Deciphering Linux Support

Research data varies about open-source OS' penetration into server space

Linux vendors and their partners are not losing any sleep over the discrepancies in recent research estimates of the actual penetration Linux has had among enterprise servers.

Gartner Dataquests new study—sponsored in part by Microsoft Corp.—showed that only 8.6 percent of all new server shipments in the third quarter of last year ran Linux. But those figures seemed to counter research from rival International Data Corp., of Framingham, Mass., whose preliminary numbers for last year show that Linux as a server operating system represented 27 percent of the total market, behind Windows 41 percent.

As part of its campaign against Linux and open source, Microsoft and its backers pointed to the Gartner data as evidence that the Linux phenomenon is overblown.

"[Theres been] a lot of hype around Linux over the past year, and we wanted to try and find out the real story on its adoption," said Doug Miller, Microsofts director of competitive strategy for the Windows division, in Redmond, Wash. "While there has been interest in Linux, this by no means accounts for one out of every four new servers sold. That is simply ridiculous."

Michael Tiemann, chief technology officer at Linux vendor Red Hat Inc., in Durham, N.C., said he was not concerned by the discrepancy in the figures, as differences in the study methodologies probably accounted for much of the gap.

"Our own numbers alone tell us that significant user adoption is there and that the high growth rate of the past will continue," Tiemann said. "The IDC studies tend to take a broader approach and include more of the early adopters and innovators."

Matt Szulik, Red Hats CEO, agreed that the numbers are not that important in themselves. Much of the research failed to take into account all the free copies of Linux out there.

Dan Frye, director of IBMs Linux Technology Center, in Beaverton, Ore., agreed that the numbers and the exact extent of Linuxs penetration on the server were less important than its business potential and compelling return on investment.

"We continue to see explosive growth across a broad set of workloads and customers," Frye said. "Linux enters enterprises a number of ways, from new ships to being loaded on old hardware, and this is not always reflected in the studies."

Despite its findings, the Gartner Dataquest report, penned by analyst Jeff Hewitt, in Palo Alto, Calif., concluded that Linux is growing. "Linux continues to be on a growth path, and ... the demand for Linux-based servers will grow to 10 percent of server shipments in 2001. The primary demand for these servers will be as Internet or infrastructure servers," the report said.

And an upcoming IDC report, based on supply-side research on software, not a survey of usage or adoption, says Linux will prevent Microsoft from dominating the server operating system market, sources said.

Red Hats Szulik said Microsofts assaults are never on the merits of products but rather on other issues. "Theyre clearly frightened to death of the fact that the next generation of programmer will demand the benefit of an open, collaborative environment," he said.