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 Overstock.com, 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.
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 Overstock.com, 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.
After considering its options, Overstock.com chose a solution from HighJump Software (a 3M company) running on Windows. Today, Overstock.com has more than 180 Windows server-based computers that host most of the companys core internal systems.
Overstock.com also deployed other Windows Server-based solutions between 2002 and 2006, including a CRM (customer relationship management) and service application from RightNow Technologies; telephony and desktop voice mail delivery solutions from Nortel; and an employee intranet portal based on Microsoft Office SharePoint Portal Server 2003.
It also decided on a data warehouse solution from Teradata that gave it near-real-time business intelligence and decision support, rather than building one on Linux and Oracle. While that solution runs on proprietary Teradata hardware and software, most of the supporting systems run on Windows Server, said Paul Longhurst, Director of Overstock.coms data warehouse operations.
But the companys IT transitions have not all gone smoothly and were even blamed for its recent earnings plunge. <>The company is currently also evaluating the compatibility of Windows Vista with its desktop applications. Future plans also include an upgrade to SQL Server 2005 this year, as well as a move to Exchange Server 2007.
Candy maker Jelly Belly, of Fairfield, Calif., had a challenge of a different kind: Its Linux-based VPN software, which it declined to name, was unreliable and difficult to administer, resulting in its IT staff spending a lot of time supporting it.
Matters started coming to a head when the sole person trained to administer the Linux-based VPN software left the company. “At least three times a week, someone attempting to work remotely would not be able to get into the network. Problems were so common that we would plan on some issue arising—and set aside time to handle it—every time one of our executives traveled,” said Nick Saechow, the IT manager at Jelly Belly.
In the end, the company switched to a Network Engines VPN-and-firewall appliance running Windows Server 2003 and Microsoft Internet Security and Acceleration Server 2004 because they were most compatible with the companys existing IT infrastructure and skill set.
“We chose a solution based on Microsoft software because it was a far better fit for us than Linux in all ways—from the skills required to administer it to the impact it has on end users,” he said.
On the Unix-to-Windows front, when London-based global consumer products group Unilever was preparing to replace the hardware supporting its Unix-based SAP R/3 supply chain infrastructure for North America, it decided to see if it could achieve a lower TCO (total cost of ownership) while retaining enterprise-grade performance by deploying mySAP 2004 on Microsoft SQL Server 2005, running on Windows Server 2003 and hosted on Intel-based servers.
The company required a successful proof-of-concept test prior to approving a new SAP platform, which was initially to be based on recreating the actual loads of Unilever Canadas SAP R/3 supply chain system at Microsofts SQL Server labs in Redmond, Wash. But Unilever then decided that it wanted the project to be performed against twice the SAP data loads of Unilever United States.
“Our TCO methodology for this decision included all the usual things — hardware costs, maintenance costs, people costs and so on,” said Chris Turner, Unilevers chief technology officer.
“We gained a balanced view, and the numbers showed that we could achieve the performance we wanted for mySAP using SQL Server 2005 running on Windows Server at a lower TCO than our legacy environment,” he said.
The company expects TCO savings of at least 15 percent as it moves forward with the SQL Server 2005 implementation, which is in progress globally, said Dan Gizzo, the vice president of infrastructure services for Unilever North America.