Linux Community Questions x86 Server Numbers

Pundits say it is impossible to count all of the Linux servers in the market today.

The Linux community is questioning research that suggests the open-source operating system is losing market share to Windows on preinstalled x86 servers, saying that Linux is undercounted in those kinds of studies.

An analysis of IDC Quarterly Server Tracker figures for the past six quarters showed that Linux growth started to falter and reverse its positive course relative to both Windows Server and the market as a whole over that period.

The annual rate at which Linux was growing in the x86 server space fell to a negative 4 percent growth in calendar year 2006, while Windows Server outpaced the total growth rate in that market by more than 4 percent in 2006, the figures showed.


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But some, like Amanda McPherson, marketing director for the Linux Foundation in San Francisco, said it is impossible to count all of the Linux servers in the market today.

"Some people buy bare servers and install Linux on them, while others are recycling old Unix or Windows servers and installing Linux on them. In addition, there has been huge Linux growth on architectures other than x86, including mainframes, IBM [System p] and others," she told eWEEK.

The figures also failed to consider the impact virtualization is having on server shipments, as customers are using virtualization to optimize boxes they had already bought. "Since Linux is considered the better platform for virtualization, this impacts its numbers even more," McPherson said. "I dont think customers are complaining that they are getting more out of the investments they have already made."

On the issue of whether the slowdown in Linux x86 growth was due to the fact that it has already picked off all the low-hanging Unix fruit, McPherson said there is no empirical data that the Linux Foundation could find to justify this.


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But Novell spokesman Bruce Lowry, in San Francisco, acknowledged that it might well be true that Unix migrations are easing off, and that the easiest migrations have already happened.

But there is still a lot of opportunity for Unix migrations, and there will be for a while, he said.

"There are various other things that are also happening in the market, such as the use of Linux on older machines, virtualization and Linux in appliances," he said. "So, the software side doesnt necessarily track with the hardware side for Linux. Our understanding is that even IDC continues to see growth in the Linux software business—both in terms of paid and unpaid Linux—and Novells Linux business is growing, regardless of the broader trend."

Con Zymaris, CEO of open-source firm Cybersource, in Melbourne, Australia, also believes that it is impossible to estimate the number of Linux systems in existence, and that any figures that try to do so will likely be inaccurate.


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"They do not, they cannot, capture the great majority of Linux servers deployed in production. Our company is but one data point here: Our staff has been involved in over 1,000 Linux deployments in the past 15 years, of which only a dozen would appear on the radar of research companies like the IDC," Zymaris said.

Also, Dell, the worlds biggest x86 server vendor, recently said that Linux server shipments are growing faster than Windows, while Linux also owns the burgeoning Web 2.0 market, he said.

"When a firm like Google builds all its solutions on Linux, you know there are literally millions of additional Linux systems out there hidden from view," Zymaris said. "You can pretty much take it for granted that almost every x86 server which ships nowadays without a preinstalled Windows operating system is destined for Linux or its open-source brethren, BSD Unix. All of these should also be added to the Linux tally."

With regard to the phenomenal Linux growth rates of years past, the Linux Foundations McPherson pointed to the fact that the Linux server market is now a $7.7 billion business and that it is hard to grow big markets like that at 30 percent a year indefinitely, especially when the overall server market has slowed in recent years.

"But make no mistake: Were not Pollyannas," she said. "Microsoft is doing very well. They have a huge incumbent position. They have unbelievable resources they put toward marketing, and they have kept interoperability information propriety, such as in file and print, to hinder competition."


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Linuxs success against such a well-placed, well-stocked competitor has been "phenomenal so far, but we all certainly need to keep up the innovation if we want to continue to put pressure on them," McPherson said. "Microsoft will only increase its offensive against Linux, especially as Linux and OpenOffice threaten its two cash cows. We are prepared for that and are confident that, over time, customers want the freedom of choice that only open source can provide."


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