Its not that Linux hasnt put up the numbers. It was the
second-most-shipped server operating system in 1999, behind Windows
NT, with market shares of 24.6% vs. 38.1%, according to market research
firm IDC. Linux out-shipped Novell NetWare and all combined Unix flavors,
each of which had less than 20% market share. IDC predicts that Windows
and Linux will continue to be No. 1 and 2, respectively, into 2004.
If Linux is ever going to crack the enterprise, its got the right
names behind it now.
First to the party
Linux got its first big break from IBM, which announced its Linux strategy
in the fall of 1999. Over the course of this year, IBM has invested
$200 million in Linux, which is now available on the companys
entire line of servers - from mainframes to PC servers. IBM also has
ported enterprise software products, such as its DB2 Universal Database
and WebSphere e-commerce software, to Linux. And it offers technical
support and consulting services for Linux.
"Linux has certainly made huge strides this year," says Dan
Frye, Linux program director for IBM. Frye wrote IBMs first white
paper on Linux in 1998, and helped forge the companys ambitious
Linux strategy a year ago. "At the beginning of the year, IBM had
15 engineers working on Linux," he says. "Now we have over
100. Linux is as much a part of [IBMs server strategy] as the
AIX and the OS/400."
Besides IBM, Compaq, Dell and Hewlett-Packard now sell Linux preinstalled
on Intel-based servers and offer technical support for the operating
system. Major enterprise software vendors, such as Oracle and SAP, have
ported their premier database and enterprise resource planning applications
to the platform.
These servers are being used a lot, but not for enterprise-class applications,
says Dan Kusnetzky, a senior researcher with IDC. "People arent
going to be throwing out any of their current systems and replacing
them with Linux."
The big pluses
For those who do consider Linux, cost, reliability and flexibility
are favorites on the plus side.
Developers can download many Linux distributions for free from the
Internet, and IT managers can buy enterprise editions from companies
such as Red Hat and Caldera for less than $200 (compared with Microsoft
Windows 2000 and Novell NetWare 5, which can cost as much as $4,000
and $11,000, respectively). Because Linux is licensed under the General
Public License, it has no restrictions on the number of users attached
to a server or the number of servers on which a single copy of Linux
can be installed.
Open source and Linux advocates such as IBMs Frye claim that
the peer review involved in Linux developments makes the code more bug-proof
and reliable than proprietary software. Plus, as an open source operating
system, Linux is easily changeable. Developers can manipulate the code
to make the software fit a specific function.
has emerged as a legitimate business-class operating system, but
no one is closing their Windows yet.
vendors vs. Microsoft, Novell and Unix companies.
predict continued growth for Linux, but say it will never dominate
will continue to be a low-cost, low-end Unix alternative for users,
but it will not be the answer to every IT problem.
Being able to change server code is important to Maurice Smiley, a
senior systems administrator with Gulf State Engineering, a Houston
firm that designs equipment for the oil and gas industries. For two
years, Smiley has run Red Hat Linux on the companys file, print,
Web and database servers.
"The openness of Linux is important to us; if we dont like
the way something works, we can just change it," Smiley says. "Almost
none of the systems we run use stock Red Hat kernels. We grab the latest
[kernel], and recompile it for what we need."
But openness does have its downside, Smiley adds.
"The standards arent rigid yet and they need to get that
way," he says, adding that Linux distributions can differ greatly
among vendors, and even between a single companys versions of
In the background
Linux openness is one of many factors keeping Microsoft from
viewing Linux as a competitive threat in the large enterprise market,
says Doug Miller, group product director for the Windows server market
at Microsoft. But, Miller admits that Linux could cut into Microsofts
market share for lower-end systems.
Take Smileys Linux deployment as an example. Gulf State Engineering
may be a Linux shop, but its a relatively small company - the
Linux servers support just 300 users.
The Gulf State Engineering implementation is typical. But for now,
Linux is still used mostly for what IDCs Kusnetzky calls "infrastructure,"
or background tasks, in large companies. These tasks include file, print
and Web services.
"Linux just isnt ready for every part of the enterprise
yet," adds IBMs Frye. "If youre a really large
enterprise that wants a 16-way or 32-way SMP [symmetric multiprocessing]
box, then Linux isnt for you. Unix is still the answer there."
But users can get around the SMP limitations, argues John Hall, director
of Linux International, a nonprofit group that organizes Linux development
efforts. Some government research facilities, such as Sandia National
Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., and the Human Genome Project, use
Linux servers clustered with "Beowulf" technology to perform
supercomputer tasks, such as simulated nuclear explosions and human
DNA mapping. Commercial Linux cluster products are available from companies
such as Linux NetworX, Red Hat and VA Linux.
Still, Linux falls short on other big corporate computing features,
including an enterprise-strength "journal" file system for
writing data to large disk drives, advanced system management tools
and strong product support from hardware peripheral manufacturers, Frye
Too much to overhaul
Plus, while hundreds of Linux training and certification outlets now
exist, finding qualified IT professionals - let alone Linux experts
- is a difficult task, says Bill Claybrook, research director for Aberdeen
Group. Shifting from Windows NT or NetWare to Linux is unlikely for
"It would be a huge changeover for them," he explains, adding
that after the initial savings users experience with Linuxs low
price, the cost of maintaining a Linux-based network is the same as
it is for any other operating system.
Michael McVaugh, a senior systems analyst with Sunoco, agrees that
a wholesale systems change-out would be too much effort. At Sunocos
Philadelphia headquarters, McVaugh runs more than 150 Windows NT servers
in support of almost every aspect of the gas companys business.
"We had a few people look at Linux, but not officially,"
Sunoco needs a Microsoft-like cookie-cutter approach to servers and
applications because it runs a lean support staff, McVaugh says. "It
comes down to training," he adds.
What would it take for McVaugh to move to Linux?
"I guess Microsoft would have to sell it," he says.