12 Reasons Why Unix Wont Disappear Any Time Soon (and 3 Reasons It Might)

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12 Reasons Why Unix Wont Disappear Any Time Soon (and 3 Reasons It Might)

by Jeffrey Burt

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Money In

HP, IBM and Sun have spent billions building up the features in their Unix variants. For example, in April Sun updated Solaris 10 to include greater optimization with Intel's Xeon 5500 Series chips and more virtualization support. Weeks before, HP enhanced HP-UX 11i with improved automation and simpler management. Sun also is expanding the reach of Solaris through deals with Dell, HP and IBM.

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Money Out

Many businesses throughout the world have made deep investments in Unix server system software, including middleware, packaged applications and packaged databases (such as those from Oracle, IBM with its DB2, and Sybase). Over many years—10 to 15 years in some cases—millions have been invested at some sites, and many billions throughout the industry.

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High Availability

Unix servers offer availability in the 4-9s (99.99 percent) to 5-9s (99.999 percent) range in data center conditions, thanks to built-in reliability features in the hardware and high-availability software running on the systems.

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Broad, Global Installed Base

Unix systems have a huge installed base worldwide, especially in North America and Europe. There also is a healthy installed based in Asia (although countries outside Japan have typically invested more heavily in Unix). For example, China and India have deployed Unix servers for many years, and Unix is studied in academic institutions in those countries.

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Mainframe Alternatives

Unix servers have taken on mainframe workloads as an alternative platform to mainframes, especially for database, ERP, CRM, data warehouse and business intelligence tasks. For example, SAP was originally running on mainframes before it was ported to run on Unix servers in the 1990s. (SAP also runs on Windows and Linux, but Unix servers usually offer more scalability for large databases and large user communities.)

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Continued Spending

Even in the first quarter of 2009—which was the worst quarter for the global server market in 12 years—Unix servers generated 33 percent of all worldwide server revenue. ($3.3 billion of $9.9 billion in factory revenue in the first quarter, according to IDC). Overall, x86 servers dominate in shipments, and they also generate more revenue, but the Unix server market remains very healthy.

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Migration Woes

Migrating from one platform to the other isn't easy. It comes with all sorts of costs, complexity and uncertainty. Just as with mainframe systems, there are times when it makes sense to migrate, like when a business has a small, static Unix installation that it has no plans to grow. However, those vendor pitches that make migrating to some other platform seem cheap and simple can be wildly overblown.

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Professional Resistance

The many Unix professionals out there would tend to resist any changes or migrations.

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Channel Support

VARs and other channel players have spent a lot of time and money not only supporting Unix platforms but also customizing applications for them.

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RISC Support

Beyond Intel's Itanium processor, there is limited non-Unix support for RISC platforms.

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Power Virtualization

IBM's Power platform offers hardware-based virtualization, which is more reliable than software-based virtualization and a counter to the work Intel and AMD are doing in this area.

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Economic Uncertainty

People tend to act frugally and conservatively in hard times, especially during the worst economic downturn in a generation. Spending time, money and effort to move to another platform may not be on the radar for a long time.

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3 Reasons Unix May Disappear

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Growth of x86

The market is continuing to swing to x86-based systems, which are exerting upward pressure on enterprise-class servers. That could mean Unix systems, like mainframes, may be pushed into ever-smaller niche application markets.

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Itanium and UltraSPARC

Intel continues to experience delays in its Itanium road map, while Oracle's plans for UltraSPARC, once it closes its acquisition of Sun, remain uncertain. If either one falters or crashes altogether, it could put a hurt on HP Itanium-based Integrity platform or the Solaris-based Unix offerings from Oracle/Sun and Fujitsu. That would leave IBM's Power as the sole viable Unix hardware platform.

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Virtualization technologies, such as VMware's vSphere platform, enable x86 server and clusters to increasingly deliver Unix-like performance for a much lower cost. You can add to that the virtualization enhancements Intel has made to its Nehalem microarchitecture, and the advancements AMD has planned for its Opteron chips, all of which add up to the makings of a Unix vendor's nightmare.