Linux Isnt for Everyone—Yet

The drive to Linux and other open-source platforms presents a host of benefits.

The drive to Linux and other open-source platforms presents a host of benefits. Without the need to purchase software licenses for Windows, Unix or Solaris, the funds saved can be substantial.

"Licensing costs is a huge savings," said Jeffrey Hewitt, an analyst at Gartner Inc., in San Jose, Calif., adding that the money not spent can be reallocated to the purchase of additional servers, boosting performance and uptime.

Scott Rafer, CEO of Feedster Inc., a San Francisco-based search engine company and syndicator of XML Web content, agreed. "We buy white-box servers, pay less for them and get support from the actual people who put those systems together for us," Rafer said.

While that strategy might not be attractive to a large corporate user who insists on brand names, it makes sense for smaller companies and startups with limited budgets, he said. "We dont want innovation. We want reliable, boring systems that cost less—that way I can buy more of them." Feedsters platform of choice is Novell Inc.s SuSE Linux. "We were willing to pay for the peace of mind that Novell provides with its highly supported SuSE environment," he said.

But Hewitt does not recommend that every IT shop stock up on Linux, Apache or MySQL. "There are lots of shops that are totally Windows-based; moving to Linux would simply be too much of a change for some. If their needs are being met with Windows applications and services, theres no need to rush to Linux," he said.

In a recent survey conducted by Gartner, the majority of companies polled are deploying Linux to replace Unix-based solutions. Just 11 percent said Linux is replacing applications currently running on Microsoft Corp.s Windows Server editions, according to the research.

Laura DiDio, an analyst with Boston-based The Yankee Group, also cautioned against a quick move. "Its true that with Linux you can avoid big license fees, but that doesnt necessarily translate to big savings. Linux is componentized; you have to acquire administrative tools and system utilities separately and then get them to work together. That means multiple vendors and testing."

But stepping out with open source is no longer a leap into the unknown. With more than 5 million active installations and 35,000 new downloads every day, MySQL ABs user roster reads like a "whos who" of corporations and governmental agencies, including NASA and Google. And serving more than 40 million—or 68 percent of—Web sites worldwide, Apache far outdistances Microsofts Internet Information Services, which handles just 21 percent of sites, according to a Feb. 1 sweep of 59 million sites worldwide by Netcraft Ltd., a British Internet services company.

Hewitt said Linux is showing up in unexpected areas, especially in high-performance computing. Such examples include a potato chip maker performing aerodynamic airflow analysis to minimize chip breakage, as well as a manufacturer that is studying how thin it can make its plastic bottles to ensure adequate shatterproof strength and minimum materials use.

Said Hewitt: "As companies move to more of a Web-based infrastructure, they become better candidates for open-source computing. Its inevitable."


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