Windows Server Woos Linux Customers

The migrations come after a quarter in which Windows Server revenue grew faster than Linux revenue for the first time since 1998.

Wooed by compelling application ecosystems, performance and cost, several large enterprise Linux customers have begun slowly migrating back to Windows Server, eWEEK reporting has found.

The migrations come after a quarter in which Windows Server revenue grew faster than Linux revenue—the first time that has happened since research company IDC started tracking Linux server spending in 1998.

Recent Linux-to-Windows converts include consumer products manufacturer Unilever, online retailer, French sports yacht Areva Challenge (the French entry for the 32nd Americas Cup yacht race), and California candy maker Jelly Belly.

Windows is particularly gaining ground against Unix and Linux on the supercomputing front, a space that Microsoft did not play in until 2006, when it released its Windows Compute Cluster Server 2003 product.

The potential for Microsofts penetration into that space was underscored in an online survey it sponsored that was conducted by GfK Custom Research North America, known as the Microsoft High-Performance Computing Capital Markets Survey 2007.

Some 83 percent of the 154 qualified high-performance computing users at capital markets firms who responded are considering a Microsoft solution for their next appropriate project, while 24 percent plan to increase the capacity of their high-performance computing environments by 1,000 nodes or more in the next 12 to 18 months, the survey found.

Computer maker Sun Microsystems, too, having weathered extensive customer migrations off Solaris following the dot-com bust, is experiencing an uptick in Solaris interest.

"Some people are now taking a look and moving back again," said Dan Roberts, director of marketing for the Solaris operating system at Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun. "Its an interesting experience to see. We are starting to win some return deals with our x86 solutions, like with Mark Andreessens social networking company Ning. They looked at Red Hat and Dell and found Sun systems and Solaris were significantly less expensive and had the advantages of Solaris over Linux from a scalability and reliability standpoint."

For all these changes, IDC analyst Al Gillen notes that Linux had a slightly higher growth rate than Windows in 2006, and he said he doesnt believe theres a trend moving away from Linux.

"The thing about Linux is that there are elements that dont show up in the numbers at all, such as the guest operating system scenario in virtualization, where Linux is typically a net new deployment and Windows is the consolidation of existing servers into virtual servers," Gillen said.

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Gordon Haff, an analyst at Illuminata, agreed, arguing that most back-and-forth movement tended to be for a small subsection of a users infrastructure or for scenario-based deployments.

"While people are always looking at free and open-source applications as an alternative to Microsoft, I am certainly not seeing a trend developing where customers who have moved to Linux are throwing it out and moving back to Unix or Windows. For one thing, that is not an easy or cheap move."

Even so, several companies are indeed making the switch.

One of the most interesting Linux-to-Windows transitions has come from online-only retailer, based in Salt Lake City, which made a decision in 1999 to build its Web-based business on open-source software —mainly SUSE Linux.

But the companys preference for automatically using Linux for all core business systems—20 of its 28 servers were Linux—changed in mid-2001, when it decided to open its own warehouse instead of continuing to use a third-party fulfillment service.

That meant replacing its internally developed, Linux-based order management system with an enterprise-class warehouse management system.

"For the first time, we faced a situation in which Linux wasnt the automatic choice," said Carter Lee, Overstocks director of internal systems. "The business was growing rapidly, and our needs were changing at a similar pace. Theres a big difference between processing and fulfilling 20,000 orders per day and handling only 1,000 per day."

Next Page: Making the transition.