2007," the report predicts.
"But unbridled, unmanaged Linux growth will lead to proliferation hell, an experience all too familiar to CIOs still whipping thousands of internal Web sites into shape. Forrester believes that CIOs can avoid the chaos and cost of uncontrolled Linux growth and automate the datacenter one server at a time, with a new managed deployment strategy," the authors said.
Managed deployment would lead firms to a new computing architecture that Forrester calls Organic IT, which it says has three big payoffs: lower cost infrastructure due to a doubling or tripling of utilization; lower labor costs due to radically enhanced administrator efficiency; and much faster response to variable business needs because of shared pools of servers, storage and network access. "Managed Linux deployment fits neatly into Organic IT," the report says.
But the authors also make clear that Linux is not all over the enterprise datacenter. "Forrester found that only about half of the large North American companies in our random sample had Linux experience or plans. In the end, we found 50 IT executives [at companies of a billion dollars or larger] using Linux in the datacenter," the report states.
But, the executives Forrester talked to for the survey were enthusiastic about their Linux experience so far, with some 72 percent of them planning to increase their investments in Linux. "Theyre using it for a broad spectrum of applications, including some that will terrify Microsoft.
"Thirteen of our 50 respondents are using Linux on the desktop or for number-crunching end-user workstations, while others are using it in production and manufacturing areas," the report says.
Eighty percent of those interviewed for the survey run Linux on Intel (or Intel-compatible AMD) servers, with the remainder running on IBM mainframes or Sun/SPARC boxes. More than half use Linux to boot out other platforms.
The survey interestingly also found that the respondents appear to be replacing more Windows on Intel systems with Linux than they are Sun Microsystems Inc.s Solaris, which is based on Unix, on SPARC systems.
The respondents said concerns about enterprise support and operating system immaturity are the two main reasons why they arent deploying even more Linux. They also cited a lack of applications, version fragmentation and a lack of standards as reasons for not deploying Linux further.
The Forrester analysts believe, along with early adopters like FedEx, Merrill Lynch and Morgan Stanley, that Linux on multiway Intel boxes can carry most application workloads today.
So, the reports advice to customers is to stop buying proprietary Unix on midrange RISC as soon as possible; use Linux on mainframe-class machines for its operating benefits; and not overlook the benefits of the Microsoft Windows architecture: strong developer tools, preintegrated servers and a consistent programming model on every tier.
Forresters analysts also had some advice for Microsoft and Sun. "Microsoft should open source the common language runtime. It faces a broad spectrum of threats from open-source software: in the datacenter, on the desktop and on devices.
"One action will overcome all three threats and reinforce Microsofts developer-focused benefits: Put the CLR into open source where it can be ported to devices and accelerate the Mono project to replicate the .Net Framework on Linux. The payoff? Companies will buy Microsoft tools and servers to build applications for all of those platforms," they said.
But Microsoft is likely to disagree. Last December research and consulting firm Meta Group released a client advisory that predicted that Microsoft would begin moving some of its current proprietary application enablers, such as the components of its software-as-a-service .Net strategy, to the Linux environment in late 2004.
But Peter Houston, senior director of Windows Server Strategies at Microsoft, rejected these assertions out of hand. In an interview with eWEEK at that time, he said the software maker had absolutely no intention of porting its software to the Linux environment.
Also released last December was a Microsoft-sponsored white paper from research group International Data Corp., which compared the total cost of ownership of Microsofts Windows 2000 and Linux server environments across five enterprise computing workload situations at 104 companies.
The paper, titled "Windows 2000 Versus Linux in Enterprise Computing: An Assessment of Business Value for Selected Workloads," found that Windows 2000 offers a lower five-year total cost in four of the five selected workloads.
The Forrester report says that Sun, for its part, should "just say yes to Linux on SPARC ... everywhere. Sun is in a quandary. It cant openly support Linux on its SPARC servers without cannibalizing its profitable server business.
"But the combination of good-enough Linux and Intels massive investments in price-performance will undermine Suns midrange server margins and make Suns decision to back Linux on SPARC inevitable," the reports authors said.
However, Sun officials like Jonathan Schwartz, executive vice president of Suns software group, have repeatedly made clear that Sun will never run Linux on high-end SPARC systems. "Why would we? Thats not what customers want. Our customers want Solaris at that level," Schwartz told eWEEK in an interview at its Sun Network event last September.
Late last month Schwartz also told eWEEK that Sun plans to deliver Solaris on 64-bit SPARC and on 32-bit X86. "While were agnostic with regard to 32-bit systems, were not agnostic with respect to 64-bit systems," he said.
The Forrester analysts believe that for Sun to thrive, it will have to move beyond basic Linux on Intel support and emulate IBM by adopting a dual operating system strategy to help customers migrate their core applications to mainframe-class servers running Linux or Solaris.
"And instead of using its $4.9 billion war chest to prop up server business margins, Sun should invest heavily in software and services to make N1 datacenter automation a success," the report said.
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