As Microsoft Corp. has acknowledged more than once, the company is losing business to Linux deployments. But the story doesnt end there. Some large enterprises have taken the Linux challenge only to switch back to Windows, dissatisfied with the open-source alternative.
Problems with application incompatibilities, poor performance, escalating support costs and an immature Linux ecosystem lead the list of complaints executives at two companies that have completed the switch from Linux back to Windows cited recently.
Personal care products maker Combe Inc., of White Plains, N.Y., developed and administered its Web sites with an ISP running a Linux-Oracle platform about nine years ago and started the switch back to Windows two years ago.
“We will not be looking at Linux in the near future,” said Combe CIO Tim Case. “Even though [Linux] has moved into the realm of a production-level system and may become a competitor to Microsoft, that is just not the case where global support and robust development are required.”
Combe was initially wary about its sites running on Linux, but it moved to offset that risk by making sure its provider contract had built-in service-level agreements. Case said he was surprised by how well the system worked, but Linux became an issue when Combes Web applications needed a database, and the only option available to the company was one from Oracle Corp.
Case also was concerned that his company did not have appropriate in-house Linux expertise. Those concerns were proved worthwhile two years ago when the ISP gave Combe two weeks notice that it was closing its doors.
Luckily, Combe had already begun investigating alternative ISPs. Not long after, Combe turned to Microsoft Certified Partner Alpine Business Systems, of Somerville, N.J., to help migrate its Web sites to Windows Server 2003, Internet Information Services 6.0 and SQL Server 2000.
The move to Windows was “seamless and efficient. The costs to move were minimal as compared with the alternative of developing a new set of sites,” Case said. “We have not had an outage in two years, where before we experienced downtime at least two to three times a year. We have also lowered our TCO [total cost of ownership].”
Another company that has migrated off Linux to Windows is Mountain High Holdings LLC, the operator of Mountain High Resort, a ski and snowboarding resort in Wrightwood, Calif.
Three years ago, the resort implemented an e-commerce system that used Red Hat Inc. Linux, The Apache Software Foundations Apache Web servers and MySQL ABs MySQL database; the system was programmed in PHP.
“The decision to go with Linux was a cost-based one,” Michele Roy, the resorts chief financial officer, told eWEEK. “We had not budgeted the e-commerce system setup in that years business plan.”
The potential savings were quickly erased by ongoing support expenses, Roy said. “We spent more during the first three months troubleshooting the Linux system than if we had purchased the Windows solution to begin with,” she said. “The Linux system could not handle the layers of information needed for internal control of the resort.”
Roy also had concerns about the security and reliability of the system. System failures and escalating costs had the resort reconsidering its Linux decision when, over a weekend in late-summer 2002, in the midst of its season-pass sale—accounting for the sale of about 5,000 passes—the system went down. The e-commerce component stopped working for about a day.
“There was a limit set up within the program that said you can only order x amount of products within one transaction,” Roy said. “When one of our guests went over the limit, it crashed the whole store. We then had to manually identify the erroneous credit card charges.”
At the end of the 2002-2003 season, Mountain High decided to rebuild the site on Windows. “Our current season-pass sale began on Sept. 1, and the e-commerce site has seen growth of over 100 percent,” Roy said. “If we had not gone with the Windows solution, there is no way we could have processed all the passes.” Mountain High still uses Linux on a dedicated server for its community forum.
Such customers may not outweigh the numbers switching to Linux and sticking with it, but Microsoft executives will take any wins they can. The biggest challenges are those customers moving from Unix to Linux, who “dont want to rewrite their applications, and most of their staff only know Java,” said Martin Taylor, Microsofts Linux platform strategist, in Redmond, Wash. “The question I sometimes ask customers is if they want to [maintain and manage] system-level software.”
Taylor said customers have applications written in Java on top of Linux as well as applications in .Net on top of Windows, and they want their applications to talk to one another. “Thats where more of the dialogue is—from an interoperability perspective. Its not about plumbing because … the plumbing [is already] done,” Taylor said.