Enterprise Linux vs. Server 2003: Smackdown!

Linux & Open Source Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols matches up the two server OSes. His verdict? It's not even a contest.

Whats this? People whining about the cost of serious Linux enterprise use? Folks get real? Have you priced Microsoft Server 2003 lately?

IT managers who want to run an enterprise operating system like SuSEs Linux Enterprise Server 8 or Red Hats Enterprise Linux Advanced Server are fooling themselves if they think they can get away free—or for cheap. Have you compared the TCO or ROI of Linux to Microsofts Server 2003—the only serious new Intel-based server operating system left out there? I have; the clear winner is Linux.

I know, I know: Server 2003 is the fastest Microsoft operating system out there, yadda, yadda. You know what? It is. If all you care about is file or Web server speed—not costs—Server 2003 is todays hot-rod server OS. Of course, its also pretty darn fast with bugs too.

Besides, computing speed records last only months at most. Jeremey Allison, one of Sambas best-known developers, tells me that hes sure that a properly tuned Samba, now in the much improved Version 3, should do more than keep up with Server 2003; based on past results, where Samba kicked rump and took names, I believe him.

As for Web speed, Microsoft compared IIS 6, which uses the kernel-mode driver, http.sys, to achieve its outstanding speed, and Apache doesnt work at the kernel level. Of course, if you want to you can match IIS 6s speed with Red Hats TUX Web server, which also runs close to the operating systems heart. But this speed comes at a cost: Running any end-user interactive program that close to the kernel is downright dangerous, no matter what operating system youre running. With Linux, you get to choose if you want speed over danger; with Server 2003 and IIS 6, like it or lump it, youre stuck with a very fast, very dangerous Web server.

Besides, were talking enterprise servers, right? Not department print and file servers? You see, theres this one itty-bitty problem with Server 2003: Where are the server applications? You know, like, Exchange 2000 or 5.5. It turns out you cant run them on Server 2003. And to add salt to the wound, there are many others of Microsofts own applications that wont run on Server 2003.

Remember when everyone talked about how great Linux was but that it was too bad that it didnt have applications? Think again. I hate to break it to the Microsoft offices out there, but Linux now has more server applications, many more, at its administrators beck and call than does Server 2003. Who ever thought wed see this day?

Think Im talking nonsense? Look again: Stalker Software Inc.s CommuniGate Pro 4.1 does a fair job of giving you Exchange functionality without Exchanges initial cost. Users get their Outlook e-mail and scheduling; you cut your mail servers cost; whats not to like? Besides, you cant run a shipping version of Exchange today. What was Microsoft thinking?

Want a serious DBMS? Take your pick; youve got IBMs DB2 and Oracles product line, and thats not even considering worthy open-source candidates like MySQL and PostgreSQL.

Groupware ... You say you want groupware? Ever hear of a program called Lotus Domino, back-engine for a little program called Notes? It runs on Linux, too.

Dont like those choices? There are others. With Linux, you can pick and choose the best-of-breed application servers that fit your needs at your price.

Microsoft, on the other hand, is trying harder than ever to lock in customers by extending their proprietary technologies, with Server 2003 and at the same time demanding that you upgrade your server applications at the same time. The economy is getting better, but how many businesses can afford to upgrade their servers and their server applications at the same time? Answer: Not many.

Consider, if you will, Office 2003. Theres only one good reason to upgrade to Office 2003 that I can see, and thats to make use of its real-time, group work-collaboration and presence capability. With it you can work with co-workers on group projects when theyre available over the network.

Cool, right? But to make use of that functionality, you need Office 2003 as well as Server 2003; SharePoint Portal Server 2003 for document sharing; and Office System 2003 Live Server (formerly Greenwich) for presence and instant-messaging support. Oh, and you must be running Active Directory, too. Thats an awful lot of expensive software, and—one more time—most of its not available now anyway.

What was Microsoft thinking?

Want to upgrade your enterprise server operating system today? In terms of functionality, Linux wins; in terms of cost, Linux wins; and, if you upgrade to Linux, youll win too.

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Linux & Open Source Center Editor Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols has been using and writing about Unix and Linux since the late 80s and thinks he may just have learned something about them along the way.